Seed Health Testing
The seed industry has a twofold responsibility in the area of seed health: to deliver sufficiently healthy seed to farmers and seed producers, and to respect international phytosanitary regulations.
Why is seed health important? Seeds are the foundation to crop production and seed health is related to food production in various ways. Of particular concern to the seed industry is seed used for sowing. Seed-borne pathogens may cause disease or death of plants resulting in crop loss and thereby, food. In order to ascertain the health of commercial seed, seed health tests are required. However, seed health tests differ from country to country and the results from one country may not be accepted in another. In order to approach the problem in a systematic fashion, seed companies decided to co-operate by exchanging information on seed-borne pathogens and developing test methods for their detection.
The International Seed Health Initiative (ISHI)
The International Seed Health Initiative for Vegetable Crops (ISHI-Veg) was chartered in 1994 by the vegetable seed industries in the Netherlands and France. Seed companies in the United States, Israel and Japan soon joined the initiative. This group represents the production of over 75% of the world’s vegetable seed supply. Two more initiatives for herbage (ISHI-H) and field (ISHI-F) crops were established in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Currently, ISHI-H has no method development activities.
The epidemiology of diseases, different levels of infection in the seed, differences between climatic zones and the effect of such zones on infection rates are some variables that must be considered in developing reliable test methods, and particularly so in the field of bacterial diseases. Comprehensive studies that elucidate on all these aspects are often not possible to find as data are usually scattered and inconclusive. The combined experience, data and expertise within ISHI allows for test methods to be developed that take into account the above-mentioned factors. In addition the aim when developing a method is to choose one that best meets the needs both, of the laboratory conducting the test - the seed producer - and its clients.
Using the ‘generalised’ test method developed by ISHI, companies are able to make risk analyses specific to the conditions under which they operate, taking also other factors such as resistance in their varieties, seed production region, and the region where the seeds will be sold into consideration.
It is the mission of the International Seed Health Initiative to secure the delivery of sufficiently healthy seed to customers on a worldwide basis. Led by the private sector the ISHIs bring private companies, public sector institutions and private laboratories together to jointly develop methods for their control. Working together as an international group of more than 50 seed pathologists the ISHIs assess, develop and disseminate information on test protocols for economically important seed-borne pathogens of vegetable, herbage and field crops.
It is ISHI’s intent that these protocols and other measures:
- enhance customer satisfaction
- serve as generally accepted reference methods
- facilitate the international movement of seeds
- support the international seed industry in improving product quality
- assist seed companies in risk management
- comply with national and international regulations
The ISHIs also work in collaboration with the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) for the validation of their seed health testing methods, so as to ensure methods are scientifically sound, reliable and robust. They co-operate with national and international regulatory and accreditation authorities.
Each initiative has a Policy and Technical Co-ordination Group. The Policy Co-ordination Groups (PCG) are made up of representatives of the international seed trade. As the name suggest, the PCGs develop policy guidelines to assist their Technical Co-ordination Groups (TCG) reach their goals.
The TCGs are composed of scientists specialized in seed health testing from both the public and private sectors, and formulate as their broad objectives the following:
- developing reliable test protocols
- doing so in a pro-active manner for the benefit of the seed industry and resulting supply chain as a whole
A major activity of the TCGs is to establish reliable test protocols that:
- are clear and reproducible
- are practical and feasible for routine testing by technically trained staff
- give results that are indisputable
- function as generally accepted reference methods
- serve as legal reference in court cases
- support the international seed industry in improving product quality, and
- serve as documentation for phytosanitary certification as per the revised guidelines of the IPPC
The International Technical Groups (ITG) are a special feature of ISHI-Veg. There are currently four ITGs reflecting the broad categories of crops that the TCG is working on. They are Roots, Bulbs and Leafy Vegetables; Bean, Pea and Brassica; Cucurbits; and Tomato and Pepper.
The ISF Secretariat has a special task in administrating the ISHIs and liaising with international organizations such as ISTA and the FAO Commission on Phytosanitary Measures. With the support of the ISHIs, ISF hopes to facilitate the
- harmonisation of national regulations on phytosanitary issues
- elimination of unjustified and unfair barriers to seed trade