Meristem Land & Science
2003 PRRCG Report


New Thinking for New Times

2003 PRRCG Report

Date posted: May 9, 2003

2003 PRRCG Report:

  • The road to variety registration
  • Big developments
  • Preview of new crop lines

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Variety registration in the big picture
Crop-by-Crop Highlights

Key action and recommended lines.

Background: PRRCG Procedures and Processes

New thinking for new times

The Prairie Registration Recommending Committee for Grain (PRRCG) annual meeting is a major gateway for new crop lines that aim to make the jump from research institutions into the hands of Canadian Prairie farmers. The meeting provides a preview of these new lines and a window on key issues in crop development.

It’s a full plate by any measure. Ten years ago, the role of PRRCG – the body that recommends new Prairie crop lines for registration in several major categories – was relatively simple: test new lines, look for obvious benefits and decide which to support for registration. Key considerations were agronomic performance, disease resistance and market quality – all of which were relatively straightforward.

Today the role remains the same but the task is far more complex. The sophistication of crop traits in demand has risen dramatically, with higher and more diverse expectations from the field to the market. Breeding innovations, including those in plot mechanization, computer analysis and molecular technology, have matched this trend with a ramped-up rate of progress and a more intricate portfolio of traits in new varieties.

Reshaping the PRRCG

With everything from the issues of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and plants with novel traits (PNTs), to deregulation and increasing private interest, to a federal review of the entire variety registration system on its agenda, the PRRCG is re-examining its role as a recommending body for Canadian grain. Whether this re-charting the course results in wholesale changes or a re-strengthening of the current system remains to be seen. One thing is guaranteed – what plays out over the next couple years will have major implications for the range and quality of crop choices available to farmers and industry.

The PRRCG’s annual meeting provides a front-row seat to discussion of the latest progress and issues. The meeting, held every February, took place in Edmonton in 2003. This is when the PRRCG convenes to evaluate new crop lines in several key categories for the Canadian Prairie, and decides which to recommend for federal variety registration.

The PRRCG is made up of subcommittees that cover four major crop groups.

  • Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee
  • Barley and Oat Subcommittee
  • Pulse and Special Crops Subcommittee
  • Oilseeds Subcommittee

(Note: Canola is not under the auspices of the PRRCG, but has its own recommending body – the Western Canada Canola/Rapeseed Recommending Committee.)

Top prospects, high stakes

Each subcommittee meeting is open, with the players in each group representing a cross-section of the top minds in Prairie crop production. Voting members represent expertise in breeding and agronomy, pathology and quality. The full gallery, which includes non-voting participants, represents a wide array of crop interest groups, from scientists and producers, to regulatory agencies, seed companies, other industry organizations, and other special interests, including consumers and the general public.

For the crop breeders who spend years developing new crop lines, the meeting is a crucial rite of passage. Most lines under scrutiny are the result of a decade or more of development and testing, and only those that consistently match or beat the performance of standard varieties are recommended.

This Meristem Land and Science 2003 PRRCG Report is an insider’s guide to the Edmonton meeting. It includes highlights of the key developments and a preview of the top crop lines recommended for registration.

Report sponsors

WGRF LogoSponsored by Western Grains Research Foundation, in the interest of informed producer investors in wheat and barley breeding research. Visit the Foundation Web site,, throughout the year for extensive, updated information on wheat and barley breeding progress.

2003 PRRCG Report Additional support from the Prairie Registration Recommending Committee for Grain,

Meristem Land & Science LogoMeristem Land and Science, anchored at, features progress and perspective from the best minds in science and technology. It is presented with partners in agriculture, food, environment and life sciences.

The road to Variety registration

It begins with a vision for the future and ends with a new variety in western farmers’ fields. Along the way are several major check-stops – a key one is the PRRCG.

The road to variety registration is a long one for the many crop lines developed every year at breeding programs across Western Canada.

The breeding process itself can take anywhere from seven to 15 years, depending on the crop and the approach. This is followed by several years of Prairie-wide testing, as well as a thorough evaluation by the region’s top crop experts of the PRRCG. The cream that rises to the top is recommended to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for federal variety registration, which is only granted if the crop has demonstrated clear benefits over existing varieties.

The journey as a whole includes several stages.

Charting the breeding strategy

The first stage begins with crop breeders, who develop breeding strategies based on a wide range of production and market factors, along with broad input from many crop interest groups. Whether the goal is to find a niche and fill it, boost the performance of tried and true variety types, or come up with an innovative groundbreaker, the strategy ultimately settles on targeting a complex mix of traits – including everything from agronomic, yield and quality characteristics, to resistance against important diseases and pests.

Weaving together the key traits

Searching for this cocktail of traits and pulling them together involves years of breeding and selection. Breeders begin by gathering a large pool of seed for crop lines – known as the germplasm pool – that contain the targeted traits. Lines are screened for these traits, and the desirable ones are bred with one another, generation after generation, until the breeder develops a single line that has all the targeted traits “fixed” in its genetics.

New cereal lines put forward for registration, such as wheat and barley, are typically the product of seven to 10 years of breeding. The time requirement is usually shorter for special crops and oilseeds, because the genetics are less complex and easier to work with. Breeders can slash years off the process for all crops by using winter nurseries in other countries to grow two generations per year, or by using new molecular techniques as a shortcut to identify true breeding lines.

