Framing Challenges and Opportunities for Canada
The Expert Panel on Regulating Gene-Edited Organisms for Pest Control
Advances in gene editing tools and technologies have made the process of changing an organism’s genome more efficient, opening up a range of potential applications. One such application is in pest control. By editing genomes of organisms, and introducing them to wild populations, it’s now possible to control insect-borne disease and invasive species, or reverse insecticide resistance in pests. But the full implications of using these methods remains uncertain.
In Canada, pest control products are regulated under the Pest Control Products Act and requirements for approval are well established. However, the potential to use gene-edited organisms (e.g., mosquito vectors, agricultural pests) in pest control applications present unique scientific, ethical, and regulatory challenges and considerations.
A comprehensive understanding of current and future applications, and the novel risks associated with these technologies for pest control, could provide insights about their safety and potential benefits, and help to inform the development of relevant policy and regulation. Framing Challenges and Opportunities for Canada provides an overview of the potential uses of genetic pest-control technologies, and articulates how their attendant risks might inform their responsible development, deployment, and oversight.
Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency
What are the scientific, bioethical, and regulatory challenges regarding the use of gene-edited organisms and technologies (e.g., CRISPR/Cas9) for pest control?
Gene-editing technologies introduce novel ways to alter the genomes of pest organisms, which could potentially mitigate the impacts of pests in public health, conservation, and agricultural contexts. The use of these tools, however, is accompanied by uncertainties about possible impacts on species and ecosystems, along with broader socioeconomic and cultural risks. Although these technologies are the subject of considerable investigation in controlled testing environments, decision-makers will be tasked with addressing multiple unknowns concerning the efficacy of these tools, their safety, and their appropriateness before implementation can occur in pest-control settings. To do so, Canada will need to leverage expertise in research and development, and in society more broadly. Current regulatory frameworks and their risk assessment processes will require adaptations to meet the scientific and social challenges posed by gene-editing tools. Canada will also need to determine how its regulatory approach will align with international jurisdictions.