SRM – The Model for Governance in Canada’s Seeds System Needs Repair  

Canada is known as a nation for our vast agricultural landscapes and advancements in farming practices with a seed certification system we self-describe as a model to emulate. But there is delusion in how we describe our seed system, and I am losing faith that our regulatory modernization process will address a fundamental issue. Lying beneath the surface of our seemingly robust seed framework is a broken governance structure in dire need of repair.  


Over the past few years, seed industry stakeholders alongside producer groups have worked with CFIA to review and discuss issues with our current Seeds Regulations and our seed standards.  Most of the work we have done has been an exercise in updating and maintenance. The discussions about how we can modernize our seed system, such as our conversations regarding the use of incorporation by reference as a tool to help make our regulatory system more responsive, have been few. But in all our discussions the SRM Working Group and CFIA have not contemplated and resolved a path forward to repair the antiquated, inequitable governance structure of our current seed system. Since CFIA did not share this major shortcoming with the task teams before the work of the task teams started, the task teams have made several uninformed recommendations. Now we see this issue manifested in the current (winter 2024) CFIA stakeholder consultation survey.  


The model for governance for our current seed system was established about 120 years ago – yes, 120 years ago – when our parliament passed the Seed Control Act of 1905 and around that same time the government delegated the responsibility of setting our seed crop production standards to CSGA. This was an incredible part of our history and orchestrated by a visionary group of seed growers, scientists, and government officials. But that was an appropriate solution for a time in our history when the only stakeholders in the seed industry were farmers who were producing and selling seed. With 120 years of evolution in the seed industry, consider the diversity of the stakeholders in our seed industry today:  seed labs and seed analysts, registered seed establishments and their personnel, seed growers, plant breeders, seed brokers, seed distributors, seed retailers, seed-applied technology companies, seed equipment companies, ASCIS and crop inspectors, producers, and producer groups. Despite this vast group of people and organizations with a stake in seed today, only one stakeholder group beyond is party to our current model of governance – the model established 120 years ago.      


This was on the minds of our SRM Working Group members when they asked CFIA to conduct a benchmarking exercise of the seed certification systems in other countries. In early 2023, CFIA commissioned JRG Consulting Group to examine seed systems in other countries to gain a comprehensive understanding of how those systems operate and to assess their effectiveness.  With feedback from the SRM Working Group members, CFIA selected six countries for the study: the United States, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the European Union (EU), and Uruguay. One of the undeniable findings from this benchmarking study was that while each system has unique features, in most cases the seed value chain is responsible for coordinating their seed system. From his interview with John Groenewegen from JRG Consulting Group, Marc Zienkewicz reported in his SeedWorld article in August of 2023 that, “This collaborative approach, where industry bodies identify changes and drive consensus, empowers the seed systems to adapt quickly while maintaining compliance with international standards.” No surprise. John Groenewegen’s findings are consistent with my years of experience delivering compliance services in multiple certification schemes:  seed certification, food safety certification, organic certification, and sustainability verification. At the apex of any scheme (seed, sustainability, organic, food safety…) is a governance body responsible for overall strategic direction, policy formulation, and decision-making. This governance body encompasses representatives from all key stakeholders.  


To modernize Canada’s seed system and correct the inequity in the outdated governance model, I can easily envision a responsible body, at the apex of our seed system, made up of Canada’s seed industry stakeholders, industry associations, audit/inspection/certification bodies, producer groups, relevant experts, and government representatives with the mandate to advise the government on strategic direction and policy formation, and make recommendations on changes to standards and regulations.  This in essence is the ISSB concept, and why we see it as an important concept for the future of our seed and grain industries. 

Roy van Wyk is the Director of Client and Intellectual Property Services for Seeds Canada and the Industry Co-chair for the CFIA’s Seed Regulatory Modernisation Working Group. Roy has 27 years’ experience in the seed industryHe began his seed industry career in the late 1990s with Advantage Seed Growers and Processor, initially coordinating variety procurement, but within a year or two became General Manager4 years later he was hired by Hensall Co-op to manage their seed department. He managed the production and procurement of seed to meet Hensall’s many commercial production contracts for food grade soybeans and edible beansIn 2001, he moved to the Ottawa Valley. He joined the Canadian Seed Growers’ AssociationHe worked for the CSGA for 10 years, notably leading the work on the original e-pilot for certifying seed crops. In 2011, Roy accepted the role of Executive Director of the Canadian Seed Institute, which became Seeds Canada in 2021. Today, Roy continues to lead Seeds Canada’s client services, which include the ongoing oversight of more than 950 registered seed companies and accredited seed testing laboratories. His passion for agriculture and the seed industry, and his desire to help make a positive difference, is a genuine one.   