Testing the top prospects

Once breeders are satisfied they’ve developed a good crop line, it is put forward for testing across the region. These Prairie-wide tests – known as the “co-op” trials – are a co-operative effort of breeding institutions and others to facilitate testing under a broad range of soil and climatic conditions. These trials are administered by the PRRCG, which includes nearly all the major Prairie crop development researchers, along with industry, producers and various end-user representatives.

Recommending the best for registration

The crop lines that survive this rigorous testing can be put forward by the plant breeder for registration support at the PRRCG meetings held every February. The PRRCG’s mandate is to act as a recommending body to the CFIA, which makes all final decisions on which crop lines are approved for federal variety registration. PRRCG members critically examine the performance data on co-op lines and decide which to recommend to CFIA. Depending on the crop, lines must have demonstrated equal-to-or-better-than performance over standard or “check” varieties to gain registration support.

Destination: Canadian variety approval

Crop lines that fall under the PRRCG mandate are required to go through the PRRCG system before they can advance for consideration by the CFIA. The PRRCG recommendations are forwarded to the CFIA’s Variety Registration Office, which uses them as a basis to determine if the crop lines will be granted final approval as new registered varieties for Canada. A decision on most lines is made within a year of the PRRCG recommendation, and the large majority of these are accepted, barring unforeseen plant safety or market concerns.

The future of PRRCG

Key issues amid the backdrop of a federal review have the Committee re-examining its role.

The debate surrounding the future of PRRCG features several marquee matchups – the market vs. the regulatory system, individual needs vs. collective power, quality control vs. innovation. Striking the right balance between each will be a pressing challenge for the Committee over the next several years, with broad implications for the Prairie crop industry.

The PRRCG, as it exists today, dates back to 1990. The organization was initiated with a mandate to test and evaluate several major crop groups for the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) area of Western Canada, and to provide advice to CFIA on which new crop lines should be registered.

Before the PRRCG was established, this process was driven by the federal government, under the auspices of committees such as the Western Expert Committee on Grain. The creation of the PRRCG reflected the growing role of industry and the need for an arm’s-length process.

Trend to deregulation

Now signs of a further deregulation trend are appearing. At the 2002 PRRCG meeting, the CFIA presented a proposal to amend the variety registration system – a proposal that, among other things, recommended eliminating mandatory prior merit assessment for most crops under the system. If approved, the proposal would have reduced the number of crops under the PRRCG mandate from 15 to just three – wheat, flax and mustard. Though this proposal has since been revamped, in part to retain mandatory agronomic merit assessment for western wheat and barley, and the timeline has been pushed back, it remains a strong forecast of what the future might hold.

Rumblings of concern

Rumblings from the subcommittees are another indicator of changing times. In recent years, the Barley and Oat Subcommittee has brought forward several resolutions to remove itself from the PRRCG system, which were defeated when brought before the full PRRCG. In 2002, the Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee voted to break away from PRRCG and form its own recommending committee – a move that has since been held off to allow PRRCG as a whole to address subcommittee concerns.

Subcommittees representing larger acreage crops have cited a need for more control over operating procedures in order to better deal with crop-specific issues, such as stringent quality requirements, and to deal more directly with CFIA on looming issues, such as genetically-modified (GM) crop lines and plants with novel traits (PNTs). Those representing smaller crops have cited a need to preserve the strength and efficiency of working with other crop groups within PRRCG.

New mandate on the horizon

In response to these concerns, a proposal was put forward at the 2003 meeting to revamp the PRRCG’s executive mandate. The motion, introduced by PRRCG Chair Dr. Mario Therrien, called for granting greater authority to the subcommittees and trimming down the role of the PRRCG executive to largely that of an umbrella for administration.

Despite a strong feeling of support for the motion’s intention, it was narrowly defeated due to a range of concerns related to the specifics of the wording. The issue will be revisited at the 2004 meeting.

An underlying debate on the role of the PRRCG centres on the degree to which the variety registration system should be regulated. Those at one end of the spectrum view the system as delaying the introduction of potentially valuable varieties and usurping the power of the marketplace. Those at the other end cite the need for a regulated system that only allows the best material to be registered – and therefore grown by most producers – to maintain the integrity and high standards of the industry.

The case of Alsen

The PRRCG decision to deny registration support for this FHB-resistant wheat variety puts a spotlight on key challenges for the organization.

It’s a contentious development that highlights the issue of how best to balance divergent needs in the registration system. In a drama-filled, packed-house voting session of the Wheat Rye and Triticale Subcommittee, the American wheat variety Alsen was denied support for registration by a vote of 35 to 26, with one abstention. Canterra Seeds, the Canadian representative of the variety, had been seeking a one-year extension of interim registration.

The relatively close vote and lengthy pre-vote discussion reflected the strong mixed feelings of many on the subcommittee. For farmers in the eastern Prairies, particularly in the Red River Valley, FHB is the most costly and challenging disease problem in decades, causing losses of over $100 million annually in peak years. Alsen is not fully immune to FHB, but has significantly better resistance than current Canadian varieties. Alsen has several other valuable traits and is widely grown in spring wheat production areas of the western and midwestern U.S.

