Many specialty crop growers rely on importing propagation materials because of a lack of local propagators or seed suppliers. In addition, many cultivars of traditional crops may only be available outside of Canada. Importing seeds and plants for propagation carries a lot of risks. The plant material could carry insects and diseases that are not currently present in Ontario. Importing diseased material could put the entire Ontario industry permanently at risk. These diseases could then spread to other crops as well. In addition, new plant species could be invasive in Ontario and destroy native habitats once released here.
Canada’s importing rules are in place to protect the importer, the industry and the environment. It is very important for anyone interested in importing seeds or other plant parts to understand and follow the rules for importing before proceeding.
There are two main federal Acts that often apply to the importing of plant materials: The Seeds Act and the Plant Protection Act. These two Acts are administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Depending on the country of origin, the amount of seeds you are importing, and the history of importing from that country, documentation that may be required includes an Import Permit, a Phytosanitary Certificate from the country of origin, a Declaration Form, and a Certificate of Analysis. While Import Permits are not required for many commodities originating in the United States (see links at the end of this article for exceptions), CFIA advises that an Import Permit be obtained for shipments originating from anywhere else. The Seeds Act and Regulations may still apply to commodities originating in the United States. If a Pest Risk Assessment is required, which usually applies to cases where the plant material has never been imported from a certain country before, it can take several months or longer. CFIA will need to determine if there are any diseases or pests that are found in that country that could threaten the industry in Canada before permitting import. Growers should plan ahead if they are facing this situation.
There is often confusion on what rules apply to small seed lots. Small amounts of seed may be exempt from the Seeds Act and Regulations, depending on the commodity. However, the Plant Protection Act still applies in most cases, which includes the need for Import Permits and Phytosanitary Certificates. Always check with CFIA before importing any seeds or plant materials.
The Invasive Species Act also applies in some situations, and import of potential invasive species will likely not be permitted for commercial production. Additionally, some plants including ginseng may require a CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) permit to import or export. Other federal Acts and Regulations may also apply to certain commodities.
More information on the importing rules is available on the CFIA website:
The ABC’s of Seed Importation into Canada
Plant Protection Policy Directives
Propagative plant material and other commodities that require an import permit if originating from the Continental United States
To determine the specific requirements of a certain commodity, you can use the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS):