CFIA moves on privatizing seed crop inspection

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency plans to set up a system to get itself as far out of the seed crop inspection business as possible, starting in April 2014.

In a notice to stakeholders Monday, the CFIA said it "will be working with industry to transfer seed crop inspection services to an alternative delivery mechanisms beginning April 1, 2014" as per the 2012 federal budget.

An industry-government working group, set up in 2007 with the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association (CSGA), Canadian Seed Trade Association, Canadian Seed Institute and the CFIA to discuss just such a possibility, has now been re-tasked with setting up a "national framework" over the next two years to move the seed industry toward such a system.

The group’s new mandate will be "to identify key design criteria for implementation of this decision and come up with a number of options of how (alternative service delivery, or ASD) of seed crop inspection can be best provided."

The move comes as part of the CFIA’s budget-driven refocusing on its "core mandate" of food safety, consumer protection, and animal and plant health.

"This means that in the future there will be less emphasis on activities such as the direct delivery of seed crop inspection that could be provided more efficiently and effectively by the private sector," CFIA said.

That said, the agency will still be responsible for seed certification in Canada, through work such as licensing, monitoring and auditing of seed crop inspectors, contracting with authorized inspection services, and setting up performance standards and training materials for licensed inspectors.

"Contentious crop"

"When necessary," the agency added, it will still directly provide seed crop inspection services on an "exceptional basis," meaning "in those cases where it is not possible to use private inspectors" or where an alternate service isn’t available.

For example, a CFIA inspector after April 2014 may be brought in to meet international requirements for the export of seed, or to handle inspections for "contentious crop types" such as industrial hemp, or "in situations where there is a risk associated with a specific variety," such as a variety developed for industrial purposes grown under contract registration.

"The longer-term objective, however, is to have most, if not all, seed crop inspections conducted by licensed inspectors."
CFIA, in this process, said it will also examine its fees and review its approach to delivering seed crop inspection to ensure that they are "not an impediment" to ASD.

Private providers of seed crop inspection services will each set their own fees, the agency noted. "Therefore, it is not expected that costs for seed crop inspections will be uniform."

To ensure there are enough private inspectors to conduct seed crop inspections by 2014, the agency noted it already normally hires about 120 casual inspectors to supplement the agency’s current 80-odd inspectors who handle seed crop inspection on a seasonal basis.

"Some of these casual inspectors, who are already trained and experienced in seed crop inspection, could potentially be available to provide seed crop inspection services," the agency said.

Furthermore, CFIA said, next year there will be a "major initiative" to provide training for private crop inspectors.

The agency noted the move may mean increased costs for non-governmental organizations such as the CSGA. There won’t be any funding directly from CFIA to help with such costs, but the agency said "there may be government programs that the CSGA or other NGOs might qualify for."

Related stories:
Oversights on seeds and fertilizers chopped, May 30, 2012
Federal ag research, food inspection budgeting jeered, April 13, 2012
Agriculture department grazed in federal cost-cutting, March 30, 2012

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