But quality concerns have plagued Alsen throughout its hurried attempt at Canadian registration. Normally, three years of Canadian co-op field trail data are required as a basis for registration support. But because of high demand for FHB resistance, in 2002 the PRRCG supported a one-year interim registration for Alsen, to allow for seed increase – a recommendation that was granted by CFIA.

Quality concerns vs. FHB resistance

The refusal to support an additional year of interim registration centred on concerns emerging from limited quality data, most notably a perceived problem with Alsen’s falling numbers. The falling number indicates levels of alpha-amylase. High levels of this enzyme can damage the bread-making quality of flour produced from sprout-damaged wheat. In general, subcommittee members expressed a need for better quality data to ensure Alsen meets the quality requirements of the CWRS class.

Canterra had requested an additional year of interim registration to keep the seed increase process moving while more data is collected. However, a rebuttal emerged from the subcommittee that there is enough seed available already in Western Canada, and the most important thing in the short term is to prevent Alsen from entering the milling wheat system until more quality information is available. Even without interim registration, co-op testing and further quality testing can still continue, but there will be far less chance of Alsen’s inclusion in CWRS deliveries.

Need for greater flexibility

The Alsen debate underscored the challenge of introducing new lines to Canada that may have major shortcomings in one area but also offer unique, highly demanded traits. Production and market requirements are concerns equally important to farmers and other industry players, who don’t want to see either compromised. However a general feeling is the system needs to become more sophisticated, to allow specialized registration and handling options for special cases. Another example from the 2003 meeting that highlighted this issue was a barley line put forward that offered narrow, yet very important, niche market value – the line was approved, largely due to confidence it could be specially handled.

In the case of Alsen, Canterra has since appealed the subcommittee decision to PRRCG, but the appeal was denied in a second WRT Subcommittee vote of 24 to 19, with one abstention. The door is still open for the company to ask for registration support in future years, based on additional data, but the PRRCG decision has dealt a major blow to incentive for continuing the effort. Many feel this may be the end of the road for Alsen in Canada.

Changes to Canada’s variety registration system

An update on Canada’s broad effort to streamline the regulatory system, with perspective from Grant Watson, Senior Advisor, CFIA.

As a volunteer firefighter, Grant Watson is used to taking heat. That came in handy at last year’s PRRCG meeting, when the Senior Advisor, Seed Section, of the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), fielded questions and concerns about the Agency’s proposed changes to the variety registration system. With proposed changes now further updated and still pending, many of the key issues re-surfaced at this year’s PRRCG meeting in Edmonton.

The heart of the debate has been CFIA’s original proposal to remove agronomic merit as a requirement for variety registration of key crops covered by the PRRCG, including for major grains such as wheat and barley. Currently, most crop varieties are recommended for registration based on merit in agronomic, disease and quality performance.

In general, those opposed to the agronomic merit recommendation have cited concerns that the change would reduce the availability of good agronomic data, making it difficult for both researchers and farmers to select the best crop lines. They have argued this would lead to an overall weakening of agronomic performance in Canadian crops. Those in favour have countered that removing this requirement will streamline the registration process, open up the market for new varieties, add flexibility for crop innovations, and ultimately give farmers more choice and more say in which crops they can grow.

Overall, the original recommended changes included removing a large number of crops from the variety registration “with merit” category and placing them into a mandatory listing system, where the main requirement for registration is to provide descriptive information so varieties can be recognized for crop and seed certification purposes.

Recap: The old proposal

Under the old proposal, crops would fall under one of three schedules:

Schedule A crops would retain merit as a requirement. As proposed, the criteria would include only quality and/or disease resistance, plus a minimum one year of performance information. Schedule A would include major crops such as wheat, canola, barley, rye, triticale, oat, mustard, pea and sunflower.

Schedule B crops would not require any merit assessment. But they would require a minimum one year of performance information to be available at the time of registration.

Schedule C crops would require neither merit assessment nor performance testing information.

Today’s version: Agronomic merit back for wheat and barley

Today, the debate surrounding CFIA’s proposed changes continues, but the proposed changes themselves – including those on agronomic merit – have been significantly revised.

Grant Watson attended the 2003 PRRCG meeting in Edmonton and provided informal updates during several of the subcommittee sessions. For the record, he provides an overview of the key revisions for the 2003 PRRCG Report. He also touches on important changes that may affect the registration of transgenic crops and the future of Kernel Visual Distinguishability (KVD) as a segregation tool.

Q: How has CFIA’s proposal changed since the February 2002 PRRCG meeting?

A: Several developments have taken place. In the new, September 5, 2002, Variety Registration proposal from CFIA, soybeans were moved from Schedule B to C. Also, a new category has been created in Schedule A that requires merit assessment for agronomics, in addition to quality and disease resistance for western wheat and barley varieties. How long agronomics will remain as a registration criterion for western wheat and barley will be the subject of future discussions.

It was further affirmed there is no authority in the Seeds Act to write Seeds Regulations to delay or prevent either the unconfined environmental release or variety registration of transgenic varieties that do not have foreign market approval.

KVD as a segregation tool will be retained for durum, spring and winter wheat, rye and triticale for the Canadian Wheat Board area, and white winter wheat for Eastern Canada. This will be revisited during 2003 and 2004, as the Canadian Grain Commission obtains feedback on their proposal to phase in the Variety Eligibility Declaration system in late 2004.

