Coming into force of New Seed Act Regulations amplifies threat of Bill C-18, says NFU

(June 9, 2014) - Regulations Amending the Seeds Regulations came into force Wednesday, June 4, following publication in the Canada Gazette, Part II. The new seed variety registration regulations eliminate the requirement for independent third-party testing for performance or agronomic quality of soybeans and forages (such as alfalfa). Companies can now register these varieties by filling out a form, submitting a seed sample and paying the $875 registration fee. The new regulations also require the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to cancel the registration of any seed variety at the request of the company that registered it, effectively removing the variety from commerce.
 
“The National Farmers Union (NFU) expressed serious concerns about these regulatory changes during the public comment period over a year ago,” said Terry Boehm, Chair of the NFU Seed and Trade Committee. “Since then, Bill C-18, the Agricultural Growth Act omnibus bill has been introduced into Parliament. The combination of the new regulation and the proposed law has very serious implications for farmer autonomy, agricultural biodiversity and food sovereignty in Canada.”
 
“These amendments to the Seeds Act Regulations are very controversial and we understand that between 5,000 and 10,000 Canadians also submitted comments in opposition to the regulation,” said Ann Slater, NFU Vice-President, Policy. “The new regulations are designed to save seed companies money by allowing them to put new varieties of forages and soybeans on the market without any independent data that farmers can rely on. Farmers will be faced with buying seed that may cause problems for themselves and their neighbours if the yield is poor or the variety is susceptible to disease. Canada’s Seeds Act was originally meant to protect farmers from unscrupulous seed sellers but instead, this regulation works against farmers’ interests.”
 
“The new variety cancellation provisions set up a ‘variety treadmill’ system for farmers,” added Boehm. “The Plant Breeders’ Rights Act allows companies to collect royalties on new varieties for 18 years – 20 if Bill C-18 passes. This regulation would give them the green light to de-register varieties for no valid reason a year or two before the plant breeders’ rights expire to prevent those varieties from entering the public domain where they can be freely saved, shared sold and exchanged. Furthermore, many of the existing public-domain varieties are registered by companies that also sell PBR varieties. There is nothing to stop those companies from removing perfectly good older varieties from the market by de-registering them.”
 
“It took more than a year for this change to come into force, possibly due to the concerns raised by the public,” said Slater. “But there is no indication that these concerns were given any consideration. Now, Bill C-18 would add an ‘incorporation by reference’ clause to several Acts, including the Seeds Act, so industry groups might get the regulatory changes they want more quickly with little or no public involvement.”
 
“The manner in which this regulation was brought in should serve as a warning to anyone who believes that farmers will have any influence over regulations affecting the Farmers’ Privilege to use farm-saved seed if Bill C-18 passes,” said Jan Slomp, NFU President. “The federal government has clearly decided to use its regulatory power to serve the interests of global agribusiness corporations and not farmers. The only way we can protect our right to save seed is to make sure that Bill C-18 does not pass.”
 
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For more information:
 
Terry Boehm, Chair, NFU Seed and Trade Committee: (306) 255-2880 or (306) 255-7638
Ann Slater, Vice-President, Policy: (519) 349-2448; email: aslater@quadro.net
Jan Slomp, President: (403) 843-2068 or (403) 704-4364
Regulations Amending the Seeds Regulations Canada Gazette, Part II, June 4, 2014.
 
Note: The regulation moves all forages (such as alfalfa, clover, timothy, etc.) from Part I to Part III.
 
Crop kinds in Part I require pre-registration testing (field trials and sometimes laboratory testing) and merit assessment by a recommending committee to assess that the candidate seed varieties meet minimum standards. A recommending committee, which is approved by the Minister under the Regulations, is comprised of public and private sector crop experts. Its role is to establish protocols for pre-registration testing (subject to review by the CFIA) and to assess the merit of the seed variety. A seed variety is determined to have merit if it performs as well as or better than appropriate commercial reference varieties for one or more criteria as established for that crop kind. If the recommending committee determines that the variety has merit, it will recommend that the CFIA register that seed variety.
 
Crop kinds in Part III do not require pre-registration testing or merit assessment. Crop kinds are included in this part where pre-registration testing and merit assessment are deemed to be excessively burdensome or ineffective. There is no recommending committee involved for Part III crops, and application for registration is made directly to the CFIA.