Plant breeding innovations have helped drive the evolution of Canadian agriculture, making farmers more competitive and more sustainable than they have ever been. New varieties of crops that are resistant to insects, diseases, drought, and certain herbicides have helped make yields more predictable for farmers, improved crop quality and helped enable more environmentally sustainable farming practices.
The Canadian economy benefits from advancements in agriculture, too. In fact, modern plant breeding alone contributes about $1.8 billion to the GDP annually.
In order for Canada to continue to be a leader in the capital-intensive and heavily research-based field of plant breeding innovation and enable our farmers to compete on the world stage, we need to ensure that our farmers have timely access to the latest crop improvements. Canada’s regulatory system for plant breeding innovations must become more timely, predictable and transparent to enable innovation by both large and small businesses alike.
It’s time for Canada to build on its already strong science-based regulatory system by leveraging two decades of experience regulating and commercializing products of plant biotechnology. Over that time there has not been a single product submitted for review in Canada that has been deemed harmful to humans, animals or the environment. These same products have also been reviewed in as many as 40 other countries around the world, all of which agree on their safety.
Building on this record of safety, the regulatory agencies in some of Canada’s key agricultural competitor countries and trading partners have made commitments to improve the efficiency of their regulatory systems for products of modern plant breeding. Canada must step up and do the same or risk being left behind and losing its voice in the negotiations on international approaches to regulation, which are key to keeping Canada’s export markets open.
The urgency for improvement and streamlining is accentuated by the need to prepare for the speed at which new products are going to be coming down the pipeline. Modern plant breeding techniques like gene editing (CRISPR-CAS9 is an example of one tool) will drive technological advancement in a way that the current Canadian regulatory system does not appear to be prepared to handle.
Now is the time for Canada to commit to modernizing its regulatory system and signal to investors that Canada is a good place to do business. This is also our opportunity to lead the world in establishing policies that facilitate global trade and drive the Canadian advantage.