For crops previously exempted from registration, hybrid field corn for example, seed importers and seed sellers will be given a one-year grace period, at minimal cost, to apply to CFIA to have their varieties listed.

Q: What other key changes have been made?

A: In early 2002, the Variety Registration naming rules were harmonized with those of plant breeders’ rights (PBR). Since then, after further discussions with key stakeholders, the naming rules were revised March 10, 2003, to allow applicants to choose synonyms for varieties bred outside of Canada.

After discussions in fall of 2002 with the Canadian Seed Trade Association and Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, the CFIA was encouraged to look at ways to increase the flexibility and responsiveness of the overall regulation making process. As a result, the CFIA is exploring with Justice the mechanisms that may be available to shift particular aspects of the Seeds Regulations into administrative documents without jeopardizing the Agency’s enforcement capabilities. This would involve reviewing Parts I, II, III, IV and V of the Seeds Regulations and would include everything from packaging, labeling, grading and registered establishment requirements to variety registration and plant with novel trait requirements.

The Seeds Regulations would be streamlined with detailed requirements in Procedures Manuals, which would be referenced in the Seeds Regulations. Consultations would be held on an annual basis to discuss proposed changes needed in the Procedures Manuals. Changes to Regulations would normally be minimal – only the referencing date would be changed.

Q: What is the current timeline for variety registration review and potential changes?

A: Based on the Agency’s new initiative to streamline the Regulations and the regulatory amendment process, the earliest the regulatory changes could be in place is in the fall of 2004.

Q: If CFIA’s proposal is implemented, how will Canada’s system compare to that of other countries?

A: Canada’s future system will be a hybrid between the American and European systems. Canada will be consistent with the U.S. in that all varieties of all agricultural crops sold by variety name will be officially recognized. In the U.S., if you wish to use the seed certification system, your varieties must be reviewed and accepted by Crop Variety Review Boards that officially recognize varieties. This is equivalent to what Canada is proposing to do under Schedules B and C.

Crops in Schedule A will require some form of merit testing. This is somewhat equivalent to the European system which requires tests called Value for Cultivation (Merit) in order to put varieties on their National Lists.

Q: What does CFIA see as the key advantages of choosing this direction?

A: As mentioned, the Agency now has two initiatives underway. The major initiative aims to streamline the regulatory system to allow changes to be made on a more timely basis in order to react to our stakeholder needs, whether the seed industry, growers, processors or consumers. It should increase the flexibility and responsiveness of the regulation making process, allow us to strengthen consultative structures and ensure maximum transparency in decision making processes.

The second initiative involves creating different Schedules and is a reaction to the desire by some commodity groups to have minimal registration requirements. For other commodities it would still offer some form of industry and consumer protection by requiring appropriate disease resistance where warranted and quality requirements to protect Canada’s commodity markets.

In addition, by removing agronomy as a mandatory registration requirement for most crops, it opens the door for varieties of crops with high value specialty traits, which might never qualify for registration due to unacceptable yields.

The challenge of quality assurance

Meeting the needs of a changing industry while upholding the strength of Canada’s system.

The logistics are daunting – the Canada Grain Act and Regulations cover 21 different types of grain, all of which are segregated into three or more grades, each with unique end-use processing qualities. Markets are becoming more quality and variety specific every year. GMOs, innovative new quality types, and an overall boom in grain diversity are putting increased pressure on the handling system.

Welcome to the complex new world of quality assurance.

“Our grain quality assurance system – based on KVD – is designed to provide customers with the quality of grain they require, consistently, year-after-year,” says Terry Harasym, Assistant Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC). “But it’s clear today we cannot continue to rely on KVD indefinitely and still satisfy the demands of farmers for agronomically-superior varieties. Nor can we rely on it and satisfy market opportunities for a broader array of end-use qualities.”

So, which direction to pursue? Harasym, along with Randy Preater of the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CSGA), outlined two key responses in presentations at the 2003 PRRCG meeting.

Declaration approach to bridge the gap

KVD is a straightforward, efficient tool for quality assurance that has served Canada superbly, says Harasym. But the sheer numbers and diversity in today’s grain industry make relying on KVD alone almost impossible.

“Although KVD is still an effective tool for segregating wheat, we are entering a period where additional tools are required,” he says. “Segregation of other grains, oilseeds and pulses does not rely on KVD to the same extent as wheat. However, as different quality types of these crops are introduced, some means of segregating them into groupings of varieties with similar intrinsic quality factors will be needed.”

Identification technology for visually indistinguishable grain varieties is improving, but remains relatively slow and expensive in comparison to KVD, says Harasym. This may ultimately provide a solution in future years, but in the meantime the CGC is turning its immediate attention to other alternatives.

The most promising of these is a system based on “variety eligibility declarations (VED),” he says. “These are systems in which the seller of the grain declares the class eligibility upon delivery. They are in use in various parts of the world. Such systems work best when backed up with testing and declaration monitoring, and they also require the existence of deterrents to misrepresentation of grain. A strong element contributing to the success of these systems is the deterrent inherent in the risk of damage to buyer/seller relationships.”

