Transparency – plant breeding innovations

Plant breeding innovations such as gene mapping, marker-assisted breeding and gene-editing may enable new plant varieties to be developed more effectively and efficiently than conventional breeding. This can benefit farmers and consumers by providing them access to seed varieties that have desirable characteristics such as resistance to drought, flooding, extreme temperature, insect pests and diseases. Furthermore, this can help farmers feed a growing population by producing food more sustainably, adapt to climate change and help keep food costs down for consumers, while continuing to meet safety standards for humans, animals and the environment.

To help breeders know when a new characteristic requires a pre-market safety assessment, the Government of Canada has undertaken steps to provide clear and predictable guidance. This guidance is based on the scientific evidence that gene editing techniques pose no unique safety concerns compared to conventional breeding methods. Canada's regulatory oversight of plant products of biotechnology destined for food, livestock feeds or release into the environment is based on the traits or characteristics of the product, regardless of how it was developed. Novel plant products may be created by such methods as traditional breeding, mutagenesis, cell fusion, genome editing or recombinant DNA techniques.

Both government and industry acknowledge the interest of the public, growers, regulators, and plant breeders to increase transparency around products of plant breeding innovations. The government and industry have developed voluntary transparency initiatives, including

  • Health Canada's voluntary Transparency Initiative process for plants developed using new breeding techniques for food use that are not novel foods.
  • Seeds Canada's Canadian Variety Transparency Database, which will identify commercially-available plant varieties that have been developed using new breeding techniques.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has also launched a Government-Industry Steering Committee, consisting of representatives from the organic, horticulture, grains and seeds sectors to implement a number of additional measures to further enhance transparency around products of plant breeding innovations. Many of these additional measures are included in the Chair's Report to the Minister on the Industry-Government Committee on Plant Breeding Innovation Transparency, which was published in May 2023.