“Eventually the seed industry will argue that their crop kinds all need to be moved to Part (Option) Three because the claim will be made that independent testing and committee structures are too slow and expensive.”
– TERRY BOEHM
The new “flexible” three-tiered crop variety registration system implemented by the federal government July 8 will speed the introduction of new varieties of some crops, but not others.
Some commodity groups and the seed trade welcome the change, but according to the National Farmers Union (NFU) a streamlined registration system helps the industry, not farmers.
The government says the changes will give farmers and end-users more choices and make them more innovative and competitive.
There are now three options for registering new varieties. A consensus among crop stakeholders will decide which option applies. Changing which option applies to a crop requires an amendment to the seed regulations.
Option I: Pre-registration testing and merit assessment to ensure that varieties meet minimum standards. This option is intended for crops for which there is a need for regulatory oversight to ensure that varieties meet minimum standards.
Until now this was a prerequisite for registering most agricultural crops in Canada. It will still apply to new varieties of wheat destined for the western Canadian market.
(Corn, food-type soybean and turf grasses were, and continue to be, exempt from the registration regulations.)
Option II: Pre-registration testing to provide official oversight of the validity of pre-registration testing. This option is intended for crops for which official oversight to confirm the validity of pre-registration testing data is required, but for which merit assessment is burdensome or does not predict the usefulness of varieties.
Safflowers fall under this option.
Option III: No additional requirements. New varieties of crops included in this option are subject only to basic variety registration requirements to allow an appropriate level of regulatory oversight where merit assessment and pre-registration testing are burdensome or ineffective.
Sunflowers and commercial potatoes fall under this option.
NFU vice-president Terry Boehm says the new system puts farmers on a slippery slope.
“Eventually the seed industry will argue that their crop kinds all need to be moved to Part (Option) Three because the claim will be made that independent testing and (recommending) committee structures are too slow and expensive,” Boehm said in a news release.
The Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) is disappointed CFIA didn’t place certain crops in different options as part of its regulatory change.
“So for most crops we still have the status quo and all the regulatory requirements that go with it,” CSTA president Jeff Reid said in a news release. “Given that it took over a decade to get to this stage with the variety registration system, CSTA is quite concerned that it could be a very long time before we have a truly flexible variety registration system in place.”
The National Sunflower Association of Canada (NSAC) welcomes the new system, executive director Darcelle Mabon said in an interview July 13. There are no sunflower breeders in Canada so farmers here rely on American varieties. Now that pre-registration merit testing is no longer required, Manitoba farmers can get new sunflower varieties as soon as their American counterparts, Mabon said.
“It will be ‘buyer beware’ obviously,” she said. “I wouldn’t recommend a farmer plant a new variety corner to corner, but the ability to access new varieties sooner will provide more market opportunities.”
The NSAC will continue to run post-registration trials to give farmers information they can use in selecting new varieties best suited to their farm, Mabon added.
The Canadian Wheat Board is comfortable with the new system given pre-registration testing and merit assessment will continue for wheat ensuring Canada’s reputation for high quality remains, an official said.
The NFU is also worried the new system will speed up the registration of genetically modified (GM) crops, but CFIA says that isn’t necessarily so. The safety of GM crops will continue to be assessed before GM crops are registered, CFIA said in a release.
Changes to the registration system didn’t come quickly. The process began in 1998 and included extensive consultation with farm groups and the seed trade. [email protected]