The CGC has just completed broad consultations on this concept, says Harasym. During consultations, stakeholders identified a number of issues related to the VED concept. Key issues at this point include logistical feasibility, costs and benefits, accountability and liability, and potential alternatives. Along with an Advisory Committee of producers and industry representatives, the CGC will now examine the logistical feasibility of the concept. The CGC will also review the benefits and costs of the current KVD system and the proposed VED system. A second round of consultations is planned for fall 2003.

New challenges in total quality management

On the seed side, many of the same challenges are trickling down in the form of requirements for varietal identity preservation (IP), says Randy Preater, Project Manager with the CSGA. GM crops, organic certification and intellectual property controls are just a few of the growing number of IP-sensitive issues facing seed growers.

In response, the certification association is completing implementation of audited quality management systems for varietal IP, says Preater. In the past few years, these audited systems have been adopted for other classes of pedigreed seed, by the 1,300 federally registered seed processors in Canada. The key change in proposed revisions to CSGA regulations is a shift to require audited systems for Breeder Seed certification, designed to ensure the specific traits of a variety have also been maintained throughout that seed increase process.

“Developing a system with the right balance is very important,” says Preater. “We don’t want to raise the bar so high that it limits access. But, at the same time, we’re increasingly asked to explain and tighten our traceability audit trail.”

The CSGA is continuing its consultative and review process for the proposal, with implementation planned for 2004 crop inspections.

Canada’s position on plants with novel traits (PNTs)

Perspective on what it means for western Canadian crop development, with viewpoint from Dr. Stephen Yarrow, Director of CFIA’s Plant Biosafety Office.

One of the most contentious and pressing issues for the western grain industry is how to deal with the potential registration of GMO crop lines and other lines with novel characteristics.

The pitfalls are many. How to ensure new traits are properly evaluated without conferring the stigma of GMOs? How to walk the tightrope between science-based analysis and market concerns based on consumer perceptions? How to establish new safeguards that meet public concerns, without stifling innovation or bogging down the conventional crop development process?

These are questions facing grain-producing countries throughout the world, and they’re ones to which Canada has responded with a unique approach. Rather than focus on the method used to introduce traits, which is how GMOs are defined, Canada has chosen to focus on the actual traits expressed in new crop lines – the specific term coined in federal legislation is “plants with novel traits,” or “PNTs.” Under this definition, PNTs could potentially include everything from plants produced by mutagenesis or recombinant DNA techniques, to those produced by conventional breeding. Once labeled a PNT, plant lines are subject to more intensive testing, such as those falling under the auspices of Health Canada and the Food and Drugs Act, and the CFIA and the Seeds Act.

While innovative, this approach raised concerns at the 2003 PRRCG meeting over how it will affect crop development in Western Canada. Dr. Stephen Yarrow, Director of CFIA’s Plant Biosafety Office (PBO), offers some perspective on this and the rationale behind Canada’s approach.

Q: How does CFIA define PNTs?

A: Under our latest Regulatory Directives, PNTs are defined as plants containing traits not present in plants of the same species already existing as stable populations (wild or cultivated) in Canada, or plants containing traits expressed outside the normal statistical range of similar existing traits in the plant species.

The definition is further specified for PNTs that are subject to an environmental safety assessment. These are plants that, potentially, are not substantially equivalent to their counterpart plants in several areas – potential changes in weediness or invasiveness, gene flow, plant pest properties, impacts on other organisms and impact on biodiversity.

Q: What is the rationale behind this definition?

A: In general, the CFIA is the regulator for Canada regarding the safety of the food supply. Part of this role is to protect the environment regarding the environmental release of PNTs. Consistent with the Canadian approach, the CFIA recognizes it is the novel traits themselves that pose a risk to the environment – not how they were introduced.

For example, a new herbicide tolerant trait in canola could pose the same potential environmental risks – such as weediness, gene flow, agronomic and volunteer problems – whether the canola is a product of traditional breeding, mutagenesis or recombinant DNA techniques. Therefore, it is the novel traits that are subject to regulatory oversight.

Q: In a broad sense, novel traits are the nature of plant breeding. Is any new plant variety a potential PNT?

A: It has never been our intention to subject all products of plant breeding to this regulation. The challenge is to describe the trigger for regulation that captures those PNTs that could pose a potential threat to the environment if broadly cultivated.

We are in the process of revising our Regulatory Directives for environmental release of PNTs – both for confined research field trials and for unconfined release towards commercialization. In these directives, we have attempted to better define a PNT and to define a PNT that could be subject to regulation.

The responsibility of a plant developer is to not release a PNT into the environment without federal approval. If in doubt about whether a plant does fall within the regulations or not, we recommend that the developer contact the PBO ahead of time. In most cases, these initial discussions quickly resolve any uncertainty about whether the plant is a PNT.

Q: Is there a danger of Canada’s unique path becoming a competitive disadvantage?

A: It’s true Canada currently is the only regulatory system in the world that is based on the plant product rather than the process of how it was produced. In some cases, yes, this could lead to a competitive disadvantage – but our role is to protect the environment. Canadians expect the PBO to pay equal attention to a Roundup Ready grass variety derived from traditional breeding as to one derived from recombinant DNA techniques - the potential risks to the environment are the same.

I repeatedly hear praise about this approach when myself or colleagues describe Canada’s approach internationally, and I will stand by it any time.

Q: What about concern PNTs may be perceived as GMOs?

