Canada considers changes to its policy regarding GM imports.

  • Currently, food containing genetically modified (GM) organisms may be imported into Canada only if Health Canada has performed a pre-market safety assessment of the products.  According to Health Canada, it is a “seven to ten year process to research, develop, test and assess the safety of a new GM food” before it can be approved.  As the food industry is well aware, once a GM crop is authorized for use in a jurisdiction, trace amounts of GM material may become mixed with conventional crops during the course of commercial production.  This “cross-contamination” may happen during cultivation, harvest, transportation, and storage of the crops.  Even where best practices are followed, it is difficult to avoid inadvertent cross-contamination.  Under Canada’s strict GM policy, the presence of any unauthorized GM constituents in a food shipment constitutes non-compliance and triggers a risk-based enforcement response which may result in the entire shipment being denied entry into Canada.
  • After years of discussion and debate, Canada is close to finalizing a new policy on GM foods that would permit some GM imports without approval by Health Canada.  The new policy would permit a “low level presence” (specifically, 0.2%) of GM constituents in food imports where the GM materials have not yet undergone a safety assessment in Canada if the products are authorized for sale in a foreign jurisdiction that Health Canada deems to have an adequate pre-market safety review process.
  • If finalized, Canada’s new policy would eliminate the “zero-tolerance” approach to the importation of foods with low levels of inadvertent GM cross-contamination.  The policy is aimed at eliminating trade barriers while remaining protective of health and safety, as well as providing a global model that may facilitate the adoption of reciprocal policies by Canada’s trading partners.