Canadian farmers may soon have increased access to plant varieties as a result of proposed legislative changes. The Agricultural Growth Act (the “Act”) reached second reading in Parliament on March 3, 2014, after being introduced mid-December. The Act includes proposed amendments to the Feeds Act, Fertilizers Act, Health of Animals Act, Seeds ActPlant Protection ActAgricultural Marketing Programs Act, and Farm Debt Mediation Act, with the aim of reducing red tape and encouraging innovation, investment and trade.

Among other things, the Act would implement provisions ratifying the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants convention (“UPOV 91”), bringing Canada’s plant seed protection regime in line with major trading partners, such as Australia, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The UPOV 91 requirements provide greater protection to plant breeders. The Government hopes this will encourage greater innovation in Canada, as well as increase access to plant varieties that are in global demand but were not previously made available in Canada because they could not be adequately protected.

New seed varieties in Canada may benefit not only farmers, but other members of the food supply chain, as plant varieties that could not previously be sourced in Canada may become available under the new Act. The ability to source agricultural inputs locally has implications for sourcing and transportation costs, as well as the use of “local”, “product of Canada” or similar claims on foods.  According to the Consumer Council of Canada’s report of the Consumer Group Panel on Food Product Information Labelling and Advertising, modern consumers are demanding more information on food production and origin to support ethical purchasing decisions, and the Panel has recommended that place of origin labeling regulations should be strengthened under the Government’s current Food Labelling Modernization initiative. While the full implications of the proposed changes and the outcome of the Food Labelling Modernization initiative remain to be seen, the Act has the potential to create new opportunities  in both the agriculture and food industries.