Understanding Variety registration changes

In April 2013, Agriculture & Agri-food Canada (AAFC), initiated a consultation process on possible changes to Canada’s variety registration system — a system that was amended in mid-2009 to create more flexibility for variety developers of crop kinds subject to variety registration. The catalyst for the review was clearly related to changes that had occurred in Western Canada’s wheat marketing system, but the consultation was across all crop kinds.

After a year and a half process, AAFC brought forward a proposal in early October of 2014. The proposal takes the current three-part variety registration system and converts it into a two-part system. Part 1 would remain for those crop kinds desiring some form of merit assessment for new varieties coming forward. Part 2 would be dropped, eliminating the option of requiring pre-registration performance testing without merit assessment. Part 3 would remain for those crop kinds subject to variety registration but not requiring merit assessment or pre-registration performance testing. What is now Part 1 would be renamed to Enhanced Variety Registration and Part 3 would be renamed as Basic Variety Registration.

The proposal also suggests “incorporation by reference” would be used to identify crop kinds subject to variety registration, and what crop kinds fall into Enhanced Variety Registration and which ones fall into Basic Variety Registration. Incorporation by reference is a federal government tool used to reference regulatory documents outside of the actual regulations. By using incorporation by reference, regulators are able to make amendments in a shorter time frame.

Although the regular consultative process for regulatory change would still be adhered to under incorporation by reference, once a consensus is reached, change could be expedited by the minister or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency president without going through Treasury Board, Privy Council and Canada Gazette publication processes. It is expected incorporation by reference would streamline the regulatory process by shaving years off of the approval process.

A third element of the proposal was a set of “model operating procedures” for the recommending committees that make new variety registration recommendations to CFIA. These model operating procedures are seen as guidelines and are not necessarily prescriptive of how the committees must operate. They are, however, a set of operating procedures that could streamline many of the processes recommending committees routinely follow.

CFIA and AAFC should be applauded for the proposed changes related to incorporation by reference. If incorporation by reference can streamline the regulatory amendment approval process, it will be a change welcomed by all stakeholders. As an extreme example, it had taken the federal government about five years to move oilseed soybeans from Part 1 to Part 3 of the existing variety registration system. If that can be trimmed to 15 or 18 months for any other crop kinds wishing a change in their variety registration system requirements, kudos to CFIA and AAFC.

Applaud Change

CFIA should also be applauded for taking the initiative to draft model operating procedures for the recommending committees. If some of the model procedures can be adopted and adapted by recommending committees, more predictability and responsiveness should result. This should also reduce criticism from some stakeholders that recommending committee procedures are cumbersome, time consuming and unpredictable, due in large part by what is considered “small politics” within the committees.

Where AAFC needs to provide more rationale to their proposal is in regard to the elimination of Part 2 of the current variety registration system. Removing any part of the existing system translates into removing flexibility. It is a given that Part 2 hadn’t been used, but the same could have been said about Part 3 — at least up to mid-2014. They had not been used because the regulatory amendment procedure discouraged value chains from requesting a change in how varieties of their crop kind are registered. It took soybeans five years — not because of disagreement within the value chain, but because the regulatory amendment process was unresponsive. Maybe the same situation precluded any value chain from suggesting a move to Part 2.

No one seems too terribly disappointed Part 2 will be eliminated. However, it should be recognized that it’s a reduction in options, which translates to a reduction in flexibility. Why couldn’t the industry be given the opportunity to test the waters with incorporation by reference, and maybe with a responsive system in place, determine for themselves if some crop kinds would
benefit from pre-registration performance testing without merit assessment? — By Dale Adophe, executive director

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