The benefits of pesticides and plant biotechnology to farmers, the environment and Canadians in general are substantial. Consider these accomplishments:
- 35 million acres of forest, native grass and wetlands preserved because farmers can grow more crops on existing farmland
- 29 million tonnes fewer greenhouse gas emissions per year because farmers don’t have to till the soil to control weeds
- Up to 194 million litres less diesel fuel used due to fewer passes over fields with equipment
- A $4,400 annual savings on groceries by the average Canadian family because of reliable food production
But there is opportunity for much more. Canada is well poised for agricultural growth and has the potential to move from fifth to second spot on the global agri-food exporter list, says the Advisory Council on Economic Growth.
New trade pacts like the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union or the just-finalized Trans-Pacific Partnership open market opportunities.
Emerging technologies like CRISPR and RNAi are providing new options for plant breeders and exciting new consumer-oriented traits, such as non-browning apples and bruise-resistant potatoes, are providing direct benefits to the public. Other traits in development focus on better disease, insect and weed control; improved drought and saline tolerance, and increased nitrogen-use efficiency.
But it all hinges on a modern regulatory system that ensures safety while being predictable and efficient, resulting in Canadian farmers having timely access to the latest crop innovations. Without a strong regulatory system, Canada risks being left behind in the global market, hobbled by out-of-date policies that serve as unnecessary barriers to innovation and growth.
Canada’s regulatory system also has to work in harmony with those found in other countries around the world, especially large Canadian trading partners like China, which accounted for $5.6 billion in Canadian agri-food exports in 2016.
This is important because a new biotech crop typically isn’t commercialized in Canada until it is has been approved by one of our largest trading partners. In the case of China, there is currently a lag of approximately six years between Canadian and Chinese approvals, directly hindering the competitiveness and sustainability of Canadian agriculture. To address this we are encouraging the governments of Canada and China to work together to expedite biotech approvals.
Finally as we balance domestic regulatory modernization with global co-operation we must not forget that public trust is a key element to driving policy change. Consumer concerns focus on food safety and affordability, not regulatory efficiency. Therefore it’s up to everyone in agriculture to help build and maintain the trust Canadians have in our food supply while we strive for modernized regulations so that innovation can flourish under decisions which are made based on science and not politics.