A: The PBO has put a lot of effort into describing our approach on our Web site and through other communication activities, and we have repeatedly refuted the “PNTs equal GMOs” perception at all opportunities.

Recently, there has been concern raised that PNTs, in their entirety, will be listed in the upcoming Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety’s “Biosafety Clearinghouse” (BCH). The BCH deals with Living Modified Organisms (LMOs), whose definition does not include products of mutagenesis and traditional breeding - therefore not all PNTs will be included in the BCH.

Q: Where do you see PNT legislation evolving?

A: No changes are anticipated in the legislation. However, our Regulatory Directives are reviewed and revised from time to time. For example, we are currently fine tuning the terms and conditions for confined trials of PNTs involved in molecular farming, and interim amendments are being made to the confined trial Directive. In all cases, we are committed to consult with stakeholders before any changes are made.

A challenge for the future is how to deal with adventitious presence (AP) of unapproved events, i.e, the ever present trace levels of foreign material and genetic off-types in seed lots and commodity grains, that could be comprised of biotechnology-derived material that has not been assessed through the full regulatory processes. The PBO is contributing to a larger government initiative to understand the trade implications of AP and to explore potential regulatory solutions.

Wheat, Rye & Triticale Subcommittee

The Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee evaluates lines based on agronomic performance, disease resistance and end-use quality. Here are activity highlights from the 2003 meeting.

Key action

FHB-resistant Alsen denied support. The North Dakota State University line was turned down by a vote of 35 to 26, with one abstention. Canterra Seeds, the line’s Canadian representative, had sought a one-year extension of interim registration. The refusal to support an additional year of interim registration centred on concerns emerging from the limited quality data, most notably a perceived problem with Alsen’s falling numbers – which could be a problem for milling quality. The prevailing view was that much better data is needed to allay quality concerns. Canterra has since appealed the decision to PRRCG, but the appeal was denied in a second WRT Subcommittee vote of 24 to 19, with one abstention. (See: “The Case of Alsen,”)

Innovative quality type highlights testing gap. A unique waxy wheat line aimed at the Japanese udon noodle market was brought forward for consideration by the U of S CDC. Though eventually withdrawn, this action did what it intended – draw attention to the need for fresh thinking on how to handle innovative quality types. The current co-op testing system has no clear pathway for potential wheat varieties that fall outside the bounds of existing quality classes. The PRRCG and others will look at options to bring forward this “partially waxy” line, which is aimed at producing a chopstick friendly noodle surface texture.

List of crop developers referenced in variety descriptions.

  • Agricore United
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)
  • Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD)
  • Canterra Seeds
  • Quality Assured Seeds
  • Svalof Weibull
  • Terramax
  • University of Saskatchewan Crop Development Centre (U of S CDC)
  • Western Plant Breeders

Recommended lines

BW776. CWRS wheat. Touted as a successor to AC Abbey, a sawfly-resistant wheat of choice. Key advantage is higher protein potential. Respectable yield and similar maturity to checks. Taller and weaker straw than AC Abbey. AAFC Swift Current.

BW781. CWRS wheat. Semi-dwarf with medium maturity. Yields three percent higher than AC Barrie, with intermediate disease resistance. Targeted at western Prairie. Short strawed with high test weight. High yield. U of S CDC.

PT555. CWRS wheat. Medium-early maturity. Standard height. Two percent higher yielding than AC Barrie. Targeted at Parkland production zone. U of S CDC.

PT559. CWRS wheat. Standard height. Intermediate maturity. Yield a bit lower than AC Barrie. Good test weight. Disease profile intermediate to checks. U of S CDC.

DT712. CWAD wheat. Touted as a successor to AC Avonlea, with lower cadmium content, higher strength, seven percent higher yield, slightly higher test weight and similar disease profile. Adapted across the Prairies. AAFC Swift Current.

AC2000. CPSW wheat. (Two-year interim.) Extension of interim registration was requested to allow existing seed to move through the system. Improved milling properties and noodle making characteristics. Leaf spot resistance over AC Vista. Resistant to common bunt and loose smut, with better lodging resistance than AC Karma and AC Vista. No yield advantage. Maturity two days later than AC Vista. Insufficient leaf rust resistance for the rust areas of Western Canada. AAFC Swift Current.

ES41. CWES wheat. Softer wheat than Glenlea, with three to seven percent higher yield and a range of similar characteristics. Softer kernel is easier to grind. U of S CDC.

ES54. CWES wheat. Maturity two days earlier than Glenlea, with similar yield, 0.9 percent higher protein, shorter and stronger straw. Best leaf rust resistance in the CWES testing system. AAFC Winnipeg.

Barley & Oat Subcommittee

The Barley and Oat Subcommittee evaluates lines based on agronomic, disease and quality performance. A look at key developments at the 2003 meeting.

Key action

Keeping a lid on Fusarium. Limiting the incidence of Fusarium Head Blight was a key point of discussion for the subcommittee. Consensus was reached on a protocol for researchers that includes pre-washing and registered seed treatments for barley and oat lines shared among breeders and used in co-op testing. The protocol is based on an honour system and co-operation between both public and private breeders.

Throwing out drought-skewed data. Drought in major pockets of the Prairies in recent years has hurt researchers as well as farmers. The subcommittee decided to throw out data that was rendered insufficient or flawed due to the drought conditions.

