Novel foods: Safety of genetically modified foods

We do not allow the sale of genetically modified (GM) foods in Canada unless Health Canada's scientists are satisfied that they are safe and nutritious.

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Safety assessment of GM foods in Canada

We do a thorough safety assessment of all novel GM foods to make sure that they are as safe and nutritious as foods already sold in Canada.

We have a clear safety assessment process that follows the Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods. There are strict requirements for data and procedure.

Our scientific review considers:

The main steps in the safety assessment:

  1. A manufacturer, importer or developer submits detailed information to Health Canada. They outline exactly how the product was developed.
  2. If the data provided is not complete, Health Canada scientists will ask the developer for more information and scientific data. Some products that do not meet our strict criteria either have their submission closed by Health Canada, or withdrawn voluntarily by the manufacturer before a safety assessment is completed.
  3. Health Canada scientists may supplement the information submitted by the manufacturer with relevant published data from the larger scientific community.
  4. Health Canada scientists assess all the information available. The reviews take into consideration all the available evidence before making a final decision about the health and safety of a new GM food.

The use of company-generated data to perform pre-market assessments of GM foods is a standard scientific method of evaluation used by regulators around the world.

While many studies published in scientific journals are the result of developer testing, a significant number of independent laboratories are also studying and publishing on the safety of GM foods.

The safety assessment process is based upon principles developed by international experts from the:

Comparative approach

One way to establish safety of GM foods is through a comparative approach. This approach allows regulatory agencies to identify potential safety and nutritional issues.

The comparative approach identifies all differences between the GM food and the closest unmodified food with a history of safe use. We assess the differences for potential impacts on all aspects of food safety. If the differences aren't found to impact food safety, then we conclude that the GM food is as safe as food that is already considered safe to eat.

The comparative approach to GM food safety assessment is used by regulatory agencies around the world in countries such as:

Regulating GM foods in Canada

Health Canada has been assessing GM foods for more than 20 years. As of 2019, over 140 genetically modified (GM) foods have been permitted for sale in Canada.

To date:

If new information concerning the safety of GM foods does arise, we will:

Internationally, scientists have concluded that GM foods pose no more risk to human health than non-GM foods. In fact, GM foods are subject to a far higher level of regulatory oversight and scientific requirements than traditional organisms consumed as food.

Risks of GM techniques in the food supply

The risks of GM techniques in the food supply are the same as for foods produced by conventional means. These include potential risks from:

However, techniques used to produce GM foods may:

The safety assessment:

Long-term effects of GM foods

Using GM techniques does not introduce unique risks into the food supply. As a result, the potential for long-term effects from these foods are no different than for conventional foods that have been a safe part of the Canadian diet for a long time.

Furthermore, there is no current evidence to indicate that long-term studies are needed to ensure the safety of foods produced using this technology.

Some foods may require additional considerations to address long-term health effects if the GM techniques result in:

In such cases, long-term studies may be included in the safety assessment of these products.

Canada's international involvement with GM food safety

Health Canada was involved with the Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Forces on Foods derived from Biotechnology. The Task Forces were created by the Codex Alimentarius Commission to:

The work of the Task Forces led to a number of documents being adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, including:

Health Canada's safety assessment approach is consistent with guidance documents adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

Health Canada also participates in the work of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Working Group for the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds. This OECD Working Group is intended to promote the same standards for safety assessments and regulations of novel GM foods and feeds around the world.

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