Glabrous canary seed (Phalaris canariensis L.)

In 2013, Health Canada received a submission to allow the sale of glabrous (hairless) hull varieties of brown and yellow colored canary seed (Phalaris canariensis L.) as cereal grain for human consumption. Canary seed is primarily used in the birdfeed market as a major component in feed mixtures for pet and wild birds. The commercial cultivars of annual canary seeds grown for the bird feed market are brown coloured and the hull surface  can be either covered with small silicified hairs (trichomes or spicules) or be hairless (no spicules). The hairy brown canary seed cultivar was selectively bred through mutagenesis and conventional breeding to eliminate the hairs and produce a hairless hull yellow coloured seed variety in addition to a hairless hull brown coloured seed variety.  Canary seed does not have a history of food use, so was assessed in accordance with the Novel Food Regulations (Division 28 of the Food and Drug Regulations).

Dehulled (hairless) brown and yellow canary seeds (also known as groats) are intended to be used either as whole groat, whole meal, whole grain flour, or the milled products, as ingredients in the bakery, cereal, pasta, snack and nutritional bar market. The grain could also be used as low fat substitute for sesame seed (a priority allergen) in breads or snack foods, or in combination with other seeds as toppings or ingredients.

Health Canada's assessment of canary seeds was conducted according to the Guidelines for Safety Assessment of Novel Foods.

In order to determine whether these hairless hull varieties of canary seeds could be sold in Canada as food, the scientists at Health Canada conducted a scientific assessment to ensure that canary seeds are safe for consumption, and have nutritional value similar to commonly eaten cereals available on the market. The assessment also considered how the canary seeds were developed and whether they could be toxic or cause allergic reactions.

Scientists with expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition conducted a thorough analysis of the data and the protocols provided by the applicant to ensure the validity of the results.

Following this assessment, it was determined that hairless canary seed is safe for the general population.  The nutritional value is similar to that of other traditionally eaten cereal grains available in Canada.  Canary seed was demonstrated to be gluten-free, so it is suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.  Although it is gluten-free, it does contain other proteins that may be similar to those proteins responsible for wheat allergies and so may not be suitable for wheat allergic individuals.  For this reason, canary seed and foods containing canary seed must be labelled with a statement to the effect that the product "may not be suitable for people with wheat allergy."

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