Skip to content

CFIA declares gene editing safe for livestock feed

Decision applauded by producer groups.
gene-edited-feed-safe
"This is a ground-breaking day for Canadian agriculture as the (CFIA) confirms its livestock feed guidance, marking the final piece in a series of vital policy updates that began in 2018," said Krista Thomas, vice-president for trade policy and seed innovation with the Canada Grains Council.

WESTERN PRODUCER — Leaders in Canada’s grain industry are praising the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for a decision made on gene edited crops and livestock feeds.

Today, the Canola Council of Canada, the Canada Grains Council and Cereals Canada “applauded” the CFIA for its new guidance on gene editing.

“This is a ground-breaking day for Canadian agriculture as the (CFIA) confirms its livestock feed guidance, marking the final piece in a series of vital policy updates that began in 2018,” said Krista Thomas, vice-president for trade policy and seed innovation with the Canada Grains Council.

“With this final piece in place, Health Canada and the CFIA have now answered longstanding calls from the seed and grain sectors for predictable, clear and consistent policies for gene edited crops.”

Krista Zuzak, director of crop protection and production at Cereals Canada, made a similar comment.

“Cereals Canada views the final piece of updated Canadian policy clarifying the regulatory pathway for gene edited plants as a positive advancement in plant breeding innovation,” she said.

“The finalized CFIA guidance on livestock feed will support research and development of new varieties that use gene editing to enhance traits such as drought, pest and disease resistance and input use efficiency, among others.”

The CFIA decision can be found at here.

The key wording is in Section 1.9 of the document, in which the CFIA states that crops developed with gene editing technology are safe for livestock.

“The CFIA’s opinion of the scientific literature is that gene editing technologies do not pose unique risks of harm to human or animal health or the environment compared to other plant breeding technologies,” the document says.

“As a result, feed ingredients derived from gene-edited plants are regulated like all other products of plant breeding under the Feeds Act and Feeds Regulations, with regulation based on the traits or characteristics of the product, regardless of its development method.”

That paragraph will help clear the way for public and private plant breeders to use gene editing in their crop and trait development programs.

Genome editing, or gene editing, involves changing the genetic code of a plant with technology such as CRISPR-Cas9, a technique used to cut sections of DNA. Scientists from California and France won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery of CRISPR.

It allows scientists to precisely change a plant’s DNA to achieved desired traits, such as improved disease resistance or healthier oils in the kernel.

It is also being employed in medicine.

In December the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved gene editing to treat sickle cell disease, a rare, genetic mutation that causes red blood cells to develop a crescent or “sickle” shape.

The misshapen cells restrict flow in blood vessels and limit oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues, causing severe pain and damage to organs.

“Gene therapy holds the promise of delivering more targeted and effective treatments, especially for individuals with rare diseases where the current treatment options are limited,” Nicole Verdun of the FDA said in a news release.

Most plant breeders and plant scientists say that gene editing is a new tool in the toolbox, which could lead to faster development of new crops and traits.

Health Canada decided a couple of years ago that gene edited crops are safe. So, in most cases they will be treated the same as crops developed through traditional plant breeding methods. The exception is when foreign DNA is introduced using gene editing. In those cases, gene edited crops would be regulated more like transgenic plants.

Commodity groups and value chain organizations in Canada’s grain industry have been waiting for the CFIA to make its final ruling on livestock feed and gene editing crops.

“In recent years, the grain sector has faced punishing drought conditions and we have too many examples of crop diseases that lack adequate control. Gene editing can help develop solutions faster and more efficiently than traditional plant breeding methods allow,” said Thomas of the Canada Grains Council.

“This news opens up incredible opportunities for innovation within the grain sector…. (It) directly translates to stability in food supply and prices, which is crucial for both our economy and food security.”

Contact [email protected]