Editor’s Note: This column was originally written for our sister publication, Germination, however, we thought that Steve shared some great insight about seed certification that you, our Seed World readers, should know! We hope you enjoy.
I recently became president of the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA). It’s a role I’m really looking forward to in an effort to put a renewed focus on the importance of seed analysts in Canada.
I currently work for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in Saskatoon as the Diagnostic Test Supervisor for the Seed Certification Testing Unit in the Seed Science & Technology Section (SSTS) of the Saskatoon Laboratory.
My journey to the CFIA started in England where I worked in horticulture, forestry and agriculture for more than 30 years. In 2008, I moved to Canada and started work at the CFIA.
I first attended an ISTA meeting in 2001, serving as the rules chair — a position I held until 2018. During my involvement with ISTA I have been a member of various technical committees, chaired working groups and since 2004 I have been part of the ISTA Executive Committee (ECOM). In 2016 I became an ISTA technical auditor and have the great opportunity to audit some of the 138 ISTA-accredited labs worldwide.
In my current ISTA role I regularly raise awareness regarding topics of interest to the ISTA-accredited labs in Canada, the United States and Mexico.
The main reason ISTA was established in 1924 was to provide internationally-accepted methods that official laboratories could use to ensure quality seed was marketed and traded internationally. ISTA is non-governmental but formed from the official seed testing laboratories as a technical association, so testing rules and bylaws are voted on by member countries/distinct economies.
One country/distinct economy gets one vote, so getting views on proposals for seed testing rule changes from all the ISTA laboratories in Canada is one of the things I do to ensure Canadian labs have input into ISTA’s work.
At the recent ISTA meeting In Hyderabad, India, the membership voted on changes to the ISTA Rules — see seedtest.org for details. Every three years ISTA also includes a scientific symposium during its meeting. The symposium was held this year.
ISTA encourages science-based solutions and invites seed scientists, analysts and technologists worldwide from over 70 countries to become involved via its 20 technical committees in order to exchange ideas and support the seed industry.
Techniques for sampling, vigour testing, GMO detection, varietal purity and seed identification are some examples of what ISTA laboratories and the ISTA Rules cover. These methods can be used by other parts of the seed and grain industry as the basis for detecting weed seeds, varietal impurities and ensuring the quality of seed in the marketplace.
ISTA works closely with the International Seed Federation (ISF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and national seed certification agencies that all make use of ISTA test methods. Seed certification is one of the best-kept secrets, and it works to ensure traceability with distinct varieties, tracking the generations through multiplication in the field, using crop inspection, unique seed lot identification, for ISTA maximum seed lot sizes, and through sampling and then to testing while following internationally agreed-upon standard methods. The work ensures quality control and consistency for end users.
Without the expertise in seed analysis the seed industry worldwide could have many more issues and the role of the seed scientist and analyst is often undervalued. Though we need breeders to develop new varieties and crops, we also need scientists and technicians able to test them and help achieve ISTA’s mission statement, “Uniformity in Seed Testing”.
ISTA has helped achieve these objectives via their accreditation of laboratories or separate sampling entities, and the use of standardised methods and standardised reporting on the Orange International Seed Lot Certificate (OIC).
My Goals for ISTA as its New President
Some of my roles over the next three years as ISTA President are to:
- Continue to support the science in ISTA,
- Help facilitate training in regions,
- Develop networks for train the trainer; and
- Build on IT-based learning tools the ISTA Technical Committees are already providing.
ISTA workshops organized by the ISTA Technical Committees are excellent training tools but often only reach 20 to 30 participants. So how can we reach more people? This is one of the challenges we face in ISTA and Canada.
Canada’s Involvement with ISTA
In Canada we have two ISTA-accredited government labs: one in the Seed Science & Technology Section, Saskatoon Laboratory, where we are accredited for percentage of analytical purity, other seed determination, germination and tetrazolium; and the second being the Ottawa Plant Laboratory, Fallowfield, who are accredited for seed diseases and who also have expertise in varietal and DNA testing methods.
There are also two private independent ISTA-accredited laboratories: 20/20 Seed Labs Inc. and SGS BioVision, plus non-accredited member laboratories like Seed Check Technologies Inc. and the Canadian Grain Commission.
Canada has hosted ISTA workshops in the past to help spread the knowledge on quality assurance, sampling, purity and germination testing. Workshops can also be held in Canada in the future. ISTA workshops are excellent value and the expert lecturers from ISTA committees give their time for free.
Canadian analysts already make use of the ISTA Rules via the Canadian Methods and Procedures for Seed Testing (M&P). The M&P is uniquely Canadian to facilitate testing to meet the Canadian grade standards, something that could change with seed regulatory modernization. Not surprising, since Canada was a founding member of ISTA in 1924 and over the years many Canadians have worked with ISTA to develop the methods. The fact that the ISTA Rules are internationally agreed means individual countries or laboratories do not need to develop their own standardized methods but can set their certification or trading standards themselves.
Recent Rules changes that have helped the Canadian seed industry are, for example: standardized vigour test methods, DNA-based varietal test methods, adding new species to the testing rules like Brassica carinata and discussions on the use of soil-less media as a primary substrate for germination testing.
Thanks go to Saskatoon laboratory director Marc Sabourin and SSTS head Janine Maruschak for supporting my work in ISTA since 2008 and now as ISTA president.