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Could CETA mean genetically modified apples from Canada exported to Europe?

Photo: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari/flickr

A British Columbia-based company, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., has developed a genetically modified apple that doesn't brown when cut or bruised. Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada announced the decision to allow the fruit to be grown and sold within Canada. This follows a decision last month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The company intends to start planting the genetically modified apples in the spring of 2016 with significant planting to follow in 2017.

Should Europeans be concerned given CETA and TTIP?

A primary difference between the European Union and North America with respect to genetically modified food is that the EU employs the precautionary principle and a thorough risk assessment process, whereas regulators in North America assume that genetically modified organisms are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GMO counterparts. The precautionary principle and "long delays in reviews" of GM products could be argued in trade terms as unacceptable non-tariff barriers to exports that could be challenged and undermined.

The Harper government has stated that the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) "will enhance the existing Canada-EU forum for discussion on biotechnology and emphasizes the promotion of efficient science-based approval processes and cooperation on low-level presence of genetically modified crops. ... CETA also includes provisions to address non-tariff barriers in the EU, such as those related to animal and plant health and food safety. ... CETA establishes a mechanism under which Canada and the EU will cooperate to discuss, and attempt to prevent or resolve, non-tariff barriers that may arise for agricultural exports."

In other words, there is a process within CETA that would promote regulatory harmonization and address non-tariff barriers that could allow the export of genetically modified apples into Europe. It's also conceivable that the company could use the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision to challenge any prohibition of genetically modified apple exports to Europe. And overall, more Canadian apples will be heading to Europe with CETA. Under the deal, the 9 per cent EU seasonal tariff on Canadian apples will be reduced to 0 per cent.

Similarly, European allies have warned that the Sanitary and Phytosanitary committee referenced in the United States-European Union Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), as well as the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, will judge whether food safety measures are 'least trade restrictive' and 'equivalent'.

The Council of Canadians has long opposed GMOs and is committed to working with our European allies to stop the ratification of CETA and the completion of TTIP.

Photo: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari/flickr

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