The Safety Assessment Process for Plants with Novel Traits (PNTs)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada (HC) work together to assess the safety of plants with novel traits, some of which are also known as genetically modified plants.

Plants with novel traits can include plants produced through biotechnology, genetic engineering or conventional breeding techniques. These plants cannot enter the marketplace unless the CFIA and HC’s rigorous assessment determines that these plants are as safe for use as food, feed and release into the environment as other conventional plant varieties already being grown.

The CFIA is responsible for the safety assessment of plants with novel traits that are used as livestock feed and the impact of their cultivation on the environment.  HC is responsible for verifying that all foods derived from plants with novel traits are safe and nutritious.

The rigorous safety assessments carried out by HC and the CFIA are based on international standards and guidelines such as those set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission for food safety and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for environmental safety.

The CFIA’s livestock feed safety assessment considers:

  • whether the plant is safe for animal consumption;
  • whether the plant is as nutritious as its conventional alternatives; and
  • whether exposure to the plant or its products could pose a hazard to those working with it.

The CFIA’s environmental safety assessment takes into account:

  • the potential of the plant to become a weed;
  • the potential of a plant to create a weed by cross-pollinating with another plant; and
  • the potential impact on biodiversity.

HC's food safety assessment takes into account:

  • composition of the novel food compared to non-modified counterpart foods;
  • nutritional information compared to non-modified counterparts;
  • potential for introducing new toxins; and
  • potential for causing allergic reactions.

If new information relevant to the safety of a product or plants with novel traits comes to light, both the CFIA and HC will conduct a review of this information. The CFIA and HC may change or revoke an authorization if warranted for safety reasons.

The regulatory assessment process is focussed on the safety of the plant product. The process does not assess the commercial aspects of plants with novel traits such as potential market impacts.

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