Red tape hinders investment in wheat breeding

Status quo preferred


Lengthy variety registration | The Canadian Seed Trade Association organized discussions among experts on improving the registration process

Regulatory obstacles are partly to blame for limited private sector investments in wheat breeding, says the head of the Canadian Seed Trade Association.


Speaking in Edmonton last week, CSTA chief executive officer Patty Townsend renewed calls for government and the wheat industry to create an environment that is more conducive to research and development investments by private sector plant breeders.


She said Canada’s variety registration system is too restrictive and puts too many hurdles in front of plant breeders and private sector investors.


She also called for amendments to Canada’s Plant Breeders’ Rights Act and said the CSTA is in the process of developing co-existence plans that would include guidelines for producing organic and genetically modified crops in the same vicinity.


“Variety registration is a very significant barrier to innovation right now, especially in cereals,” said Townsend.


“It can take up to 13 years to bring a new wheat variety to market in Canada. Seeing that problem, our board has set that as a priority.”


The CSTA recently facilitated an industry discussion aimed at identifying potential improvements 
to Canada’s variety registration system.


The discussion involved 44 experts, including public plant breeders, private sector researchers and government regulators.


The group discussed several options:


  • Reducing the number of check varieties for some crop types.

  • Reducing co-op or pre-registration trials from three years of data to two years of data augmented by one year of valid information from another source.

  • Allowing interim registration of new crop lines after two years of co-op testing.

  • Establishing additional crop quality labs to test new crop lines that are under development.

  • Reviewing membership requirements and voting procedures for certain committees involved in supporting new crop lines for commercial registration.


Townsend said the proposals will be brought to the Prairie Grain Development Committee when it meets in Saskatoon in February.


She acknowledged that some of the 44 people involved in the discussions were concerned about the CSTA’s objectives in facilitating a review of the system. She described the talks as co-operative but not without challenges.


“A lot of public sector researchers were a bit concerned about the CSTA’s role in this … so we had to overcome those challenges first, but after we did that, there was a lot of really good co-operation and a lot of really good input,” she said.


“We had to overcome a lot of people thinking that we were trying to blow up the entire variety registration process, and that’s not the case.” 


Townsend stressed that the CSTA’s role in variety registration discussions was that of a facilitator.


“Our association will be considering options for our position on variety registration when we meet as a board in February.” 


Discussions about variety registration reform have generated opposing viewpoints from stakeholders who think the current system has served the grain industry well.


Some believe maintaining stringent quality standards and exposing new cereal lines to an extensive review process has benefited farmers and the grain trade.


In a recent commentary, the Canadian National Millers Association urged Canada’s grain industry and regulatory authorities to move cautiously when it comes to variety registration reforms.


CNMA president Gordon Harrison said current variety registration and evaluation mechanisms are not out of date and have ample scope for market driven adaptation.


“CNMA’s advice remains that Canada’s grain industry and regulators move cautiously to protect the integrity of cereal grain classes that are in demand in high value markets, Canada and the U.S. in particular,” Harrison said.


In a recent email, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency offered a similar view, suggesting the variety registration system was recently amended to ensure greater flexibility and is well poised to adapt in response to an evolving grain in-dustry.


“Change is a certainty for Canada’s wheat industry,” the email stated.


“The current variety registration system is designed to adapt and be responsive to stakeholders’ needs.” 


Representatives of the Prairie Grain Development Committee who were contacted last week said they had no knowledge of specific recommendations that would be brought forward regarding changes to the variety registration system.


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