Recommended lines

TRO1656. Two-row feed barley. This rough awned line features high grain and biomass yield potential, combined with excellent disease resistance for the western Prairies. Compared to feed check CDC Dolly, AAFRD data shows 15 percent higher yield under high-yielding conditions and an average of six percent higher yield across test sites. AAFRD Lacombe.

TR710. Two-row feed barley that combines high yield and superior straw strength with a good test weight and a high percentage of plump seeds. It has consistently yielded among the top lines in co-op tests. Out yields CDC Dolly by nine percent and Harrington by 15 percent. Western Plant Breeders.

HB373. A waxy two-row hulless barley targeted at food markets. Features nearly 100 percent amylopectin starch, high levels of beta-glucan and good acid extract viscosity. U of S CDC.

HB364. Two-row waxy hulless barley. Features high test weight and several improvements over CDC Candle, particularly in agronomic performance, disease resistance, levels of beta-glucan and acid extract viscosity. Waxy type with 95 percent amylopectin starch. U of S CDC.

BT562. Six-row hulled feed barley. This strong-strawed line produces high silage yields in central Alberta. First six-row barley to feature a package of multiple gene resistance to scald, loose smut and surface born smuts. Good lodging resistance for a normal height variety, along with early maturity. AAFRD Lacombe.

OT394. Oat line features high yield and a nice combination of good milling yield and high grain quality. Good resistance to crown rust and smut. Suitable across the Prairies. U of S CDC.

Pulse & Special Crops Subcommittee

The Pulse and Special Crops Subcommittee evaluates lentils, beans, field peas and other special crops grown on the Prairies. A briefing on activity at the 2003 meeting.

Key action

Co-op testing procedures updated. In response to recent drought seasons, the subcommittee established guidelines for maximum allowable coefficient of variation and minimum acceptable yield. Provisions were also made for assessment of faba beans and lupin – currently small acreage pulse crops.

Recommended lines

1254S-1. Small red lentil line with plump shape. Improved anthracnose resistance and good yield. U of S CDC.

L94A001. Early maturing navy bean with improved white mold resistance. AAFC Lethbridge and Morden.

T9808. Early maturing navy bean with good yield. Hyland Seeds.

L94C356. Early maturing pink bean with good yield. AAFC Lethbridge and Morden.

L95F025. Black bean with larger seed size and improved white mold resistance. AAFC Lethbridge and Morden.

316-13. Black bean with larger seed size and good yield. U of S CDC.

SC11745-3. Pinto bean with improved seed coat, background colour retention and improved white mold resistance. U of S CDC.

610-23. First bean in new bayo bean market class. Features good agronomics. U of S CDC.

Ceb1081. Powdery mildew-resistant green pea. Also features good lodging resistance and good yield. Canterra Seeds.

Ceb1080. Powdery mildew-resistant green pea with good yield. Quality Assured Seeds.

CO96-901. Early maturing green pea with good yield. Terramax.

Ceb4119. Powdery mildew-resistant yellow pea. Features good lodging resistance and good yield. Quality Assured Seeds.

MP1811. Powdery mildew-resistant yellow pea. Good lodging resistance and good yield. AAFC Morden.

MP1813. Powdery mildew-resistant yellow pea with good lodging resistance and good yield. AAFC Morden.

MP1814. Yellow pea with powdery mildew resistance, good lodging resistance and good yield. AAFC Morden.

SW985704. Early maturing yellow pea with good lodging resistance and good yield. Svalof Weibull.

SW985745. Yellow pea with early maturity, good lodging resistance and good yield. Svalof Weibull.

SW985755. Early maturing yellow pea with good lodging resistance and good yield. Svalof Weibull.

SW985812. Early maturing yellow pea with good lodging resistance and good yield. Svalof Weibull.

CDC0102. Early maturing yellow pea. Resistant to powdery mildew. Good yield. U of S CDC.

CDC0103. Powdery mildew-resistant yellow pea with good yield. U of S CDC.

Oilseeds Subcommittee

The Oilseeds Subcommittee is responsible for oilseed crops such as flax, mustard seed and soybeans. An update on activity at the 2003 meeting.

Key action

Plant with novel traits (PNT) concerns discussed. The subcommittee discussed concerns surrounding the registration of a yellow mustard line, SA98RNA1, submitted to CFIA in April 2002, which was delayed for six months due to a PNT issue. In order for the line to be registered, proof was required to show it was not a PNT. This was noted as a concern for other plant breeders, as it may affect timing of commercialization.

Clarification needed for soybean registration procedures. The need for existing procedures for soybean registration to be clarified was underscored as a new soybean line was evaluated. It was requested that minimum standards for merit criteria be made available for the next PRRCG meeting.

Recommended lines

SP2090. A solin (low linolenic fatty acid content) flax with a yellow seed coat that is substantially higher yielding than the check variety, 1084. Also features higher oil and protein content, and larger seed size. Linolenic fatty acid and linoleic acid contents similar to the check. Resistant to rust and moderately resistant to Fusarium wilt. Agricore United and AAFC Morden.

SP2100. A solin flax with yellow seed coat that features early maturity, larger seed size, and a higher oil and protein content than the check varieties, 1084, 989 and 2047. It has 2.2 percent linolenic fatty acid and 71.6 percent linoleic acid and is resistant to rust. Greater resistance to Fusarium wilt than 1084. U of S CDC.

