What We Heard: Crop Variety Registration in Canada: Options for the Future

Executive summary

Variety registration (VR) is a regulatory requirement of the Seeds Act which governs the regulation of the seed industry for most major crops grown in Canada. The VR system ensures that information is available to the regulator, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, to prevent marketplace deception; facilitates seed certification and international trade in seed; and allows for tracking and traceability of varieties in the marketplace. It also supports the grain quality assurance system for multiple crops and focuses on delivering the end-use qualities desired by domestic and international grain buyers.

A responsive and efficient seed regulatory system has contributed to the success of Canada's crop production sector for more than a century. However, it is important that the system is reviewed to ensure it keeps up with current science and the evolution of the sector. Canada's approach to VR continues to support our focus on high quality and consistent crop production, encourage innovation in variety development and balance the interests of producers and the other members of crop value chains.

As part of ongoing crop policy and sector reform, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) initiated a review of the VR system and its effects on the development and adoption of new seed varieties. This reform also includes changes to the marketing and end uses of crops, shifts in research investment priorities, and changes to regulations.

AAFC, the CFIA and the CGC collaborated on an Issues and Options paper which describes the current crop variety registration system in Canada and outlines four potential options for modernizing and streamlining the system. The options include varying levels of direct involvement in and oversight of the VR system by the federal government and by private industry.

The online engagement period ran from August 16 to November 30, 2013. Representatives of Canada's crop production sector (plant breeders, producers, processors, the seed sector, etc.) for crop types currently subject and not subject to variety registration were sent an e-mail invitation to review the Issues and Options paper and complete the accompanying online survey. The engagement was also open to members of the general public.

Key Findings

Some 140 responses were received, with the majority coming from primary producers, seed companies, farm organizations, industry associations, crop marketers/handlers, and exporters. These respondents represented a number of crop value chains, including canola, wheat, rye, triticale, pulses, barley, oats, soybeans, tobacco and forages. Some respondents represented multiple crop value chains. Responses were received from across Canada, but the vast majority were from the Prairie provinces and Ontario.

Respondents were asked to indicate their preference among the four options presented in the paper:

  • Option 1 – Allow the flexibility inherent in the current VR system to emerge
    • 37% of respondents supported

Overall, 57% of respondents supported varying options for reform, as follows:

  • Option 2 - Streamline regulatory process by requiring that all crops meet minimum registration requirement with the option for some crops to have merit assessment through an independent assessment process
    • 27% of respondents supported
  • Option 3 - Streamline regulatory process by maintaining a minimum level of federal government oversight (similar to the current Part III), and eliminate any merit assessment or performance data under the VR system
    • 17% of respondents supported
  • Option 4 - Withdrawal of federal government oversight role in VR, allowing industry or third parties to assume these functions
    • 13% of respondents supported

In addition to indicating their preferred option, respondents were given the chance to provide more detailed input on a number of related issues, such as:

  • the advantages and disadvantages of the current VR system;
  • why Canada's current approach to variety registration should or should not change; and
  • the appropriate roles for the federal government and the private sector in a modernized VR system.

A selection of individual responses to these and other questions can be found in the full summary report.

Next Steps

AAFC, the CFIA and the CGC are currently reviewing the results of this engagement with a view to informing the development of a streamlined and modernized VR system. Stakeholders from Canada's crop production sector will be notified in a timely manner of any changes that could have an impact on Canada's VR system.

To request an electronic copy of the full report, please contact:
Departmental Publications Service
Telephone: 613-773-1444
Fax: 613-773-1498
E-mail: publications@agr.gc.ca

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