The Canadian food and agriculture system begins with seed. Quality seed, free of disease, off-types and noxious weed seeds, with good germination and reliable performance is something we have come to expect. Canada’s seed system has been built in the public interest over the past century. Seed laws and regulations have been put in place to protect farmers from unscrupulous seed sellers, and to protect the quality and abundance of crops that Canadians depend upon for their daily nourishment. As a result, Canada’s seed – and the crops grown from it – have an excellent international reputation.
One of the key elements of Canada’s seed infrastructure is the integrity of the pedigreed seed system, which links the seed breeders who develop new varieties with the farmers who buy seed to grow crops. Some farmers specialize in the meticulous task of growing Certified seed – seed with a pedigree that can be traced back through just a few generations to the original breeder and which must meet exacting standards for purity and germination. Farmers who use farm-saved seed also rely on Certified seed when they choose proven new varieties or refresh their existing seed stock from time to time. Canada has had a government-inspected pedigreed seed system in Canada since 1928 that verifies seed growers’ production processes and results. This will end soon, as 2013 marks the last year of Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) seed field crop inspection for most seed growers.
The 2012 federal budget “refocused” the CFIA on its “core mandate”, directing it to exit seed field crop inspection and set up “Alternative Service Delivery for Seed Crop Inspection.” In plain language, seed crop inspection is to be privatized starting in 2014. Implications that flow from this change in Canadian seed policy are detailed in the following analysis. A privatized seed field crop inspection system embodies the fundamental and inherent conflict between commerce for private gain and regulation for public protection. Regretably, this is but one piece in the puzzle that constitutes the federal government’s vision for privatization and the planned hand-over of control of Canada’s entire seed system to global seed corporations.