Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Appendix 4 - Statements on behalf of seed-related organizations

The International Seed Testing Association (ISTA)

Norbert LEIST

Professor Dr Norbert LEIST

Referat Seed Testing and Applied Botany
LUFA Augustenberg
Nesslerstrasse 23
D-76227 Karlsruhe

ISTA Secretariat
Zuerichstrasse 50
P.O.Box 308
CH 8303 Bassersdorf

Dear Participants, dear Colleagues and Friends

First of all I would like to thank the FAO team for the kind invitation and the warm welcome - especially the excellent Hungarian organizers.

It is always a great pleasure for me to come to the wonderful city of Budapest. One reason for this is the very effective scientific technical cooperation of my station with Hungarian colleagues at OMMI since 1990, the head of which is Dr Katalin Ertsey, who is also a very active member of the ISTA Executive Committee. In this cooperation, we have been able to develop methods, improve our general seed testing procedures, enlarge the knowledge of our staff and, finally, become personally very good friends with deep respect for each other’s culture. I believe this cooperation can be seen as a good example for consideration at this FAO Technical Meeting.

As President of the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA), I bring to this meeting all best wishes on behalf of the Association.

ISTA is well aware of the situation in the Central and Eastern European Countries, as seeds are always a major commodity also in this region. With this in mind, ISTA is strengthening its effort to support the seed sector to the best of its ability.

What ISTA can contribute is mainly to ensure the production and delivery of high quality seed by providing worldwide uniform rules for seed testing.

To understand the role, the aims and the functioning of ISTA, please allow me to present the main aspects of the Association.

ISTA’s main activity is to provide methods and services for the testing of seed moving in international trade, as summed up in the following extract from its constitution:

(a) The primary purpose of the Association is to develop, adopt and publish standard procedures for sampling and testing seeds, and to promote uniform application of these procedures for evaluation of seeds moving in international trade.

However, there is a second section to this part of the constitution, which reads as follows:

(b) The secondary purposes of the Association are actively to promote research in all areas of seed science and technology, including sampling, testing, storing, processing, and distributing seeds, to encourage variety (cultivar) certification, to participate in conferences and training courses aimed at furthering these objectives, and to establish and maintain liaison with other organisations having common or related interests in seed.

These “secondary” activities are, in the eyes of many people, as important as the main function of testing seed.

ISTA is unusual in comparison with its sister organizations in the seed sphere, such as OECD and UPOV, in that it was not set up under an international treaty. This is probably due to the circumstances and the date of its founding.


The first seed testing station, based on scientific principles of testing, was started in 1869 by Friedrich Nobbe, a lecturer at an agricultural college in Tharandt, Saxony, Germany. He noticed that much of the seed that was on sale locally was of very poor quality, with high levels of impurities and low germination levels. He developed the purity and germination tests as ways of assessing quality and thus provided a method for making comparisons between seed lots.

Colleagues elsewhere in Germany and in neighbouring countries quickly recognized the value of these test methods, and soon seed testing stations were springing up all over Europe and also in North America. The rapid spread of seed testing at the end of the last century resulted in the development of newer, refined methods of seed testing in different countries. The consequence of this was that discrepancies often arose when seed lots were tested at different seed testing stations. These discrepancies were due to differences in test method rather than intrinsic changes in the quality of the lot.

The problems caused in international seed trading by the use of different methods were discussed informally at an International Botanical Congress in Vienna in 1905. In 1924, the Fourth Seed Testing Congress, held in Cambridge, UK, saw the foundation of the International Seed Testing Association, with the aim of encouraging worldwide membership. The Association’s first constitution was adopted at this meeting and remained in force until 1950. The current constitution was adopted in 1971.


Up until 1995, ISTA was an organization of official or semi-official laboratories and persons nominated by member governments. The constitution was amended in 1995 to open membership to any laboratory or person supporting the aims of the association. However, voting rights are still held by the governmental members.

By opening up its membership, ISTA has recognized the increasingly important contribution of the seed industry in the development of seed technology and the extent to which the burden of supporting costs for staff and equipment has moved from the public to the private sector. ISTA has had valuable contributions from industry personnel in the past but there is increasing recognition that there are aspects of its activities, such as the development of new disease tests, where seed industry input is going to be more and more important.

In return for membership (which is not free, but relatively inexpensive), ISTA provides a range of services, such as free copies of publications, access to an extensive network of contacts worldwide, access to the referee test programme, etc. The organizational structure is presented in Figure 1.

