Frequently asked questions

What is canola?

Canola is a plant that is a member of a large family of plants called crucifers. Crucifers are easy to identify because the four yellow flower petals form the shape of a cross. The canola plants grow to a height of one to two metres. The yellow flower produces an average of 60 to 100 seed pods per plant. Each seed pod contains 20 to 30 tiny, round seeds 1 mm. in diameter. When it is ready to harvest, the plant changes colour from green to light yellow. These tiny seeds are crushed to extrude canola oil.

Was canola developed using genetic engineering?

Canola was developed using traditional plant breeding techniques, not biotechnology. However, about 90% of the canola grown in Canada has now been modified using biotechnology to make it tolerant to some herbicides. Using these specific herbicides has reduced the amount of chemical needed for weed control in the fields.1

Is canola rapeseed?

No, Canola is not rapeseed. It looks the same on the outside but it’s very different on the inside. In the late 1960s, plant scientists used traditional plant breeding methods to remove rapeseed’s undesirable qualities – erucic acid and glucosinolates. Therefore canola oil is very different from rapeseed oil.1

What is plant breeding?

Plant breeding is the art and science of improving the heredity of plans for the benefit of humankind.2

Farmers have always selected the best looking plants and seeds and saved them to plant for the next season. Then, once the science of genetics became better understood, plant breeders used what they knew about the genes of a plant to select for specific desirable traits to develop improved varieties.3

What is biotechnology?

Biotechnology is a technique of modern biology that uses living organisms (or part of organisms) to improve plants or animals, make or modify products, or develop microorganisms for specific uses.4

Historically, the term “biotechnology” was used to describe processes like cheese, yogurt, wine or beer production. In modern terms, however, biotechnology is commonly used to refer to the newer methods of genetic engineering of organisms.5

Agricultural biotechnology

Agricultural biotechnology is a collection of scientific techniques used to improve plants, animals and microorganisms. Based on an understanding of DNA, scientists have developed solutions to increase agricultural productivity. Starting from the ability to identify genes that offer advantages on certain crops, and the ability to work with such characteristics very precisely, biotechnology allows for improvements in crops and livestock. 6

How is biotechnology used in agriculture?

Scientists have learned how to move genes from one organism to another. This process allows the transfer of beneficial characteristics into a plant, animal or microorganism by inserting genes (DNA) from another organism. Virtually all crops improved with transferred DNA (often called genetic engineering, GM crops or GMOs) to date have been developed to aid farmers to increase productivity by reducing crop damage from weeds, diseases or insects. 6

Why use biotechnology?

Growing cities and climate change are decreasing the farmland, yet the food production in increasing due to a growing population. By using GM crops farmers can reduce crop destruction from insects, weeds, and diseases without having to spray excessive amounts of pesticides.

Crops improved through biotechnology have undergone more safety and environmental testing than any crop varieties in history, and have been produced and consumed by humans and animals in millions of tons around the world for years. They have been proven as safe as the scientific method permits, by every valid method known to science and medicine. 7

Are foods made from GM crops safe?

Yes, foods derived from Genetically Modified (GM) crops are as safe to eat. Health Canada enforces a rigorous process for evaluating food safety and GM-derived foods are no exception. GM-derived foods are classified as “novel foods” by the Canadian government.

The sale of novel foods are assessed and regulated by Health Canada through a pre-market requirement in which detailed, scientific data is required. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency , who prioritizes mitigating risks to food safety, conducts food safety assessments.

It is a 7 to ten year process to research, develop, test and assess the safety of a new novel food, a process all canola products in the market have gone through before making it to store shelves.

A reputable study done by the World Health Organization found GM foods already in the market to be safe because they have undergone risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health any more than their conventional counterparts. The study allowed for a comparison of a GM final product with one that had an acceptable standard of safety for risk assessment, following the guidelines specified by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a commission that develops harmonized international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice.

Why do farmers grow GM crops?

Some farmers choose to grow a GM variety because of the economic, agronomic, and environmental benefits. By planting a GM canola crop, farmers use less fuel, less pesticides, and reduce soil tillage. GM crops use fewer pesticides and fertilizer because the plant has been bred to be tolerant and/or resistant to insects, severe weather, or poor soil conditions.

Farmers have the choice on what type of plants to grow and who to purchase their seeds from and have many canola varieties to choose from. Growers will choose a seed variety that will succeed in their geographic area, soil type and crop rotation.

Questions?

Have questions about GM foods? Get the facts from experts at Best Food Facts , where you can even submit your own questions.

  1.   Canola Council of Canada, Canola: The Myths Debunked,
  2.  Breeding Field Crops Fourth Edition, J.M. Poehlman and D.A. Sleper, 1995.
  3.  International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications
  4.   Cornell University, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II,
  5.   Ag Bio World newsletter; June 21, 2003  GM Food Myths: A Response to False Activist Claims