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CFIA frets PRCWRT overstepping mandate

The federal regulator takes issue with keeping references to germplasm sharing in the 
committee’s operating procedures and has concerns about data confidentiality

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) isn’t comfortable with having germplasm sharing as a prerequisite for participation in certain registration trials.

Those comments came from Mark Forham, a senior specialist with CFIA, at the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale’s (PRCWRT) annual meeting in Winnipeg Mar. 2.

Forhan stressed the PRCWRT’s mandate is to scientifically assess the merit of new varieties of wheat, rye and triticale and decide whether they should be recommended for registration by CFIA, a prerequisite to commercialization.

Mark Forhan
photo: Allan Dawson

“I am really, really uncomfortable with putting in anything about germplasm sharing and hooking it onto the wagon of variety registration,” Forhan said.

“You can have the code of ethics (on sharing), but take it out of the operating procedures document and don’t have it associated with the variety registration program. It can be a bilateral or multilateral agreement done in private between plant breeders. That’s the way it should be. It is not part of the registration system.”

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University of Alberta wheat breeder Dean Spanner, said publicly funded breeders are working for the public good and should be able to do what they like with germplasm.

“It is just to provide contextual knowledge for new people coming in (to registration trials),” said Brian Beres, a biologist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lethbridge, Alta. “There are a lot of new players coming in. This provides some guidance around that.”

The PRCWRT passed a motion to retain the information about germplasm sharing in its operating procedures. But Forhan warned the CFIA will consult legal experts on the issue.

“From our perspective that is going way outside the mandate that has been given to the recommending committee for variety registration,” he said later in an interview.

In total the PRCWRT passed nine motions regarding changes to its operating procedures. One says the operating procedures should spell out that data collected during registration trials is confidential and is to be used for the sole purpose of determining variety merit as part of the registration process.

The use of data for any other purpose will require the breeders’ “expressed permission.” However, once a variety is registered the data becomes public.

On the same theme the PRCWRT passed a motion to have a checkbox breeders can use to authorize sharing quality data with the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), which has the mandate to designate which class newly registered western wheat variety be in.

Forhan said without the breeders’ permission quality data shouldn’t be shared with the CGC before registration.

“The minute you cross the line, and provide what to us is proprietary information to the Canada grain commission without having gone through the variety proponent first, you are breaking confidentiality rules,” he said. “You are crossing a line.”

The CGC doesn’t designate new wheats until they are registered, noted Rob Graf, an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada winter wheat breeder at Lethbridge. Once registered the data is public, including to the CGC.

In the meantime, Curtis Pozniak, PRCWRT chair and durum breeder at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre, said new varieties would continue to be entered into the trials that reflected the class the variety is intended for.

Based on the motions passed, Pozniak said he would revise the PRCWRT’s operating procedures and share it with the ad hoc committee struck to work on the revisions. They will then be emailed to all PRCWRT members by Mar. 15. An email vote will be held to approve them. After that the revised operating procedures will be emailed to the CFIA in March, he said.

Despite the major overhaul that began four years ago, the PRCWRT’s operating procedures are considered to be an “evergreen” document, subject to annual revision as approved by its members.

One issue that CFIA raised a year ago, about the committee’s size, appears to have been largely resolved.

A year ago in Saskatoon, CFIA’s Forhan said the PRCWRT should be “significantly” smaller. But CFIA later changed its mind, Forhan said in an interview following the PRCWRT’s 2017 meeting.

“We have basically relaxed that (size) requirement in recognition that every crop sector is different and in return the (ad hoc PRCWRT) group that I was working with on changing these operating procedures was very responsive and made it very clear they understand the need for streamlining and efficiency and that is what they are focused on and will continue to focus on in the future,” he said. “We’re good with that.”

The PRCWRT has three evaluation teams of up to 25 members each bringing total PRCWRT membership to 75.

“Seventy-five (members) is a bit on the extreme side,” Forhan said at last year’s meeting.

But PRCWRT members noted wheat is complex, with many types (spring, durum and winter), many classes and many end-uses.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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