Paving the way for innovation and competitiveness in the Canadian plant protein sector

PIC in the News

Canada has the opportunity to become a global agricultural powerhouse, which includes taking a leadership role in the production of plant-based products to meet growing global demand. To that end, the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table set a goal of growing agriculture and agri-food exports to $85 billion by 2025, up from $64.6 billion in 2017, along with ambitious goals for increases in domestic sales.

Protein Industries Canada is committed to helping drive Canada toward these goals by working collaboratively across the industry and investing in projects that will transform the food processing sector in Canada, create jobs and stimulate local economies.

The key to delivering on this potential is attracting investment into innovative new technologies such as gene editing. These technologies will support the development of exciting new crop varieties and will benefit the economy, the environment, and consumers. A fundamental component of our nation’s competitiveness is ensuring an environment that fosters research and the commercialization of these technologies.

Over the course of our current mandate, Protein Industries Canada, along with our members, will invest more than $300 million to help revolutionize the Canadian agrifood sector including significant investments focused on plant breeding to improve Canada’s protein rich crops, such as canola. The research plan for increasing canola protein value is a first-of-its-kind using gene editing to improve protein quality and quantity. High protein canola meal will lead to new markets and create new economic benefits throughout the value chain.

Gene editing is critical to making innovations like this one a reality. Gene editing is a technology that works within a plant’s genome to make precise enhancements to the plant. The outcome of using gene editing is the same, safe results as conventional plant breeding, but the process is faster and more predictable. It is on the verge of revolutionizing agriculture around the world. But Canada may miss out.

Unfortunately, many of our major trading partners are outpacing Canada by providing regulatory clarity on gene editing and positioning themselves to capitalize on its potential while maintaining a high standard of safety. The United States Department of Agriculture recently recognized that the results of precision gene editing within the genome are indistinguishable from conventional plant breeding and confirmed that it would therefore not be subject to additional regulatory oversight. The regulatory certainty is already pulling investment out of Canada and giving the U.S. a significant head start.

The U.S. is not alone in recognizing the safety of gene editing. Countries including Australia, Argentina and Japan have made similar decisions. The lack of a clear and predictable regulatory system is limiting investment in Canada. We also run the risk that the investments we are making in new product developments may not make it to market. Or worse yet, they will make it to market in other countries and Canada will miss out on all the potential benefits.

We have too often seen Canada export its high-caliber intellectual property for the benefit of other countries. Keeping that intellectual property here in Canada will create growth for the primary producer and processing sectors, create new choices for consumers, and lead to jobs that stimulate our local economies.

To its credit, the Government of Canada has recognized the need to update regulations to consider new innovations like gene editing and the positive impact they can and should play in making Canadian agriculture a global powerhouse. Modernization of our regulatory system is a priority for the industry and government.

The Treasury Board’s regulatory roadmaps set a clear path forward for enabling this kind of growth in the sector, which included modernizing the regulatory system for plant breeding innovations. The work has largely been done. Now is the time to act so that Canada can begin to move into its rightful place as one of the world’s top producers of innovative, sustainable, and high-quality crops and plant-based ingredients.

Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the Canadian economy, now more than ever, we must take the next steps to attract investment and innovation, to create jobs and opportunities in Canada. The investments made through the Innovation Supercluster Initiative was a significant first step, but we need the right regulatory environment so that we can enable the sector to attract safe, cutting-edge innovation to Canada.

Bill Greuel

CEO, Protein Industries Canada

Published by: The Hill Times (PDF version)