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.