Seed World

The Grade Tables are Out of Date. Here’s How we Can Fix Them

Around seven years ago there was a change in the Weed Seeds Order where common weeds were downgraded from primary noxious to secondary noxious weeds. That might not sound very earth-shattering, but for the seed testing sector it was a big deal and showed how modernizing our seed regulations can make all the difference to businesspeople — growers included.

At the time, there were a lot of weeds that were on the prohibited list that were native species to Canada. It was very odd that we would prohibit something that was either not necessarily a big problem but were also already endemic in Canada. Basically, the change helped to “clean up” the Weed Seeds Order and make life easier for many people.

Even further back than that was another change that saw the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) move to allow people in seed testing to propose changes to the Canadian Methods and Procedures for Testing Seed. We were able to make some really important changes that helped keep us in line with seed testing rules in other countries, including the United States.

These are both examples of seed regulatory modernization, which we are currently going through at the moment with a much larger and comprehensive review of our seeds regulations initiated by the CFIA.

I’m happy to be a part of the process and propose ways to further streamline our seed testing rules. Our system of grading seed using the infamous grade tables has been positive in some ways but hinders us in others. The business world has changed a lot in the 20 years Seed Check has been around, and new business models call for a new regulatory framework.

If a crop kind or species isn’t included on the grade tables (Schedule I to the Seeds Regulations), it’s considered a weed. This is a detriment to some parts of the seed industry. If your seed is considered a weed, it’s difficult to buy and sell in the same way that you would others.

The grade tables were designed many years ago to protect the end use customer. Problem is, those who created them didn’t know what the final end uses of the future would look like.

For example, parts of the grade tables have multiple complicated columns for sweet clover and brassica allowances that don’t fit modern end uses very well. The sections of the grade tables that concern common seed are no longer even enforced because enforcing them simply wouldn’t make sense and would actually hinder the modern industry, not help it, and would do nothing to protect seed and grain buyers.

The only parts of the grade tables that are enforced are those concerning pedigreed seed. A seed grower goes to great lengths to ensure varietal and mechanical purity. In many cases, seed growers are able to surpass the standards laid out in the grade tables.

As noted by Seeds Canada in its Principles for a Modern Seed System, the grade tables could be be incorporated by reference, allowing for more regular changes while still maintaining a rigorous, independent, neutral and inclusive standard-setting process. Once incorporated by reference, these sections could be managed by a value-chain technical committee, with subcommittees established to provide expertise in the different crop groups.

The seed industry has changed, and our regulations need to continue to change along with it.