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Home » Technology & Innovation » What Is Gene-Edited Food and Why Should Canadians Care?
Pierre Petelle, CropLife Canada_

Pierre Petelle

President & CEO, CropLife Canada

As Canadian agriculture looks to innovation to drive sustainable growth, CropLife Canada is sowing the seeds for plant-breeding innovation.

The seedless grapes, oranges, and grapefruits we enjoy are the result of years of painstaking traditional breeding. Today, thanks to gene editing, plant breeders can create similar tasty and healthy foods at a fraction of the time and cost.

Gene editing operates on the same principle as traditional breeding but with a much higher degree of precision. “Scientists can figure out exactly which part of the genome is creating the desired outcome or problem and surgically make changes within the plant,” says Pierre Petelle, President and CEO of CropLife Canada, the organization representing the Canadian plant science industry.

Scientists are using gene editing to focus on changes within the plant’s own genome without introducing foreign genes. And it’s just as safe as traditional breeding. “All gene editing does is make the process more efficient and targeted than ever before,” says Petelle.

Sustainable agriculture, healthier foods, and less waste

In agriculture, gene editing allows scientists to breed plants with specific traits — such as tolerance to extreme weather conditions — at a very precise and localized level. As the impacts of climate change become more acute, the ability to adapt to ongoing changes in growing conditions through gene editing will ensure a sustainable and reliable food production system for Canada.

Other advantages to gene editing include healthier foods, such as trans fat-free soybean oil and high-fibre wheat, and less food waste. On the latter, scientists are working on new varieties of lettuce, mushrooms, and potatoes that slow browning after being cut. “Traditionally, people don’t want to eat brown vegetables or fruit, so by adjusting the part of the gene that causes the rapid browning, we’re able to extend the shelf life of that product and reduce food waste,” says Petelle.

With a tremendous land mass, plentiful natural resources, and growers quick to adopt new innovations, Canada has a long-standing role as a global food producer. Investments in agricultural innovation like gene editing will ensure our global status as well as drive Canada’s post-COVID-19 internal economic recovery.

Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel

Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel

Public Speaker & Farmer

Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel, a farmer from Mossbank, SK, shares her insight on the latest advancements in plant breeding.

What excites you about the possibilities of gene editing?

Generations of farmers before me have enjoyed the benefits of new technology, and next to the advancements in our equipment, seed technology might be the most exciting! What really excites me is knowing that by embracing gene editing, Canada will be able to continue to lead the world in producing the highest-quality grains, pulses, and oilseeds, and in adopting on-farm practices that are the most sustainable in the world.

What’s one of the biggest challenges you face as a farmer, and how might innovation in agriculture help you overcome it?

No matter what the season, farmers like me are constantly negotiating with Mother Nature to bring us the weather we need. Gene editing technology allows us to stay one step ahead and to try to solve problems before they reach a point where they can’t be overcome. I want to say “thank you” to the scientists working alongside us to better the agriculture industry.

Jodi Souter, Plant Breeder

Jodi Souter

Plant Breeder

Jodi Souter, a plant breeder from Saskatoon, SK, shares her thoughts on the possibilities of gene editing.

What impact have technological advancements had on the field of plant breeding?

Technology has enabled the field of plant breeding to progress from only selecting for visual traits with simple genetic controls to solving complex issues. Technological advancements have made plant breeding a faster and more flexible process, allowing breeders to respond to global challenges.
What excites you about the possibilities of gene editing?

Gene editing is a tool that plant breeders can add to their arsenals and responsibly use to achieve needed improvements in crop varieties. Gene editing allows plant breeders to be precise and accurate in our efforts to solve multi-faceted problems facing the entire food chain — from field to fork.  
Why do we need new tools like gene editing?

Gene editing will allow Canada’s agriculture sector to continue to be competitive with other countries that have modified their legislation in adherence to a science-based approach.

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