The Association is run by an Executive Committee elected to serve for a three-year period, while day-to-day administration is in the hands of a secretariat in Zurich, managed by the Executive Officer. Members, either persons or laboratories, can come from either the public or private sector. The only requirement is that they support the aims of ISTA. At the moment there are 73 member countries, with 162 laboratories and 210 personal members. Figure 1 illustrates the technical and scientific activities of the Association.

There are 18 Technical Committees, whose main task is to use advances in the understanding of seed science and technology to make improvements in the international rules for seed testing. Some of these Committees deal with specific aspects of the rules, for example, sampling, purity or germination. Others have a wider mandate that takes into account the special scientific and commercial nature of certain groups of plants, such as flower seeds or forest trees and shrubs. The aim of the Technical Committees is to produce the best possible rules for testing seed and thus fulfil the Association's primary purpose.

Figure 1. Organizational structure of ISTA


ISTA is perhaps best known for developing and publishing the International Rules for Seed Testing. This document is a comprehensive set of instructions and techniques for the testing of seed and is used by seed analysts throughout the world. From the first version published in 1931, the Rules have been regularly updated, and the latest edition published in 1999 now contains more than 340 pages.

As mentioned above, the rules are under constant review by ISTA Technical Committees. They include prescriptions for sampling seed, a wide range of quality tests, including purity, germination, viability, variety, seed health, and moisture content, and how to issue ISTA certificates. They are published in the three official ISTA languages (English, French and German) and have been widely translated (for example into Arabic, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish).

Although the ISTA Rules are used throughout the world for testing seed sold in domestic markets, their main purpose from the ISTA point of view is in the issuing of ISTA Seed Analysis Certificates, which are widely used for international trading in seed.

There are three types of certificate:

- Orange International Seed Lot Certificate

- Green International Seed Lot Certificate

- Blue International Seed Sample Certificate

The orange and green certificates give the results of a known sample taken from a known seed lot and provide for the end user a measure of the average quality of the seed lot. In contrast, the results reported on a blue certificate refer only to the sample itself. No link is established between the sample and the seed lot.

Probably the best known and widely used certificate is the orange certificate. It reports the results of a seed lot. In order to do this, the Seed Testing Station that makes the tests has to be responsible for labelling the seed lot in order to establish its unique identity, for taking the sample from the seed lot and for making the subsequent tests and issuing the certificate.

It could be said that the orange certificate is the original plant passport because its use guarantees acceptance of seed lots by importing countries both at customs and also at the banks that pay out the money to the supplier.

The provision of seed lot certificates for the international seed trade is such an important part of ISTA's activities that a great deal of effort is expended in ensuring that they are accurate in the results provided.

Maintaining the quality and reliability of ISTA's certificates requires not only good test methods - as provided by the ISTA rules - but also good laboratories. For many years, ISTA has monitored laboratory performance by means of referee tests, where member stations test specially prepared samples of known quality. The results are subjected to statistical analysis and stations not producing acceptable results are asked to re-test the seed and ensure that they conform to the norm.

Over the last 10 years, in line with the worldwide increase in interest in Quality Assurance (QA), ISTA has been developing a laboratory accreditation standard based on the internationally accepted ISO Guide 25, but which has been specifically amended to meet the needs of seed testing laboratories. The key requirements of the ISTA standard are management of sampling and testing, and participation in inter-laboratory proficiency tests, i.e. the referee test programme.

After the ISTA congress in 2001 it will be a mandatory condition for laboratories that wish to issue ISTA certificates that they must meet the accreditation standard. Furthermore, if a station fails to perform adequately in referee tests, it will not be allowed to issue ISTA certificates.

There are a number of key steps in implementing the ISTA accreditation standard. First, all the staff of a laboratory must be involved in this exercise. Secondly, it should use existing procedures and work instructions and build on them. Thirdly, the management of the laboratory needs to monitor the application of these procedures on a day-to-day basis and make continuous improvements as needed.


From the beginning, ISTA has been keen to support research into all aspects of seed technology. It has done this mainly by indirect means, through the sponsorship of specialist publications and through conferences. The original ISTA journal - The Proceedings of the International Seed Testing Association - was published from 1925 until 1972, and was replaced by Seed Science and Technology, which has been published since 1973. This is a highly reputable international journal publishing original papers that have been peer-reviewed by seed scientists.

Every three years, ISTA organizes an International Seed Testing Congress, which includes a Seed Symposium and Poster Session. This event is an important forum where seed scientists can meet together and discuss progress in their subject. All of you are heartily invited to the next ISTA Congress, which will be held in Anger, France, from 13-22 June 2001. Full details of this and other events can be obtained from the ISTA Secretariat.

ISTA does not have the funds to initiate its own research projects, and in the past has relied heavily on the scientists in its member stations for support for activities such as the upgrading of the International Rules.

