Loosened variety registration rules proposed

Potato, sunflower, safflower and buckwheat varieties won’t need to meet the same variety registration requirements as other crops under proposed changes to federal regulations on seed.

Proposed amendments to the federal Seeds Regulations were published June 28 for a 75-day public comment period, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a release Wednesday.

Other than for those four crops, the current registration requirements would continue for all crop kinds currently subject to variety registration. Crops already exempt from variety registration will continue to be so, CFIA said.

Basic variety registration requirements, to protect health and safety, prevent fraud and smooth the process for seed certification, won’t change, CFIA said.

While new varieties of safflower and buckwheat would still require pre-registration testing, they wouldn’t require a merit assessment. For the crops in this category, the agency said, merit assessment is “overly burdensome” or doesn’t effectively predict the usefulness of a given variety in the marketplace.

Crop varieties approved for registration are determined to have “merit” if pre-registration testing finds their characteristics meet or beat standard reference varieties on points such as yield, time to maturity, protein or oil content, or disease tolerance.

Meanwhile, new varieties of potatoes and non-ornamental sunflowers would be subject only to basic variety registration requirements, but not merit assessment or pre-registration testing. Such a move would allow for some oversight where additional assessment and testing are considered “burdensome or ineffective.”

“Different challenges”

Buckwheat and safflower varieties were found to no longer need pre-registration testing because they’re minor crops with very little plant breeding going on in Canada, CFIA said. “There are so few new varieties being developed, and there are no significant economic diseases or quality issues that would warrant continuing the costs to the sectors for merit assessment given the amount of production and the low level of risks to the sector.”

Meanwhile, in the case of potatoes and sunflowers, the merit and testing requirements were ineffective in determining the value of varieties to end users, CFIA said.

“For example, for these crops, the value of new varieties to end-users tends to be based on criteria that are too subjective to be effective as merit criteria, or based on data generated by processing companies which doesn’t always correspond to the recommending committee’s merit determination.”

Most Canadian ag crops are subject to variety registration, the biggest exceptions being corn, chickpeas, sorghum, food-type soybeans and turf grasses.

However, CFIA said, the current registration system is a “one size fits all” approach, meaning all crops are subject to the same basic requirements. Stakeholders have told regulators that such an approach is no longer viable because different crop sectors have different challenges and opportunities and, as such, the registration system is imposing an undue regulatory burden on some crops.

The most recent consultations in 2006 and 2007 centered around a proposal to create a two-tiered registration system, CFIA said, but “it became evident during the drafting of the regulations that a three-tiered system was necessary.”

The CFIA said it expects “many” crops to eventually move to the new registration options. Industry groups interested in proposing changes to their crops’ registration requirements will to need to provide “a clear rationale and demonstrate an appropriate level of consensus for the change within the crop value chain,” CFIA wrote.

Comments on the proposed regulations are to be accepted by Mike Scheffel, national manager of the CFIA’s seed section, by phone at 613-221-7541, by fax at 613-228-4552 or by e-mail.

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