Trading healthy seeds to ensure a healthy future

Posted on Sat, 08 Apr 2017, 01:34

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The world wants more international standards on plant health and proof of this is the record number of standards that were adopted by the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM) today in Incheon, Korea. An unprecedented 26 standards had been submitted which attests to global concerns about protecting plants from pests.

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is recognized by the World Trade Organization as the only standard-setting organization in the world for plant health. IPPC standards are developed to protect plants which helps improve food security, alleviate poverty and reduce trade barriers. As FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva has previously stated, Global trade can play an important role in improving food security and nutrition and in fighting poverty and hunger while the use of science-based standards is essential to ensure food safety. The CPM adopts IPPC standards by consensus and the standard setting procedure allows for any of the 183 contracting parties to submit an objection in advance of the CPM session if they do not agree with the adoption. This rule helps ensure that contracting parties will actually implement the standards, hereby allowing for international harmonization of phytosanitary measures.

The new standards provide guidelines to assess the pest risk of wood, seeds and growing media in association with plants for planting, they propose phytosanitary treatments to treat citrus or mango fruits, and protocols to diagnose pests such as Sorghum halepense or Erwinia amylovora. Another standard for adoption, which details arrangements for verification of compliance of consignments by the importing country in the exporting country (new annex to ISPM 20), had taken over 12 years for the IPPC community to agree on the content. This standard has raised concerns on the issue of an importing country possibly applying measures in an exporting country. This standard will greatly help harmonize how these types of arrangements are made which will particularly benefit those countries that wish to access export markets but have resource constraints. It will reinforce their sovereign right to oversee phytosanitary activities in their country and continue to issue phytosanitary certificates, said Brent Larson, Standards Officer with the IPPC Secretariat.

The IPPC works to propose efficient phytosanitary treatments that have the least harming effect on the environment. The nine newly adopted treatments give concrete treatment schedules with stated levels of efficacy to help countries determine the best treatment of traded commodities. They provide excellent alternatives to treatments that may be damaging the environment, such as Methyl bromide, a known ozone depleter.

The new standard on the international movement of seeds was particularly awaited. The seed industry welcomed a standard that would help facilitate the complex nature of the international seed trade. This is a significant moment for the seed industry and is the culmination of more than 10 years of work that the International Seed Federation (ISF) has undertaken together with the IPPC Secretariat. It is also significant that the annual theme for the IPPC in 2017 is Plant Health and Trade Facilitation. The framework that the standard provides for national phytosanitary regulations will facilitate the international movement of seed that is valued today at around 11 - 12 USD billion per year. Although adoption of the standard is a key first step, a lot depends on how it is implemented in IPPC member countries and the ISF is ready to cooperate with the IPPC Secretariat in the implementation phase. says Radha Ranganathan from ISF. Seeds often present a higher risk because pests that may be in or on seeds could establish and spread. Comparatively, grain, such as wheat, barley or lentils are for consumption and processing and are less risky as they are not planted.

The seed business is global. The material moving across international borders includes germplasm for R & D purposes, experimental lines, basic seed for multiplication, and commercial varieties for marketing. Seed companies often have breeding programmes in multiple countries to produce more than one crop of seeds each season. The produced seeds may then be sent to more than 100 countries through international distribution centres where seed is cleaned, treated, tested and packed.

The seed industry and countries alike face other problems due to the complexity of the seed trade. In many cases, the final destination may not be known at the time of export from the country of origin. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to take into account all possible phytosanitary import requirements from the various countries that will eventually import the seeds. In other cases phytosanitary declarations may be required as part of a countries import requirements, but it may be impossible to provide as the seeds can be stored for a long time before being (re-)exported and the final destination may not be known at the time the seeds are first imported to a distribution center.

The new ISPM 38 will help harmonize how countries deal with the complexities of the international seed trade. The standard will also concretely help to facilitate the trade while ensuring healthy plants which contribute to crop diversity and safeguard food supplies for a growing global population.

The CPM convened from 5-11 April in Incheon, Republic of Korea. If you wish more information about IPPC standards, see:

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