More recently, various important collaborative programmes have been developed. For example, there is an ongoing large-scale collaboration between FIS and ISTA to investigate the homogeneity of seed lots of fodder species that are larger than the current 10 tonne maximum. Another example is the collaboration with the International Seed Health Initiative (ISHI) on the development of new test methods for seedborne diseases, and the newest activity is the GMO Task Force, working on a method for the detection of genetically modified seeds.

ISTA sees training as an essential part of the QA process. Most seed testing stations have training programmes for their own analysts but, on an international level, there is always a need to ensure that analysts apply the ISTA Rules in a uniform manner. One way of doing this is to run Workshops on different topics every year.

Another aid to establishing uniformity in the application of the rules is through handbooks, which not only aid experienced analysts but also provide a useful teaching tool for trainees. ISTA publishes a range of handbooks, most of which are concerned with providing extra supplementary details for the techniques that are described in the ISTA rules.

There is, for example, a handbook on seedling evaluation, which provides information additional to that found in the International Rules; another example is the handbook on seed sampling, which gives detailed information on the best way of taking samples from seed lots for germination testing.


ISTA is one of a number of organizations in the seed world. To begin with, there is another organization, the Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA), which is involved in the standardization of seed testing procedures in the USA and Canada, and publishes its own seed testing rules especially adapted for the market in North America. Nowadays, ISTA and the AOSA have a joint committee on the harmonization of rules and work together in a number of other ways.

ISTA provides testing services for companies trading seed internationally and so it is important that we have a good working relationship with the International Seed Trade Federation (FIS). Mention has already been made of the fodder seed lot size experiment, but we are also having a dialogue with FIS about rules for the vigour testing of seed.

The OECD Seed Schemes provide a system for the assurance of varietal purity and identity for seed moving in international trade, and are normally used in tandem with ISTA seed lot certificates, which carry the results of other quality tests. For this reason, ISTA and OECD have always worked closely together. Some of the recent discussions in OECD have centred on the possibility that seed tests could be made by seed testing laboratories other than ISTA members.

Another organization with whom we work closely is the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Although UPOV is primarily concerned with the field of plant breeder’s rights, many of the techniques used for establishing the distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) of varieties can also be used for testing varietal purity and identity.


Governments are becoming less and less involved in agricultural regulation and, in the developed world, they are spending less money on agriculture.

The government seed testing stations that until now have formed the core of ISTA have more and more difficulty in supporting the necessary staff and equipment, which is essential to the development of seed testing. There will be a continuing need, therefore, for collaboration with the other organizations in the industry, such as FIS and ISHI.

In March 2000, ISTA took an important step towards improving collaboration between the seed industry and ISTA. By a large majority, ISTA members decided to start an experiment for private company laboratories to become ISTA accredited and authorized to issue ISTA International Seed Lot Certificates. In the context of this experiment within ISTA, the private company laboratories are absolutely equally entitled to the same treatment as governmental laboratories.

The accreditation procedure for private company laboratories follows six steps: first, ISTA membership; second, participation in the ISTA proficiency testing programme; third, establishment of a Quality Assurance Programme; fourth, the ISTA Audit to document the competence of the laboratory, which is then accredited by the ISTA Executive Committee; fifth, the Authorization to issue ISTA Certificates by the laboratory’s government; with continued authorization requiring the sixth step, namely participation in the ISTA Monitoring System. Detailed information can be obtained from the ISTA Secretariat.

We are convinced that, in the future, ISTA will continue to be needed to provide rules for testing seed, QA programmes for laboratories, and publications. It will also continue to have an important function in promoting training, education, research and development. All this will require the continuing support of governments, seed industries and individuals around the world.


One of the main tasks of ISTA is the transfer of knowledge, which is managed through the 18 ISTA Technical Committees, with conferences, seminars, training courses and workshops that are organized worldwide, where appropriate locations are available, and on all seed testing items of interest, e.g. workshops on Quality Assurance, Sampling, Purity, or Variety Identification with electrophoresis.

It should be underlined, that one of the main aims of the current ISTA Executive Committee is to support seed-related activities, especially in less industrialized countries, developing countries and those in transition - to improve the chain of worldwide qualified, competent seed testing laboratories.

As ISTA is a technical organization, not a political one, and is non-profit-making, with a relatively low membership fee, this support cannot be implemented at the financial level. However, ISTA can and does offer the whole power of the scientific and technical competence of its members, especially of the experienced Technical Committees.

One of the ways we can pass on this knowledge is in cooperation with partners like FAO, EU and GTZ, where those contribute the necessary finances and ISTA the special knowledge: in this way, success can be achieved.

