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Oversights on seeds and fertilizers chopped

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is cutting back its oversight on laws governing seeds, fertilizers and other sectors that impact farmers.

While it has yet to announce the measures, changes in the administration of the Seeds Act and the Fertilizers Act are already under development. The agency wants to introduce plans, some of which have been discussed for years, to focus on its core mandate of food safety and health and turn other activities over to private groups.

Among the areas undergoing change are monitoring of certified seed production and regulation of the efficacy and quality of fertilizer and supplement products.

Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association, says the changes “are not what we would have asked them to do.” Still, the association has been working with CFIA on developing a third-party system for certified seed certification.

It’s been frustrating, he adds, “because of a lack of transparency and clarity… and uncertainty about how to do it.” The association still has a lot of unanswered questions.

Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, agreed there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding CFIA’s plan even though it hopes to implement the changes by next April 1. “They’re uncertain how they’re going to go about it.” In some cases, they will need to amend existing regulations to allow for third-party verification.

“We’ve not got any details on the financial impact on farmers,” he said. “We’re trying to determine what will replace the CFIA monitoring and the costs for producers.”

CFIA has established four working groups with the Canadian Fertilizer Institute, but there’s no clarity about who will be responsible for enforcing regulations.

“There’re so many pages of laws and regulations that we’re waiting for plans to be presented to us,” he noted.

The seed growers tried to make the case that certified seed was a consumer protection issue and that seeds must meet international standards through a national authority before they can be exported, Adolphe said. The government may have caught a break on that issue as there’s a proposal under discussion internationally to accept a non-government body as the certifier. “That would be less disruptive to implement,” he says.

The association is also disappointed by cuts in federal agriculture research, especially the loss of more than 40 scientists, he added. This comes as countries are boosting research spending. Russia plans to spend $5 billion a year over the next decade compared to $20 million in Canada.

CFIA has told the fertilizer industry that while it will continue to monitor fertilizer safety, it is also dropping pre-market efficacy assessments and marketplace monitoring of product quality.

The changes will “provide industry with greater flexibility, less red tape and faster product approvals and registration,” CFIA says. Farmer demand will drive the industry to extend its initiatives to ensure the quality of its products. “This could provide consumers with information on product quality assurances and performance.”

CFIA said it will work with industry through the Canadian Fertilizer Institute to maintain domestic and international market confidence in Canadian products. It hopes to complete a thorough review of the Fertilizer Regulations by the end of the year. There was no comment from CFI.

Industry officials worry what the changes will mean for sewage-sludge-based products such as sludge pellets and compost, and how products, which have no fertilizer content, will be kept off the market.

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