Canadian farmers are urged to take part in a major review of regulations under the Seeds Act, starting with a survey ending March 15 assessing current regulations and the need for changes.
Most producers probably don’t know much about the Byzantine legislation that goes back to 1905, when the Seeds Control Act was proclaimed, but then as now one of the main purposes was to ensure farmers get good-quality seed, the foundation upon which Canada’s reputation for producing high-quality crops rests.
Why it matters: Canada produces $2.5 billion worth of pedigreed seed annually, which, along with common and farm-saved seed, grows into crops valued at $33.8 billion.
And while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says the review is intended to make for a better seed system, clashes are likely over the extent to which the seed industry should self-regulate, with less CFIA oversight, and the future role of the variety registration system, which some farmers and seed growers say is key to Canada’s grain quality control system, especially for western Canadian milling wheat.
Will the 117-year-old Canadian Seed Growers Association’s (CSGA) regulatory role in seed certification change?
How might Seeds Canada fit in? It was created Feb. 1 after the Canadian Plant Technology Agency, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada, Canadian Seed Institute and Canadian Seed Trade Association, voted to merge last year, prompting speculation of a possible power struggle with CSGA.
In anticipation of the regulatory review the groups agreed a few years ago to form a one-stop “industry-led, government-enabled seed system.”
But last year CSGA members voted against merging.
“The CFIA has not heard from stakeholders that they would like the CFIA to examine CSGA’s role in seed certification,” Wendy Jahn, national manager of CFIA’s Seeds Section, said in an email Feb. 4. “We are open to all input so that the seed system meets the needs of the value chain now and into the future… ”
Writing last fall in the CSGA’s Seed to Succeed magazine Jahn wrote: “Amalgamation is not necessary for seed regulatory modernization, nor is it part of the seed regulatory modernization.”
Some observers say it’s unlikely the CSGA’s role in seed certification will change, since it has been doing that job for more than 100 years.
Changes to seed regulations will affect all Canadian farmers. That’s why Jahn wants farmers to participate in the review, expected to take two years.
While CFIA has been talking to the seed sector for a couple of years, the review process started ramping up in September when the Seed Regulatory Modernization Working Group, made up of representatives from the seed trade and farm groups, started meeting, Jahn wrote.
“One of the first products from the working group is the development of the Needs Assessment Survey,” she wrote.
“The Needs Assessment Survey is a tool to reach out to all stakeholders this winter to get an understanding of:
1) What are the benefits of the current regulatory framework and seed system?
3) What is the comfort with further industry delivery of regulatory services?”
The survey asks farmers about the process for cancelling varieties. Currently registrants can cancel a variety’s registration without interference. That’s raised concerns among some farmers that over time they will have fewer choices to grow varieties where they are allowed to save seed royalty free.
CFIA will post survey results on its website this spring, Jahn wrote. The working group will then start working on possible changes. It will also assign eight task teams to dig deeper into possible options.
“These task teams will include additional members outside of the working groups so there will be additional stakeholder input into the development of regulatory amendment options,” Jahn wrote.
Recommendations for changes will be developed this summer and fall for broad-based consultations in the winter of 2022.
That spring the results will be analyzed and by summer proposed new regulations will published in the Canada Gazette Part I and II.
“Though the legislative framework has evolved, the main purpose of the Seeds Act and the Seeds Regulations remains intact: to ensure the overall quality and reliability of seed and seed potatoes for producers and protect against fraud,” a background paper on the process states.
The eight ‘task teams’ will work on the following:
1) Variety registration;
2) Seed certification (pedigree system);
3) Seed standards and grade tables;
4) Seed testing labs and analysts;
5) Common seed (how or if to regulate it);
6) Seed exports;
7) Seed imports;
8) Information (labelling and record-keeping).
Crop farmers are seed consumers therefore it’s in their interest to participate in the review, Michael Scheffel, the CSGA’s managing director, policy and standards, said in an interview Feb. 3.
“They (CFIA) are interested to know if producers feel the current system is providing what they need,” he said. “Are there things preventing farmers from doing things or are there things they don’t value?”
CSGA hopes the review allows certain changes such as grade tables to be amended through “incorporation by reference, instead of requiring cabinet approval, which takes much longer.
“There would still be a process of consultation and notification (before the changes are implemented,” he said.
Seeds Canada doesn’t have formal position on regulatory changes yet, but some members also support incorporation by reference, Claudio Feulner, manager of regulatory affairs and trade, said in an interview Feb. 5.
Some members complain the variety registration system delays the introduction of American varieties into Canada by two years.
“Two-thirds of all imported and exported seed is to and from the U.S. so we are highly integrated with their seed trade,” Feulner said.
“We are fully cognizant that we need support and we need to talk to the specific commodity groups for each crop kind and listen to their views. If they are vehemently opposed, or have different views than the seed industry, then it’s hard to move the process along.”
Feulner said he hopes everyone approaches the review with an open mind and considers how the seed industry needs to evolve.
A discussion paper predicts farms will get even bigger — some up to 100,000 acres. Such operations might do their own plant breeding and seed multiplication.
Some food companies will develop their own varieties and control the process from field to plate, raising questions about the usefulness of current seed regulations in the future.
It makes Terry Boehm uneasy.
“All of it is built around a private sector seed system where the farmer is just the consumer… ” the National Farmers Union member and Colonsay, Sask. farmer said in an interview Feb. 4
“I think in general it’s a justification of an increasing privatization of the seed system… The modernization piece just flows from these same sorts of ideas without stepping back and saying, ‘OK what’s our end objective here?’
“If farmers don’t participate it definitely will be going to that place where we don’t want.”
Nobody is outright saying the current seed system is broken, or needs a lot of fixing, but things can always be improved, Scheffel said.
“I think there is a certain Canadian advantage to the way we do things,” he added. “We do have a reputation for quality seed in international markets. I think we are seen as being trustworthy and that seed produces millions of acres of crops of some of the highest-quality wheat and barley in the world and it’s in demand continuously. That’s got to be saying a few things about the whole system as well.”
Some questions to think about for modernizing Canada’s Seeds Regulations
Will traditional seed crop inspection one day be replaced with inspection using drones or post-harvest molecular testing of seed?
Is the variety registration system able to be nimble and responsive to future market needs?
Data and Digital Systems
Will the increase of farm data management and food traceability systems have any implications on how Seeds Regulations should be structured?
Market Access for Seed
How can we ensure that Canadian-produced seed has a “passport” to access global markets?
Efficient Service Delivery
Are there any other opportunities for alternative service delivery in seed? Is there anything in the current system that no longer needs to be done?
Role of Government
What aspects of the system should stay with government? What aspects should move to industry delivery (with government oversight)?
These are the member organizations contributing to the Seed Regulatory Modernization Working Group:
1) Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA)
2) Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA)
3) Canadian Seed Institute (CSI)
4) Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada (CSAAC)
5) Authorized Seed Crop Inspection Services (ASCIS)
6) Canadian Plant Technology Agency (CPTA)
1) Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA)
2) Grain Growers of Canada (GGA)
3) Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA) orProducteur de Grains du Québec (PGQ)
Value chain groups:
1) Pulse Canada
2) Cereals Canada
3) Canadian Horticultural Council
4) Canadian Potato Council
1) Crop Development Centre (University of Saskatchewan)
2) Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
2) Canadian Organic Trade Association