Wendy Jahn is national manager of the CFIA Seed Section.

We have seed regulations and laws in Canada for a number of important reasons: including protecting producers. These regulations improve the overall quality and reliability of seed in the marketplace, to protect farmers from buying seed of low quality and also protect them from consumer fraud.

Another benefit of the seed regulations is that they create a ‘level playing field’ for companies and individuals involved in seed production.

In everything we do at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) with regard to regulations that govern the seed industry, we make sure that the seed system works for Canada. This includes working with stakeholders such as producers who purchase seed. Without producers, the seed industry would not exist, and vice-versa.

As you have read in recent months, the CFIA is currently working with the seed sector to modernize Canada’s seed regulations. There’s a real interest among growers in seed-related regulatory changes, as we saw through the public value creation consultations held in late 2018. I think we can all benefit from the momentum those sessions have created.

The CFIA sits on the Seed Sector Value Chain Roundtable, and it’s great for us to be able to cooperate with them to reach out to the provincial farm organizations as we at the CFIA work with national commodity organizations to increase awareness of seed regulatory modernization among farmers.

Seed regulatory modernization is a unique opportunity to make holistic changes to the country’s seeds regulations, as opposed to making one-off regulatory amendments. We need to make sure we involve all affected parties and stakeholders as we move forward, something we have been doing and will continue to do as 2020 approaches.

That is when government is planning to open up the federal seeds regulations for changes. With any regulatory modernization process or amendment process, the CFIA needs to consult with a broad range of stakeholders. Through the Seed Synergy project, we have a direct line of engagement with the seed industry.

We are encouraged by the work of the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project. Together, government and industry are going to be moving the seed sector towards an appropriate level of balance between the government and industry involvement. “Industry-led, Government-Enabled,” has been the Seed Synergy mantra since the project’s inception.

Lost in the Shuffle

What is sometimes challenging, though, is to reach out to producer organizations. They have so many pressing issues to deal with that an agenda item like “seed regulatory modernization” can get lost in the shuffle.

The grain industry in particular can be challenging for the CFIA to engage with because the grain sector often does not have the direct contact with us that the seed associations do. Because the grain industry is the next level in the value chain, they are affected by many changes made to the seeds regulations.

We’re fortunate in that we have the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada-led value chain roundtables, including the Seed Sector Value Chain Roundtable, where there’s representation from the grain industry. In future, putting seed regulatory modernization on the agenda of the Grains Roundtable is a possibility as well.

Engaging producers will become increasingly necessary as we move forward with seed regulatory modernization, because the new regulatory framework will be very dynamic in a way that will result in faster changes that, while they will benefit the industry as a whole, could seem scary for those not informed about them.

The goal for any regulatory modernization process is to improve the consistency of the system and reduce its complexity. For example, with the seed regulations, we have a really exciting opportunity to use incorporation by reference — a mechanism which allows a document or list that is not in the text of the regulations to be made a part of the regulations simply by referencing them.

This will allow changes to be made to regulatory documents faster and more efficiently. This is going to enable everyone impacted by seed to be more responsive and flexible to meet the needs of all stakeholders — government, industry, growers, processors and consumers.

I hope Canada’s future seed regulations will reduce unnecessary regulatory burden, provide flexibility to support innovation and enable proactive changes in science and technology. If we keep heading down the road we have been for the past number of months and work to inform everyone affected by the potential changes, I believe they will.

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