Health Canada is proving itself useless yet again, this time by refusing to assess the safety of a new a multi-herbicide tolerant and multi-insecticide-producing corn developed by Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences. The news, announced today by the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), is a reminder that Canadian health agencies and other regulators often prioritize harmonization with the United States over independent research and stringent standards.
CBAN is demanding “that the federal government immediately withdraw authorization for ‘SmartStax,’ a genetically engineered (GE), eight-trait corn, until Health Canada undertakes exhaustive and independent tests.”
You can read the full press release, and other materials related to ‘SmartStax’, including a letter to the government sent yesterday, on the CBAN website.
Health Canada’s utter failure on this one should maybe not surprise us too much, especially as the next North American leaders’ summit in Guadalajara approaches. Security and Prosperity Partnership discussions have emphasized regulatory harmonization as a way to improve competitiveness in North America.
For instance, in 2007, in a story about how much Vitamin D we really need to ingest, the Globe and Mail reported that “Health Canada has a policy of harmonizing Canadian nutrition standards with those in the United States.” This policy was getting in the way of the agency seriously listening to concerns we should getting double the Vitamin D recommended by Canadian and U.S. regulators.
What makes the ‘SmartStax’ decision (if you can call it a decision) even more remarkable, according to CBAN, is that it ignores international standards on testing under the Codex Alimentarius, a UN body that develops food-safety guidelines recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and used to settle trade disputes.
No matter what you think of Codex or the WTO, what is the benefit to Canada of approving a new type of GE corn that other countries can now legitimately refuse to import? On economic as well as health grounds, this kneejerk policy of regulatory harmonization stinks.