Sure. That would be fine.
Good morning, and thank you very much for inviting the Canola Council of Canada to speak today about low-level presence.
The Canola Council is a value chain organization representing the entire canola sector in Canada, which includes 43,000 canola growers, the seed development companies, the crushers that process the seed into oil and meal, and the exporters who export canola as seed for processing in the export country. The Canola Council is the medium through which the industry comes together to set objectives and implement plans for the entire sector.
I'd like to start by giving you some numbers on the industry. Canola returns the highest value to farmers of any crop in Canada. In 2011 canola returned $7.3 billion in farm cash receipts to Canadian farmers. The industry supports 228,000 jobs across the country and contributes $15.4 billion annually to the Canadian economy. The canola industry has doubled in size in the last decade, producing more jobs and economic investment every day.
I hope that paints a picture of the value the industry is providing to the Canadian economy and to rural life in Canada. But for the purposes of today's discussion, I think the most important statistic is that Canada exports over 85% of all the canola we grow, in the form of seed, oil, or meal, worth more than $9.6 billion last year. This makes our industry highly reliant on predictable market access.
Just yesterday the Canola Council released a major report outlining our market access priorities for the future, which I hope you'll take time to read. You will note that risk-based and efficient regulation of biotechnology is highlighted as a major determinant of effective access to international markets.
We thought the best contribution we could make to the study of low-level presence is to outline why it's an important issue for our industry and to explain in practical terms how LLP can benefit Canada's grains and oilseeds export sector.
Canola producers in Canada have eagerly adopted biotechnology, including genetic modification, because of its superior weed control, cost savings on crop inputs, and other benefits. Last year more than 97% of the canola grown in Canada was developed employing modern biotechnology.
Like Canada, the major markets we ship canola to have laws in place that regulate the import of biotech plant materials. These laws are there to protect human, animal, and plant health, and the environment. They require that a new biotech product be rigorously assessed for safety and approved by the regulatory authority in that market before imports are permitted. And they are strictly enforced, with zero tolerance for the presence of an unapproved GM event.
The canola industry in Canada is fully committed to meeting the requirements of importing countries and ensuring our exports comply with these regulations. The council maintains a voluntary market access policy, which dictates that new genetically modified products must be approved by regulators in those major markets before products are commercialized in Canada.
It recognizes that complete segregation of crops is extremely difficult because of commingling that occurs when grain is handled and transported. By requiring market approvals prior to commercialization, the policy ensures that no new GM seeds are even cultivated commercially until they are approved for import by our major markets.
The challenge in the future comes from the substantial increase in the development of biotechnology products, not only in the major developed nations but all over the world.
Just last week the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, an organization that reports annually on the use of agriculture biotechnology globally, reported that a record 420 million acres were planted to biotech crops in 2012 in 28 countries. This is a 6% increase in acreage over 2011 and the 17th year of consecutive growth in biotech crop acreage. And 20 of the 28 countries electing to seed biotech crops are developing nations. Some of these products may be commercialized before approval is granted in some of our foreign markets. In some cases, developers may not even seek approval, intending that the product only be cultivated for their domestic market.
The threat to Canada's export trade in grains and oilseeds comes from the potential of a presence, at a very low level, of these products in Canadian grain exports. The detection of unapproved biotech material in a shipment of canola, wheat, or pulse crops can result in the rejection of a vessel, with the associated economic loss and, potentially, serious implications for Canada's reputation internationally.
So how could this happen? Imagine a vessel arriving at the port of Vancouver to load up with canola and destined for one of our major canola markets. The vessel may have, on its previous voyage, carried loads of biotech rice from Asia or soybeans from South America. Traces of those crops may still be present in the vessel and those products may not be approved in the country we're exporting canola to. Those minute levels of material that are unintentionally in the shipment could lead to a rejection of the entire cargo.
A low-level presence in place in this import country would reduce this risk of trade disruption. The policy would allow for low levels of the unapproved product, knowing that the GM material has previously been safety assessed and approved using international risk assessment standards.
Another factor is increasingly acute detection methodology. Today's testing is becoming incredibly precise. In a zero tolerance system, even the smallest increment of unapproved material can disrupt trade. By example, in 2009 shipments of American soybeans destined for the EU were found to have come in contact with corn dust. This dust, probably picked up at a port or other grain-loading facility, included traces of an unapproved corn trait, and resulted in rejection of soybean cargoes. This type of situation is more likely to occur in the future, as detection and testing procedures become ever more precise.
For the export-oriented canola sector, low-level presence is one tool for managing this risk. In the view of the Canola Council, low-level presence policies would help achieve the dual objectives of maintaining rigorous health and safety standards while facilitating trade and eliminating unnecessary trade disruption.
It's also important to consider that the threat of trade disruption is not limited to crops that are produced with genetic engineering. Trade and other major Canadian crops, including wheat, durum, barley, and pulses, which are not derived from modern biotech, can also be disrupted by the unintended presence of low levels of GM material.
While we see this mostly from an export point of view, LLP is equally valuable as a tool to ensure food and feed safety and security for importing nations. Countries that are highly reliant on grains and oilseeds imports are at risk if trace levels of biotech disrupt or stop trade and therefore cut off the security of their supply.
So what exactly is LLP? It is the unintended presence, at low levels, of unauthorized GM material in imported grain, where the GM material is authorized, following a safety assessment in one or more countries but not in the country of import.
With LLP policies in place in grains and oilseeds importing countries, the regulatory authorities in those markets can rely on the fact that the biotech material has been risk assessed and declared safe, and can apply risk management thresholds, below which they can declare the presence of the product as acceptable in imports in their country.
The Canola Council supports the development of LLP policies in order to prevent trade disruption resulting from unintended presence. We welcome Canada's leadership both in developing a practical, effective, and transparent policy framework for LLP in Canada and in taking leadership internationally in calling for other countries to do the same.
Canada is not alone in this effort. Two significant international meetings have been held to discuss LLP globally. A group of 13 countries released a statement on LLP, agreeing to discuss LLP and look for ways of implementing it globally. Canada's draft policy is a potential model that others could adopt. This is a complex and challenging issue, and Canada's policy and regulatory experts are playing a responsible and helpful role in developing innovative policy.
But there is also a higher calling, from my way of thinking.
By 2050 the world's population is set to increase by 50%. We will have nine billion people to feed and the same amount or less of arable land. Biotechnology is just one way to increase our food productive capacity, and an important one. To do this, we need practical and effective policies that protect health and safety but also facilitate trade.
Your work in ensuring our policy and regulatory frameworks help Canada continue to take advantage of the latest innovations to create jobs and feed the world is greatly appreciated.
Thank you again for an opportunity to appear, and I look forward to questions.