OTR00-15. Soybean with higher yield potential than the checks, Gaillard and Gentlemen, with similar protein, oil and protein plus oil content. Good tolerance to Phytophthora root rot. Well adapted to the shorter season region of Manitoba, it matures earlier or similar to the checks. AAFC Ottawa and Morden.

Snapshot: The PRRCG

The PRRCG is a major gatekeeper for the registration of new crop lines for the Canadian prairie. Here’s how it works.


The CFIA’s Variety Registration Office makes all final decisions on which crop lines are approved for federal variety registration It is the PRRCG’s job to assess candidate crop lines before registration and advise the CFIA on which ones it believes should win approval. Part of this includes administering pre-registration tests across the region.

The CFIA relies on many recommending bodies across the country. The PRRCG’s specific mandate includes crops targeted for Prairie production in four major areas: wheat, rye and triticale; barley and oat; pulse and special crops; and oilseeds. Crop lines that fall under this mandate are required to go through the PRRCG system before they can advance for consideration by the CFIA.

The PRRCG mandate is not permanent. The Variety Registration Office reviews the committee’s work every five years before deciding whether or not to grant another five-year mandate. The PRRCG mandate was most recently reviewed in 1999.

Structure and membership

The PRRCG consists of an executive committee, main committee and four subcommittees: the Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee; Barley and Oat Subcommittee ; Pulse and Special Crops Subcommittee; and Oilseeds Subcommittee. (Canola is covered by a separate Western Canada Canola / Rapeseed Recommending Committee, which operates independently outside the PRRCG.) Each subcommittee has three evaluation teams responsible for assessing merit in one of three areas: 1) breeding and agronomy, 2) disease, and 3) quality.

The PRRCG includes full voting members and non-voting associate members. Voting members are those with the expertise to properly assess crop varieties, such as plant breeders and quality experts. Non-voting members typically include farmers, research centre administrators, extension specialists and others with a legitimate interest in committee activities.

The decision-making process

The PRRCG’s annual meeting includes several steps:

Evaluation teams assess the candidates. The process begins with each evaluation team assessing the candidate crop lines for performance in its particular area of expertise — breeding and agronomy, disease, and quality.

The evaluation teams judge the candidates and assign one of four possible votes.

  • Support — the candidate’s performance is considered superior to current registered varieties.
  • Do not object — the candidate’s performance is considered similar to check varieties and meets the minimum performance criteria.
  • Object — the entry is considered inferior to the check varieties and does not meet the minimum guidelines established.
  • Abstain — expected only in the case of an openly declared conflict of interest or in the absence of information on which to base a decision.

Subcommittees vote to recommend. Evaluation team assessments are then discussed at a meeting of the full subcommittee, as a basis for the subcommittee’s formal vote to recommend the candidates for registration or turn them down. Abstentions are expected only in the case of an openly declared conflict of interest. At this level, the voting is based on an overall assessment of the candidate, and is typically performed by a show of hands. However, each subcommittee can decide on an appropriate voting method. For instance, the Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee used a secret ballot in 2002 and in 2003.

Option to appeal. If a sponsor objects to the decision of the subcommittee, an appeal can be made to the PRRCG executive committee, whereby the executive votes and majority rules. A further appeal is also available, by which a three-person appeal panel is selected; one panel member is selected by the subcommittee chair, another by the sponsor and a third by the registrar of the Variety Registration Office. In both scenarios, the sponsor must pay a fee for the appeal.

Recommendations approved by the PRRCG are forwarded to CFIA. Once the subcommittee has made its recommendations for registration and the general membership has approved the subcommittee’s actions, the secretary of each subcommittee sends the registration recommendations to the CFIA’s Variety Registration Office.

Special cases

These alternatives to full registration are also available.

Contract registration. Contract registration is an alternative to the usual variety registration process. Five-year contract registrations are available for crops that fall outside the normal traits of a particular crop class, but have a specific end-use. The sponsor must show that 1) an end-user exists for the crop and 2) that a closed production system is achievable, to prevent the crop from negatively affecting other crops in the system.

Interim registration. Not all lines are put forward for full registration. Another option is “interim” or temporary registration, which is typically requested to allow enough seed production for additional testing of quality traits. For example, a malt barley line may require seed for commercial plant scale testing, or a wheat line may require seed for milling quality testing.

Interim registration is typically granted for an initial two years, with potential for an additional two years following further review by the relevant subcommittee and CFIA.


The PRRCG also provides a forum to recommend the deregistration of varieties. This is often requested by the developers of a variety, in cases where a reduction in market demand or susceptibility to a new problem have lowered the variety's potential below a threshold of viability.

Technical Review Assistance

Meristem Land and Science gratefully acknowledges the following crop experts for their assistance in reviewing specific sections of this 2003 PRRCG Report for technical accuracy.

  • Dr. Mario Therrien, PRRCG Chair
  • Dr. Scott Duguid, Oilseeds Subcommittee Chair
  • Bill Chapman, Barley and Oat Subcommittee Chair
  • Dr. Stephen Fox, Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee Chair
  • Dr. Tom Warkentin, Pulse and Special Crops Subcommittee Chair

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