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Could GM potatoes be headed to Europe via CETA?

Could genetically modified potatoes soon be exported to Europe courtesy of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)?

The Government of Canada has stated, “CETA will not only open new markets [for Canada in Europe] for raw ingredients, it will open up new markets for the food processing and beverage industry.” For example, Global Affairs Canada boasts that under CETA EU tariffs would be eliminated on potatoes and frozen potato products, such as french fries.”

Now, the Canadian Press reports, “Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have approved a genetically engineered potato for sale, said a U.S.-based company on [March 21] in announcing that its non-browning spuds could be in Canadian supermarkets by Thanksgiving. J.R. Simplot Company was notified by both agencies in letters dated March 18 that it could sell its potatoes – which purportedly are less likely to bruise or turn brown when cut – to consumers or for livestock consumption. …But the potatoes will not have a label indicating they are genetically engineered, as that’s not a Health Canada requirement provided they’ve been deemed safe for consumption.”

The article highlights, “The potatoes could be grown in Canada this season and be in stores by the fall.”

This approval follows the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s decision in March 2015 to allow a British Columbia-based company to grow and sell a genetically modified apple in Canada. The apple has been genetically modified so that it does not brown when cut or bruised. These apples could also be on their way to Europe given CETA would eliminates the 9 per cent EU seasonal tariff on Canadian apples.

And Health Canada has confirmed that it is reviewing the possible sale of genetically modified salmon as food in Canada too. The AquaAdvantage brand salmon contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a gene from an ocean pout, an eel-like fish, so that it will grow to maturity at twice the normal rate.

Global Affairs notes, “CETA will enhance the existing Canada-EU forum for discussion on biotechnology and emphasizes the promotion of efficient science-based approval processes and cooperation on low-level presence of genetically modified crops. …CETA also includes provisions to address non-tariff barriers in the EU, such as those related to animal and plant health and food safety. Building on the strength of existing Canada-EU cooperation in these areas, CETA establishes a mechanism under which Canada and the EU will cooperate to discuss, and attempt to prevent or resolve, non-tariff barriers that may arise for agricultural exports.”

The EU has adopted mandatory labelling for any product that has been genetically modified. It requires food to be labelled if it contains more than 0.9 per cent GM ingredients. Health Canada has taken the position that GM foods are just as safe as conventional foods. Food must be labelled in Canada if it is pasteurized, irradiated, or contains possible allergens such as peanuts, but there are no mandatory labelling rules for GM foods.

With CETA in place, the Canadian government could argue that European regulations on genetically modified foods are a non-tariff barrier that should be “resolved”.