As Canada joins the U.S. in challenging Mexico to stop its planned phase-out of genetically modified (GM) corn for human consumption, a too-close collaboration between federal government departments and the biotechnology industry has been exposed. Recent media investigations have unearthed an email trail showing that the biotechnology and pesticide industry lobby group CropLife Canada was instrumental in Canada’s new decision to remove regulation from many coming gene-edited GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Documents received via Access to Information show that federal government departments worked directly with CropLife Canada to design new regulatory guidance on genetically engineered foods and crops in a committee called the “Tiger Team”. The new guidance removes government safety assessments from many new gene-edited GMOs and allows companies to put these unregulated GMOs on the market without notifying the government.
This new regulatory decision that allows the sale of unknown, unregulated GMOs amounts to a biotech corporate take-over of the Canadian food system where companies will control all of the science and information about new GMOs. But the biotechnology industry also wants to also force its products onto the market in other countries – and the Canadian government is in fighting form on the side of these corporate interests.
Dozens of Canadian organizations, including the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network and the National Farmers Union, have asked the federal government to support the Government of Mexico in its action to phase out GM corn imports, to protect traditional maize from GM corn contamination. Instead, in August of this year, as urged by agribusiness exporters and the biotech industry, Canada announced it will participate as a third party in the dispute settlement proceedings initiated by the United States under the aegis of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade Agreement (CUSMA). Interestingly, however, the US and Canada are not challenging Mexico’s twin plan to phase-out of the herbicide glyphosate.
Mexico is the world’s origin and cradle of maize (corn) production where indigenous farming communities have bred and shared a wide diversity of varieties (landraces) for many thousands of years. The future of corn in Mexico is key to food sovereignty. In fact, some small farmers have already had to work hard to eliminate previous GM corn contamination.
Canada does not actually export corn to Mexico but our agriculture and international trade ministers say that Mexico’s phase-out of GM corn (now narrowed to imports of GM white corn used for direct human consumption in Mexico, not GM yellow corn imported for animal feed) has “the potential to unnecessarily disrupt trade in the North American market” (August 25, 2023). The ministers have stated the need for Mexico to authorize Canadian GMOs (June 9, 2023).
Together, these Canadian Government actions are working to give the biotechnology industry free reign over our food systems.
“Contamination isn’t just one more problem. It’s an aggression against Mexico’s identity and its original inhabitants…We want our seeds and we are going to defend them and rescue them.” — Alvaro Salgado of the Center for Indigenous Missions (CENAMI), Mexico, 2004
Rick Arnold, executive member of the Northumberland chapter of the Council of Canadians, and the Trade Group.
Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) which brings together 15 groups, including The Council of Canadians, to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN is a project of MakeWay’s shared platform.