New variety registration process may get facelift

New variety registration process may get facelift

Federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has asked groups involved in registering new crop varieties to review the variety registration process and look for ways to improve the system.

In a letter dated Feb. 25, Ritz asked crop recommending committees operating within the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC) to report to Ottawa with ideas that could be implemented over the next year.

The letter also suggested ways to streamline the system, including reassessing and possibly reducing the amount of pre-registration trial data that must be collected before a new crop line is registered and commercialized.

Other measures included:

  • Ensuring that flexibilities in the variety registration system are fully used.
  • Ensuring that crop data compiled by foreign sources is used if applicable.
  • Adjusting committee structures and memberships to ensure a full and balanced participation of all relevant groups.
  • Seeking opportunities to streamline merit assessment where appropriate.

“As the development of new crop varieties is a key component in innovation, it is important that we examine the regulatory system affecting the development and adoption of new varieties, including variety registration, as we work to improve the crop sector,” Ritz wrote.

“To do this, I have committed to an industry consultation process to gather views on the current process and potential areas for regulatory change. These formal and informal consultations will take place over the next several months.”

Ritz’s letter was the topic of much discussion at the PGDC’s annual meeting, which took place Feb. 26-28 in Saskatoon.

The federal government has acknowledged that its role in developing and commercializing field-ready crop varieties will be scaled back over time.

Agriculture Canada has indicated it will instead focus on research in areas such as genomics and the development of new plant breeding technologies.

At the same time, private sector companies involved in plant breeding are pushing for a variety registration system with fewer obstacles and a less onerous assessment process.

The Canadian Seed Trade Association, which represents multinational life science companies, has been advocating for system reforms, suggesting that the current system discourages private sector investment and limits the number of products that are available to western Canadian farmers.

It remains to be seen whether Ritz’s letter will result in significant changes to Canada’s variety registration system.

But at very least, it seems to suggest that participants in the variety registration process are being urged to create an environment that is more inviting to private sector companies and less reliant on government resources.

Brian Beres, chair of the PGDC’s wheat, rye and triticale recommending committee, said Ritz’s letter is a challenge for committee members to review their procedures, make improvements and continue to ensure that a flexible and efficient science-based system is in place.

“I think it’s is a good thing,” he said.

“We review our operating procedures every three years anyway so the timing is actually quite good. This is an opportunity for us to educate, not only the minister’s office, but also a lot of stakeholders along the whole value chain about what we actually offer within the system that we have right now and the flexibility that’s already built into it.”

Beres said some of the concerns raised by critics of the variety registration system are founded and others are not.

The system is already flexible and provides for recognizing supplementary data, fast tracking registration of critically important crop lines and allowing interested stakeholders to participate in the process.

Nonetheless, some organizations still feel the system is too restrictive and blocks valuable products from entering the marketplace.

Beres said some critics opposed the system because it uses a peer review process that relies on varietal comparisons and merit assessments.

Maintaining a science-based peer review system is important, he added.

“The whole idea of peer review and assessment of data, that’s the backbone of scientific research … so I don’t think we should be in a hurry to get rid of that,” he said. “I think challenging us to streamline the system is a good thing but I think … (we need to) do so in a way that maintains sound scientific principles.

“If we’re going to start sacrificing science for the sake of creating what some people view as a more efficient or streamlined system, then I don’t think we’re doing anybody any justice at any point within the value chain.”

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