What is approved and in the pipeline?
Given the overly broad conception of novel foods and plants with novel traits, some products fall into this category that are not a result of the more controversial GE techniques.
Note that according to the regulations, notice of submission postings are voluntary and not all companies agree to a public notice. See Biotechnology Notices of Submissions.
Most GE applications focus on pest control and nutritional parameters to aid in processing. They include crops that have genes from a soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) inserted in them so that when certain insect pests, particularly the larvae of lepidoptera and coleoptera insects, eat the crop, the genes inserted from Bt will kill them. Another common category is herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops. Gene sequences typically from a bacterium are inserted to make the crop resistant to a herbicide that would otherwise kill or suppress it. Some other pest control applications focus on changing the reproductive behaviour of an organism.
GE organisms / products produced and sold in Canada
- Corn (Bt, HT, drought tolerance, amino acids, sugars for ethanol, male sterility, enhanced yield), includes a small amount of Bt sweet corn
- Canola (HT, oil profile, male sterility)
- Soy (HT, Bt, yield, oil profile)
- Alfalfa (HT, reduced lignin)
- Sugar beet (HT)
- Salmon eggs (year round growth), food approval (salmon first raised in Panama, now also in PEI and the US)
- Microbes (wine yeast, bacteria producing rennin for dairy products)
- rDNA vaccines (salmon virus)
Approved for sale but imported
- Cottonseed meal and oil (Bt, HT, insect protection)
- Apple (non-browning for apple slices, from Washington State)
- Some US milk ingredients that may contain BGH (approved in the US for use, but not in Canada)
- Yellow Squash and zucchini (VR)
- Papaya (VR)
- Tomato (Bt, reduced pectin degradation)
Not on the market because of identified problems and / or significant opposition to approval
- Flax (some earlier stage approvals were granted, but product withdrawn because of significant grower opposition)
- Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (denied due to concerns about animal health and significant opposition from growers and public health authorities, see also Case Studies in Food Policy Advocacy)
- Roundup Ready (HT) wheat (some approvals, but withdrawn, particularly due to widespread international market rejection, see also Case Studies in Food Policy Advocacy)
- Enviropig (some approvals but withdrawn as farm organizations pulled funding in the face of market opposition)
- Bt potato (approved but was a market failure)
- Flavr Savr (slower decay) tomato (some approvals but was a market failure)
In the pipeline:
Some are in active review by the federal government, others are at the R&D stage. Many plants and foods that already have certain approvals are being stacked, with new applications added to existing ones, often with new target organisms in the case of pest control. Many are also different base varieties (see Biotechnology Notices of Submissions)
- Potato (low bruising, low acrilimide for french fries)
- Rice (vitamin A precursor)
- Camelina (fish-like oils)
- Field pea (HT and disease resistance)
- Wheat (many traits, including high fibre)
- Cassava (nutritionally enhanced)
- Trees: citrus, chestnut, plum (disease resistance)
- More rDNA vaccines and veterinary drugs
- Animal embryo transfer, insertions and cloning (current techniques are not genetic engineering, but foods would be regulated as novel foods)
Some supply chain implications of the current situation
These approvals have numerous supply chain implications:
- 99% of GE acres are for pest resistance and herbicide tolerance
- 70% of planted grain corn acres are GE varieties, mostly for animal feed, but some could be used for starch and citrate used in soda
- about 60% of soybean acres are GE varieties, mostly for animal feed but oil is extracted before being used for feed; human-market soy varieties (tofu, tempe, etc) are not at the moment GE
- A large majority of canola acres are GE varieties, and almost all are at least the result of mutagenesis. Consequently most of the canola oil is from GE varieties, plus the canola crush left over from oil pressing is fed to dairy cows; 64% of vegetable oil is canola
- Cottonseed oil is used in the fast food industry
- 95% of Canadian sugar beet varieties are GE, processed primarily by Lantic and mostly used in manufacturing (less than 5% of total Canadian market). Redpath Sugar uses cane sugar primarily, and there are currently no GE cane varieties. Sugar beet pulp is used as animal feed.
- Honey is affected. Although the latest applications don’t always express GE traits in pollen, earlier ones did, so most honey produced in major crop regions likely contains GE constructs.
- Most commercial rennets may be produced from GE bacteria (though not all dairy products use rennet)
Problems for the organic sector and other sustainable production systems and products
The big challenge for sustainable certification systems is that they will not tolerate GE contamination of sustainable products, or will only allow a very small level of contamination in certain kinds of uncontrollable circumstances (see FAQ on organic standard). Certification can be denied or revoked in certain circumstances. In the organic sector, debate continues about what level of adventitious contamination will be permitted, attempting to balance consumer demands for GE-free foods with the reality that organic producers cannot control atmospheric and landscape level movement of GE traits.
Particularly worrisome are:
- the loss of most of the Canadian organic canola market due to the reality that most canola planted in Canada is a GE variety, and non-GE canola is now very difficult to produce because of the movement of GE canola traits across the landscape; only isolated areas can support organic production.
- Alfalfa is an essential crop in many organic rotations and GE alfalfa has been approved for eastern Canada which will make eastern organic dairying very difficult if acreage increases significantly. The Canadian organic standard requires a 3 km separation distance from GE alfalfa.
- Organic farmers relied for years on sprayed Bt (a naturally occurring soil bacterium) to manage certain insect pests in horticultural crops, but now that some Bt genes are so widely inserted in corn and soybeans, there is concern about reduced efficacy as pests build resistance in the face of such extensive exposure to Bt genes.
- GE puts more pressure on segregation in handling systems which adds to costs.