GENET archive


REGULATION & PLANTS: Canadian GM rules block new non-GM barley

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Manitoba Co-Operator, Canada

AUTHOR: Allan Dawson


DATE:   24.07.2007

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The commercialization of a new Canadian barley, bred by traditional means to reduce the phosphorus in livestock manure and save hog farmers money on nutritional supplements, has hit a regulatory roadblock set up mainly for genetically modified (GM) crops.

That has the developer of HB379 low-phytate barley, Brian Rossnagel of the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC), angry and frustrated. He wants the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to change its process for approving new varieties or risk impeding innovation and unnecessarily adding costs that publicly funded breeders can’t afford.

”As far as we can tell there are no downsides (to this new barley), not at least based on sound scientific rationale and logic,” Rossnagel said while speaking at the University of Manitoba in May.

Last year the industry committee that recommends whether new crop cultivars go forward for registration unanimously gave the thumbs up to HB379. Rossnagel wasn’t surprised. HB379 is essentially the popular Harrington barley, with one major difference: up to 50 per cent of its phosphorus is available to the livestock that eat it, while in traditional barley only 25 to 35 per cent is available.

That means pigs fed HB379 will excrete less phosphorus in their manure because they’ll absorb more. Manure is seen as one of many sources of phosphorus pollution making its way into Lake Winnipeg.

It also means farmers won’t have to add phosphorus to make up for what’s unavailable in traditional barley, or add enzymes (phytase) to free up the bound phosphorus.

”If you can reduce the amount of the phosphorus in the diet because there’s more available in the barley then you don’t have to add commercial minerals to the ration,” Andrew Dickson, general manager of Manitoba Pork, said in an interview following Rossnagel’s address. ”It would also reduce the cost of the diet.”

Dickson said some studies estimate it will cost Manitoba hog farmers between $18 and $27 million to manage manure to comply with the provincial government’s new water regulations. Having a barley that puts less phosphorus in hog manure would help farmers and the environment, he said.

”This (delay in commercialization) is really frustrating because there is an urgency to this thing,” Dickson said.


”It’s just barley”

Rossnagel had expected HB379 to be registered this spring and available to seed growers to propagate seed for wider distribution next year.

But the way CFIA sees it, such a major change in available phosphorus makes HB379 a ”novel” feed, even though it’s not a GM crop. If it’s novel, CFIA must do a safety assessment before the crop can become commercialized, said Ian Affleck, acting chief of CFIA’s seed policy, plant production division.

”We need to look at this to see if it poses any potential risk,” he said in a recent interview.

Meantime, Rossnagel is emphatic that HB379 barley is no risk because ”it’s just barley.”

There is no difference in the total phosphorus between HB379 and other barleys, he stressed, adding the only difference is how much is available and how much is bound.

”There is nothing strange or new about this barley, I can tell you. And surely to God, when Harrington was grown on something like 143 million acres in Canada over the last 29 years, we shouldn’t be afraid of this barley.”

HB379 as a feed is equivalent to an ordinary barley that has phytase enzymes added to make more phosphorus available to the livestock that eat it, Rossnagel said.

”It’s the same damn feed,” he said. ”What the hell is the risk, is my concern.

”How dumb can you be? Something that has absolutely no risk gets declared novel and then you go through a whole process to decide that it has no risk. The point is, this whole system has to go back to what it used to be: risk-based.”

Until recently the CDC and CFIA were at a stalemate. CFIA couldn’t do a safety assessment on HB379 until Rossnagel agreed it was a ”novel” feed and submitted data to show it’s safe.

In May Rossnagel said he didn’t want HB379 declared ”novel,” even if it resulted in the eventual approval of the variety, for two reasons: one, it would add unnecessary cost to prove the barley is safe and two, because potential importers of the barley will wrongly assume it has been genetically modified and not buy it.

”There are significant potential export markets,” he said. ”Winnipeg is not, despite what Winnipeggers probably think, the only place with phosphorus pollution.

”Once the ’novel feed’ moniker is hung on this variety and this type of barley... everywhere else in the world… it will be interpreted as a GMO and folks in Korea, Japan and Taiwan won’t touch this with a 10-foot pole and they’ll buy their low-phytate barley from our colleagues in Montana.”

However, in an interview July 11, the CDC’s managing director Dorothy Murrell said the variety has now been submitted for approval and the centre will try to provide the data CFIA needs.

”We are working with them (CFIA) to supply them information to give them a comfort level that they can approve this product,” she said.

”The longer-term vision is, we see a strong need for change and will work as the Crop Development Centre, but also with industry associations and other partners, to continue to press for change.”