Réponses de Semences Canada au sondage de l’ACIA

La modernisation du règlement sur les semences (MRS) a été présentée comme l’occasion pour le secteur agricole canadien de moderniser la réglementation sur les semences et de permettre au secteur des semences de mieux fournir les produits de semences commerciaux dont les agriculteurs et les marchés céréaliers ont besoin pour réussir à l’avenir. Semences Canada, l’organisation nationale de la chaîne de valeur des semences, a consulté ses membres et les parties prenantes depuis avant même l’ouverture de la fenêtre de consultation sur la MRS, dans le but de transmettre avec précision les besoins du secteur et de représenter la diversité des opérations, ainsi que de rationaliser la législation de façon à ce que le coût de la réglementation soit proportionnel au risque atténué, tout en s’efforçant de trouver un mécanisme pour des mises à jour plus opportunes et moins gourmandes en ressources à l’avenir.

Semences Canada est le principal porte-parole du secteur canadien des semences, représentant les analystes et laboratoires de semences, les obtenteurs, les distributeurs, les cultivateurs, les transformateurs, les détaillants, les fournisseurs de services et tous les autres intervenants dans la chaîne de valeur des semences, d’un océan à l’autre. Nous nous engageons à soutenir la croissance du secteur des semences au Canada et dans le monde, dans le but de promouvoir des systèmes alimentaires prospères, des environnements durables et des entreprises prospères. Fournir de l’innovation, c’est le travail de nos membres. Afin de réussir dans cette tâche, il est essentiel de maintenir le coût de la fourniture de semences de qualité aussi bas que possible. Les agriculteurs savent ce qu’ils attendent du système de semences en matière de tests et d’informations, et ils savent qu’il existe un point d’optimisation où les mesures prises au-delà de ce point ne sont pas rentables. En fin de compte, tous les coûts sont répercutés sur l’agriculteur – le preneur de prix – et le secteur des semences prend cela au sérieux. Si les agriculteurs réussissent, nous réussissons aussi. Naturellement, l’inverse est également vrai.

La consultation de l’ACIA sur la modernisation du règlement sur les semences pour l’hiver 2024 (à l`exception des pommes de terre de semence) a été ouverte pour recueillir les commentaires le 9 février. Ce sondage en ligne porte sur les sujets du groupe de travail sur la modernisation du règlement sur les semences (MRS) : l’inscription des variétés, les essais de semences, les semences communes et les exportations et importations de semences. Elle inclut également les alternatives qui ont été soumises par le groupe de travail sur la MRS. Mardi, les membres recevront les réponses au sondage organisationnel de Semences Canada, qu’ils peuvent adapter à leur soumission


Seeds Canada’s Response to the CFIA Survey Questions

Seed Regulatory Modernization (SRM) was framed as the opportunity for the Canadian agriculture sector to modernize seed regulations and enable the seed sector to better deliver the commercial seed products that farmers and grain markets need for future success. Seeds Canada, the national seed value chain organization, has been consulting members and stakeholders since before the SRM consultation window even opened, in an attempt to accurately convey the needs of the sector and represent the diversity of operations, as well as to streamline legislation so that cost of regulation is proportional to mitigated risk, while striving to find a mechanism for more timely and less resource intensive updates in the future.

Seeds Canada is the voice of the Canadian seed sector, representing seed growers, analysts, breeders, distributors, processors, retailers, service providers and all stakeholders along the seed value chain from coast to coast. Our mandate is to support the growth of the seed sector in Canada and worldwide, for the benefit of thriving food systems, sustainable environments, and successful businesses. Delivering innovation is our members’ job. To be successful at that, the cost of delivering quality seed must be kept as low as possible. Farmers know what they need from the seed system with regards to testing and information, and they know there is a point of optimization where steps taken beyond this point do not pay for themselves. At the end of the day, all costs are passed on to the farmer- the price taker- and the seed sector takes this seriously. If farmers are successful, so are we. Of course, the opposite is true as well.

The CFIA’s Winter 2024 Seed Regulatory Modernization Consultation (excluding seed potatoes) opened for feedback on February 9. This online survey covers Seed Regulatory Modernization (SRM) task team topics: variety registration, seed testing, common seed, and seed exports and imports. It also covers alternative proposals that were submitted through the SRM Working Group. Through extensive consultation with members and stakeholders, Seeds Canada has developed responses to the CFIA survey question. On Tuesday, members will receive Seeds Canada’s organizational survey responses, which they can adapt to their own submissions.