Worldwide, gene drive regulations are in flux. Gene drives are being developed using transgenic technology (GMOs) that contain foreign genes, as well as gene editing, including CRISPR (synthetic gene drives), which do not, complicating regulatory oversight as gene editing and GMOs are often regulated differently.
There are no Canadian regulations specifically regarding gene drives. Environment Canada regulates animals developed with biotechnology and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999 requires environmental and human risk assessments during the development of these animals. Any gene drives developed would be regulated through Canada’s regulation of any products that contain novel traits, regardless of the process (e.g. transgenesis or gene editing) used to develop the product.
Two other organizations would likely be involved if gene drive regulations are developed: Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is legally mandated to govern genetic technology in animals for research and release; Pest Management Regulatory Agency of Health Canada would have jurisdiction of any organisms with gene drives if they were to be used for pest control.
1999: Canada releases the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to regulate animals developed with biotechnology.
Gene drives face fierce opposition from certain environmental advocacy groups, which claim that modified creatures might spread across borders and adversely impact the environment in unseen ways—claims most scientists say are overblown. The Canadian-based ETC Group, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) and more than 200 global anti-GMO activists and NGOs published an open letter in 2016 opposing gene drives and called for a global moratorium. During the 2016 World Conservation Congress, a select group of NGOs, environmental activists and some scientists voted to adopt a moratorium on supporting research into gene drives. The moratorium call was rejected at the 2016 United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). Counter NGO groups, including Target Malaria, Island Conservation and Genetic Biocontrol of Invasive Rodents Program, have adopted the opposite position, stating that “gene drive is vital to the future of restoration and critical in preventing extinctions”.