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Systems Approach – An Alternative Phytosanitary Certification System

The seed industry ships more than 300 different species (over 65,000 individual varieties) to approximately 180 countries. This requires approximately a million phytosanitary certificates to be exchanged among NPPOs (National Plant Protection Organizations) annually. Our global market depends on access of diverse and healthy seeds from around the world, however, the system in place today requires seed companies who import and export seed to use methods that are complicated and disharmonized.

Moving seeds around the world is a challenge in many ways. Requiring phytosanitary measures to prevent the risk of pests, plant diseases, and noxious weeds is important to ensure peak seed quality and seed health. It also places a growing pressure on the NPPOs resources, adds costs to seed companies, and ultimately the farmers. A change to our current consignment-by-consignment system of inspection is necessary.

“This level of trade demands a simplified harmonious, more efficient way of shipping seeds across international borders that entrusts the responsibility for a large share of monitoring and inspection to seed companies: a Systems Approach.” (ISF) Instead of a million certification documents under the current systems, approved seed companies would have the opportunity to certify and ship their seeds based upon accredited seed production and condition systems.

What is Systems Approach? It is an alternative to consignment-by consignment certification for seed companies who have accredited pest risk management operations in place. The goal is for global harmonization, be risk-based and data-driven, adaptable for various crops, accessible for both large and small companies, and mostly “…incorporates established industry practices while leaving room for innovation.”

Systems Approach represents a change from a bilateral to a multilateral strategy. “We strive for global harmonization through a system that is simple, easy to implement by the NPPOs yet fulfilling their needs.” (ISF) Systems Approach is recognized by the IPPC (International Plant Protection Convention) therefore seeds produced in an approved supply chain can be moved to many countries without the need for specific additional declarations for individual pests.

How will this take place? Each participating seed company is required to have a Quality Management System (QMS) that ensures consistent methods and high standards for seed production and pest risk management. These management practices will cover, at a minimum, the following.

  • Pre-planting: site preparation and inputs

  • Production: growing and h­­arvesting

  • Post-harvest: conditioning, treatment, storage and testing

  • Distribution and shipping

The Quality Management System for each seed company will follow similar criteria as the NSHS (National Seed Health System). It will detail the company’s quality policy and objectives, how they manage pest risk, seed lot tracking, internal audits, training, and continuous improvement. They will also be audited by the NPPO (or approved entity).

What’s the focus? The Systems Approach emphasis is on pests where seed is a known pathway for transmission. The ISF Regulated Pest List will be the basis for deciding if seed is a pathway for particular pests. “Risk will be based on the entry pathways of pests into seed production. Pest management options will be selected based on the pathway analysis.” (ISF)

For this approach to work countries need to be on the same page. It’s crucial pest management applications in one country are accepted by other NPPOs. Additionally, they must be accepted by all countries within the supply change where the seed is moving. Importing countries may monitor the efficacy of the system by doing random inspections.

Benefits of a Systems Approach? Seeds produced under a systems approach can be issued a phyto without additional inspections or testing. Producers, distributors, buyers, and regulatory agencies will all have a better understanding of best practices for pest management as each relates to each part of the system. There will be greater transparency for all parties and improved access to seeds for farmers. The ease of movement and more efficient systems ensures healthy seeds and quicker movement around the world. It’s a win-win for everyone.

It will take time and determination for companies and NPPOs to approve and implement a Systems Approach for seeds. The IPPC, ISF, and many organizations believe this approach is “the way forward for the seed industry, government organizations, and other stakeholders without compromising our mutual objectives to ensure only healthy seeds move around the world while preventing the spread of pests and diseases.”


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