Seed World

How do we Bring Value to Canada’s Seed System?

Wendy Jahn is national manager of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Seed Section.

Does everything the federal Seed Program does make the seed sector work better? That’s a question Wendy Jahn asks herself every day as she helps guide regulatory reform in the seed world.

Wendy Jahn has  a big task in front of her. In an interview in 2018, she told Germination that it’s one of the biggest challenges of her career, and that hasn’t changed.

The manager of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Seed Section is the face of a little something called Seed Regulatory Modernization — or SRM for short. It’s a government-led process that when finished could have profound implications for the seed industry in Canada. But Jahn is no stranger to taking on big tasks and she has a great team working with her.

Jahn and her team are responsible for enforcing the Seeds Act and Regulations and administering federal seed law within Canada. With the entire seed regulatory system currently under the microscope by the SRM process, the next couple of years are going to be crucial for the CFIA, the seed industry and Jahn herself.

She’s been at the CFIA for 17 years and had a decade of experience in the agriculture industry prior to that. She says that SRM offers a once-in-a-generation chance to create a new future for an entire industry, and with 2025 being the goal to finalize that new regulatory system, Jahn and her team have a lot of work to do.

She took over as Seed Section national manager in 2017, having served as one of the acting managers prior to that. She’s seen the CFIA Seed Section evolve over the past number of years, as the federal agency has progressively turned to alternative service delivery for activities that CFIA itself used to provide — a process she says is nothing new and began in the early 1900s with the creation of the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association.

“We’ve always believed it’s important to look at where we need government to be and where we don’t,” she says. “We still need to have confidence in our seed certification system and seed regulatory system as a whole, but there are opportunities for many activities occurring outside of regulation, outside of government and perhaps they don’t need to occur at all. It’s been a fascinating journey.”

For Jahn, that journey originally began when she finished her master’s degree in plant breeding at the University of Guelph. She wanted to work in seed, but her first job was with Maple Leaf Foods exporting food grade soybeans. She was connected with the seed industry in various forms throughout her career including her time as general manager of the Ontario Soybean Growers.

Profound Change

Earlier this year, the CFIA initiated the first public consultation on the recommendations that are coming forward as part of the SRM process. It is the first of several planned consultations to gauge the agriculture industry’s opinions on what needs to change in the regulatory system of the future.

Should Canada continue to have a national variety registration system? Should it continue to have one national body establishing and determining the seed crop varietal purity standards to issue a seed crop certificate? Should the purity standards for No.1 and No.2 grades be the same?

All these questions and more were put forward to seed industry stakeholders in the recent survey, which closed May 1. The consultation provided an update on the progress of the first three task teams and asked stakeholders for their input on recommendations that would have a significant impact, might result in significant changes or areas where there wasn’t task team agreement.

The survey is based on the recommendations of the first three task teams, which are focused on registration, seed certification, and seed standards and grade tables. Two additional task teams have completed their work (seed testing and common seed), and two more were launched, focused on information and import/export of seed. An additional survey is expected to be released.

While the winter survey covers seed certification, variety registration and seed standards/grade tables, for Jahn, one recommendation stands out as an example of a change that could significant for seed companies and crop value chains.  It may be part of the changes put in place when the process is complete in 2025.

That task team recommendation involves creating a system to add new crop types to the list of registered varieties and remove crop types from that list.

“Currently, this is not possible; crop value chains are in the driver’s seat to decide the level of variety registration requirements they need but are not able to be added or removed from the list of crops subject to registration,” Jahn notes.

Jahn says if this recommendation were to come to fruition, it would provide stakeholders with the opportunity to exit from variety registration as long as there was a good reason to do so and a reasonable amount of stakeholder value chain consensus. It would also provide a way for crop industries to approach the CFIA and ask to be part of variety registration, which is not currently possible.

“I’m really hopeful that seed regulatory modernization will result in the best outcome that brings value for industry and for the producers and consumers who purchase seed and related products,” she adds. “The next few years will be a big challenge for me but a great experience,” she adds.