Food for Thought: Improving Canadian GM Food Safety Assessment

Note from the Digital Editor: In order to highlight the high-level of research and scholarship from the authors who have published in the William & Mary Policy Review’s peer-reviewed print journal, we have reproduced the abstracts from Volume 7, Issue 2 along with a link to an electronic copy of the full form of the piece. 

Given the prevalence of GM foods in the commercial market, Canada should follow the guiding framework of the precautionary principle to prevent potential harm to human health and the environment. The author examines the transparency and impartiality challenges in the Canadian GM food regulatory regime and presents the precautionary principle as a framework that Canada should follow, as required by its international commitments. The regulatory framework and governance structure for the GM food safety assessment process is analyzed to show that the Canadian regulatory regime governing genetically modified organisms hampers the effectiveness of the precautionary principle to serve as the basis for regulatory reform in the Canadian agricultural biotechnology sector, as Health Canada appears to interpret the precautionary principle to respond to the needs of the biotechnology industry. The author subsequently suggests that Canada’s regulatory regime for GM foods could impact its ability to trade agricultural and agri-food products with the EU and Canada needs to further integrate the precautionary principle into its GM food regulatory framework to capitalize on the potential agricultural trade opportunities.

Recommendations include regulatory reform in the GM food safety assessment process to improve Canada-EU agricultural trade relations, creating a distinct regulatory regime for GM foods and re-working governance structures to establish an independent regulatory body with a mandate to ensure access to information, procedural transparency, and impartiality. The author proposes public review to address consumer concerns about the potential impacts of GM foods on health and the environment. Finally, mandatory labeling of GM foods and a public list of GM foods pending approval with a public comment period to address consumer concerns should be introduced to align the Canadian GM food regulatory regime with the guiding framework of the precautionary principle.

Find the full version of this article in PDF form here.

Anna Poliszot is a graduate of the Master of Laws program at the University of Ottawa and a licensed lawyer in Ontario, Canada. The author thanks Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, Nathalie Chalifour and Justin Smith for sharing their valuable expertise and knowledge. This article reflects the Canadian GM food regulatory framework as of summer 2016.