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 under the umbrella of the International Seed Health Initiative.

When seed health tests are applied, it is critical that they are performed in a proficient manner. In general, the principles of good laboratory practice must be followed at all times.

The International Seed Health Initiative (ISHI)

The International Seed Health Initiative for Vegetable Crops (ISHI-Veg) was set up in 1993. Similar initiatives for herbage (ISHI-H) and field (ISHI-F) crops were established in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Currently, however, ISHI-H and ISHI-F have 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 and the sharing of 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 provide one that best meets the needs of both the laboratory conducting the test – the seed producer – and its clients.

Using the detection methods developed by ISHI, companies are able to make risk analyses specific to the conditions under which they operate, as well as considering other factors such as resistance in their varieties, seed production area and the region where seeds will be sold.

Mission Statement

It is the mission of the International Seed Health Initiative to secure the delivery of sufficiently healthy seed to customers on a worldwide basis.

Its seed health test methods serve to:

  • 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 with the International Seed Testing Association, the National Seed Health System and others for the validation of their seed health testing methods, so as to ensure they are fit for purpose, reliable and robust. They also co-operate with national and international regulatory and accreditation authorities

Method Development

ISHI develops detection methods for the benefit of the seed industry that:

  • are clear and reproducible
  • are practical and feasible for routine testing by technically trained staff
  • give results that are valid and reliable based on current scientific information
  • function as generally accepted reference methods
  • serve as legal reference in court cases
  • support the international seed industry in improving product quality, and
  • can be used for phytosanitary certification

Relevant Links

International Seed Testing Association (ISTA)
ISTA Seed Health Committee (SHC)
US National Seed Health System (NSHS)