Seeds Canada is proposing the formation of an independent standards setting body which would oversee the country’s seed regulatory framework. Some say it could start an important conversation.
Canada’s newest national seed organization has proposed the formation of an independent standards setting body (ISSB) as part of its new Functional Framework for a Modern Seed System.
The job of the ISSB would be to institute a robust governance structure to maintain balanced representation, informed consensus-based decision-making and transparency in the Canadian seed system, said Seeds Canada policy director Lorne Hadley.
The proposed ISSB would be to “look at the regulations from all sides and all viewpoints” before being sent to government for adoption, Hadley said.
Lauren Comin, regulatory affairs manager for Seeds Canada, said the ISSB vision imagines a robust governance structure with balanced representation across the value chain.
“The mandate is going to be very outcome based, to keep all of our [stakeholders] happy and involved in the regulatory framework,” she said.
Diverse value-chain representation would ensure variety acceptability and seed quality, which are the foundation of seed standards. A potential governance structure could include a board with diverse experience in the seed and agriculture industry, as well as committees which include board representation and other industry and government expertise and advisors, according to a draft document presented at the annual meeting.
Some areas where the ISSB could develop policy include variety registration, seed certification, seed cleaning and conditioning, seed sampling, testing and grading, and also labelling, Comin said.
Stakeholder members of the ISSB could include seed analysts, variety developers, seed growers, farmers, processors, seed suppliers and more.
According to Comin, the ISSB would be supported by and ultimately report to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Of course, there would be a number of challenges to overcome in forming an ISSB, namely:
- The ISSB would need a sustainable source of funding and commitment by government
- Expert staff from industry and the CFIA will need to support the ISSB to ensure availability of information and ensure smooth operation of processes
- An interim board would need to complete analyses to ensure an effective ISSB
- The ISSB could be used in the SRM process, but would need to be set up in advance of 2025
These types of bodies exist in Canada already, Hadley said, like in the organic industry. The Canadian Grain Commission uses standards committees similar in structure to the proposed ISSB, he added.
Manitoba-based seed grower Eric McLean, who sits on the Seeds Canada board and is himself a former national board member for the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), said the ISSB idea could help build a bridge between Seeds Canada and CSGA after what he calls the “failed” 2020 merger vote that saw the CSGA vote to opt out of joining with the industry’s other seed organizations to form Seeds Canada.
“We need to have seed growers at the table with us, and we need to be able to progress. With an ISSB, we’d have something an external body to govern the industry and at the same time help mend fences and make our seed system work,” McLean says.
“CSGA, of which I’m a member, wants to be the voice and the body for certification purposes, but yet it’s a grower organization — a single stakeholder group that represents growers. Our mandate as CSGA is that we are the national representation of the provincial grower network.”
While McLean says there’s a “certain amount of vagueness” to the ISSB concept at present, he says it’s a good opportunity to begin a discussion about what Canada’s next-generation seed system needs to look like in order to be functional.
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that the merger didn’t happen as many had hoped, because it still left one entity — CSGA — out there to be able to help to morph into what’s needed in the future. Maybe we can move things towards an amicable arrangement where all the players can be comfortable around the table and move the system to a place where we can get good innovation and appropriate regulations in place to attract investment so that we can move this industry forward.”
Richard Stamp agrees. The Alberta-based seed grower, himself a former CSGA national board member, says the ISSB concept could serve as a conversation tool to allow the industry to move ahead positively.
He envisions an organization in Canada similar to the NAK, the Dutch general inspection service for seeds. NAK carries out statutory inspections on behalf of and under the supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality.
Stamp says a partnership between CSGA and Seeds Canada similar to the NAK could see the two organizations come together in some form to develop certification standards for the industry.
“Everyone needs to take a deep breath and come back to the table and talk,” Stamp says.
“Maybe it takes somebody completely separate from CSGA and Seeds Canada to bring forth a new vision. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we have to have a formal partnership between CSGA and Seeds Canada to move forward.”
In an emailed statement, CSGA Executive Director Doug Miller said the formation of an ISSB would be “duplicating the work CSGA and other groups already do on behalf of Canada’s seed sector” and run counter to CSGA’s vision for a modernized seed system.
But Miller adds that for those looking to engage in the standards setting process, the CSGA always welcomes new participants.
“We value any call to diversify and broaden perspectives and are grateful we are able to provide an open forum for creating standards for a sustainable and thriving seed and agriculture sector, without the need for additional processes.”