Red tape

According to Rossnagel, Canada’s regulatory system is flawed because it tries to protect the GM plant breeding industry at the expense of those who use traditional plant breeding techniques.

”When we developed this idiotic definition of plants with novel traits (PNT) and everything that goes with that definition, we just completely screwed ourselves,” he said. ”The rest of the world sees a PNT, regardless of what the definition is, as a GMO.”

Rossnagel said GM crops are regulated for social reasons, not scientific ones. Canada is the only country in the world where non-GM crops get bogged down in red tape designed for GM crops.

Affleck agreed Canada’s regulatory system is unique, but stressed it is science-based.

”It’s not the process you used to make something (that is assessed), it’s what have you made,” he said. ”It’s that product that we want to regulate. Although it does set us apart from other countries, it is truly a science-based regulatory system. But it is a very safe system that we run.

”Our trigger is the novelty rather than the process used to create the product.”

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: The StarPhoenix, Canada

AUTHOR: Murray Lyons


DATE:   24.04.2007

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One of Canada’s most respected plant breeders says the federal regulatory process is stifling a University of Saskatchewan effort to register a new variety of hulless barley.

The U of S cannot afford to continue navigating Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulations and has dropped plans to register the variety.

Brian Rossnagel, a barley and oat breeder at the Crop Development Centre (CDC) at U of S, called a meeting Monday of other plant researchers and people working in the feed and livestock industries to explain why the low phytate, hulless barley variety developed by CDC should not have to be subjected to CFIA’s process for regulating feeds with novel traits.

The university and CDC researchers got so frustrated with the regulatory process that they decided this winter they will not seek approval of the low phytate barley, currently identified only as HB379, as long as CFIA insists upon regulating it under the heading of ”novel feed.”

Rossnagel says the irony is competitors to Canada in producing feed could soon have their own low phytate hulless varieties developed at the University of Idaho.

These varieties are being fast-tracked by U.S. regulators who don’t consider low phytate levels to be a novel trait.

The Saskatchewan registered seed company, Farm Pure Seeds, was set to grow out the variety to commercial quantities under the name CDC Lophy-1, but that commercial opportunity has now been halted.

Phytate is a phosphorus enzyme found in almost every plant grown. The enzyme is a form of phosphorus not easily absorbed by livestock with just one stomach. Hog and poultry producers have to add another enzyme to break down the phytate in feed barley as well as add more phosphate to the diet as a feed supplement.

The end result is much of the phosphate nutrient is not absorbed by the animal.

Management of manure is a big issue for intensive livestock operations, and research has suggested the high level of phosphate in Lake Winnipeg, for example, can be partially linked to Manitoba’s intensive hog industry, Rossnagel explained.

The CDC variety has about one-third of the phytate of normal barley, which means there is three times the free available phosphate within the barley that can then be absorbed by the animal, Rossnagel said.

In tests, feeding HB379 to hogs resulted in the hog manure with 20 to 45 per cent lower phosphate levels.

CDC was told last July by CFIA’s feed regulatory division of the agency’s insistence on regulating the variety under the heading of ”novel feed.” The university has been trying since then to get regulators to change their mind about that designation.

Rossnagel says the word ”novel,” used by a regulator, means genetically modified organism (GMO) to Canada’s overseas agriculture customers.

”This will kill the export potential as the novel feed moniker will be interpreted everywhere else in the world as a GMO,” the barley researcher said. ”That would lock it out of most of the markets we would be seeking to go into.”

The main reason Rossnagel is so unhappy that HB379 has been put under a heading of ”novel feed” is that the new variety was not created through gene splicing, but developed through an accelerated program of plant breeding, using tools that plant breeders have used for 200 years.

He says the CDC used rapid back-crossing techniques and sent samples of its early work on the variety to New Zealand to grow it out during Saskatchewan winters.

As a result, the variety was developed in less than six years, about half the normal time for a traditional breeding program.

”Plant breeding is all about change. It’s the whole purpose of what we do,” Rossnagel said. ”We try to improve. We try to add disease resistance. We try to alter quality features and meet niche market possibilities.”

Glyn Chancey, director of the plant production division for CFIA, went to Rossnagel’s meeting Monday as an observer, but found himself explaining the federal agency’s processes and how it has been seeking input from many researchers across Canada this winter on how its regulatory process should be streamlined.

Chancey says he can’t speak for the feed division of CFIA, but said he disagreed with Rossnagel that the process to get HB379 registered would be as onerous as the U of S researcher made it out to be.

”There are not really any significant impediments to the registration of this variety that a constructive engagement between Brian and the CDC and our feed section couldn’t resolve in short order,” Chancey said.



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