Prairie seed variety registration process under federal review

(Country Guide file photo)

Canada’s federal ag minister is asking the committees that recommend new Prairie grain varieties for registration to consider ways to speed up approvals, ahead of his planned consultations with the industry on “areas for regulatory change” to the approval process.

Members of the four committees that form the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC), meeting this week from Tuesday through Thursday in Saskatoon, received a letter from Ag Minister Gerry Ritz on their arrival, asking them to consider “all aspects of the workings of the committee” to ensure “an approach going forward that encourages innovation in variety development and balances the interests of producers and the entire value chain.”

Specifically, Ritz asked the committees to consider “utilizing the flexibilities available under the current system for streamlining (their) procedures” and look for “opportunities to streamline merit assessment where appropriate and applicable.”

To that end, he asked that they reassess, and, if possible, reduce the “data requirements, number of years of pre-registration field trials and acceptability of foreign data if applicable” for the candidate cultivars they recommend.

Also, he urged the committees to consider “adjusting committee structure and membership” to ensure “full and balanced value chain representativeness.”

Ritz added he “would appreciate hearing back from (committee members) about the ideas and reforms that your committee is expecting to implement over the next year.”

The government, he wrote, has committed to a “transformational shift” in Canadian ag policy, with a “renewed emphasis on research and innovation, competitiveness and market development.”

That, he wrote, includes “efforts to reduce (any) unnecessary regulatory burden” in order to promote research and innovation, and to allow for an “efficient, transparent and predictable interaction between government and industry.”

Development of new crop varieties, he wrote, is “a key component in innovation,” thus it’s “important that we examine the regulatory system affecting the development and adoption of new varieties, including variety registration.”

“Unable to adapt”

Ritz said he has pledged to hold both formal and informal “industry consultations” over the next several months to “gather views on the current process and potential areas for regulatory change.”

The PGDC convenes the annual meetings of the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale; the Prairie Recommending Committee for Oats and Barley; the Prairie Recommending Committee for Pulse and Special Crops (peas, beans, lentils, buckwheat, canaryseed); and the Prairie Recommending Committee for Oilseeds (mustard, flax).

Its committees oversee testing and evaluation of grain crop candidate cultivars for registration in the Prairie grain-growing area of Western Canada and make recommendations on suitable candidates to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s variety registration office.

Groups such as the Canadian Seed Trade Association, which represents seed marketers ranging from garden seed dealers to the major Prairie grain handlers, have long complained the current variety registration system is “slow and unable to adapt to the changing needs of the marketplace.”

“Where seed innovators are not subjected to variety registration, the level of private sector investment and development of new varieties is high,” the CSTA said in a 2008 position paper on the subject, citing corn.

“Where the system for recommending varieties for registration has had a strong connection to the value chain, new variety development is increasing and investment is strong,” the association said, citing canola as an example.

CSTA noted its member companies invested $56.1 million in research and development in 2007, most of which went to canola, corn and soybeans.

Member companies expected to double that amount within five years to $106.4 million, the CSTA said in 2008, again mostly investing in canola, corn and soybeans. Meanwhile, CSTA said, “the share of private sector investment held by other crops, including forages and cereals, continues to decline and Canadian private sector investment in garden seed is non-existent.”

Related story:
Seed variety registration changes now official, July 10, 2009

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