With this spirit of cooperation, I wish this FAO Meeting good and effective discussions leading to proper solutions for the benefit of all the participating countries. ISTA is prepared to support this intensively, both today and in the future, to ensure the basis for the seed market: Uniformity in Seed Testing.

Thank you for your attention.

The role of seed certification in the Hungarian seed sector

Katalin ERTSEY

National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control, Hungary


OMMI - National Institute for Registration, Seed Testing and Certification
Keleti Károly u. 24.
1024 Hungary

Seed production over the past 150-200 years has become a basic element in Hungarian agriculture. Seed testing and certification developed in parallel with seed production. The first Hungarian seed testing station was established in 1878, and the first Act in this field came in force in 1895, and the latest in 1996.

The Hungarian seed certification system, the executive authority of which is the National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control, operates on the basis of laws, decrees and standards:

The above mentioned legislation covers the certification of beet seed, fodder plant seed, cereal seed, oil and fibre plant seed, vegetable seed and seed potatoes, as in the European Union.

Currently the Institute (OMMI) carries out the tasks of the OECD and ISTA Designated Authorities in Hungary, and this is the task of the Seed Inspection Division.

The main activities of the Seed Inspection Division are:

The Budapest laboratory is the only accredited ISTA laboratory in Hungary, and is also a member of NAT - the National Accreditation Body.

Some data on Hungarian Seed Certification are presented in Tables 1-3.

Table 1. Seed multiplication area


Area inspected




307 893



278 219



239 634



169 993



158 944



180 287



181 975



160 457



155 775



180 364



169 142



156 234


Table 2. Trend in production of certified seed, 1991-2000


Seed (t)

Seed Potato (t)


Compared to 1991


285 164

26 539

311 703



306 208

32 533

338 741



300 535

28 670

329 205



344 464

34 502

378 964



323 273

35 348

358 621



316 301

29 443

345 744



354 009

19 986

373 995



335 007

24 314

359 321



314 512

25 158

339 670



372 020

26 176

398 196


Table 3. Summary of seed certification, 1999-2000

Species group

Number of lots

1999 Quantity (t)

2000 Quantity (t)








8 531

11 585

172 710

1 547

245 793

3 878


6 233

6 814

79 263

50 091

79 503

44 384


3 271

3 331

1 349


2 005



2 115

1 720

29 172

6 542

20 341

5 483

Oil & industrial

2 914

2 715

20 780

15 974

15 099

11 943

Herbs. spices

















3 098

2 294

3 230

2 514


1 054


6 564

4 286

4 822

3 356








Annual grasses








1 669

1 745

25 158


26 176



27 631

30 552

339 670

82 074

398 196

72 751

NOTE: Weights are rounded to the nearest tonne.

The Hungarian certification system, depicted schematically below, is suitable to assist the seed industry after the development it has passed through in recent years.


International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV)

UPOV Consultant


34, chemin des Colombettes
CH-1211 Geneva 20

Tel: +41+22 338 91 11
Fax: +41+22 733 03 36 / 733 54 28
E-mail: [email protected],


What is UPOV? The International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, known as UPOV, is an intergovernmental organization with headquarters in Geneva. The acronym UPOV is derived from the French name of the organization, Union internationale pour la protection des obtentions végétales.

What is the origin of UPOV? UPOV was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (the UPOV Convention), which was signed in Paris in 1961. The Convention entered into force in 1968. It was revised in Geneva in 1972, 1978 and 1991. The 1978 Act entered into force on 8 November 1981. The 1991 Act entered into force on 24 April 1998.

What is the purpose of the UPOV Convention? The purpose of the UPOV Convention is to ensure that the member States of the Union acknowledge the achievements of breeders of new plant varieties, by making available to them an exclusive property right, on the basis of a set of uniform and clearly defined principles. To be eligible for protection, varieties have to be (i) distinct from existing, commonly known varieties, (ii) sufficiently homogeneous, (iii) stable and (iv) new in the sense that they must not have been commercialized prior to certain dates established by reference to the date of the application for protection.

What is the effect of Plant Breeders’ Rights? Both the 1978 and the 1991 Acts set out a minimum scope of protection and offer member States the possibility of taking national circumstances into account in their legislation.

Under the 1978 Act, the minimum scope of plant breeder’s rights requires that the holder’s prior authorization is necessary for the production for purposes of commercial marketing, the offering for sale and the marketing of propagating material of the protected variety. The 1991 Act contains more detailed provisions defining the acts concerning propagating material in relation to which the holder’s authorization is required. Exceptionally, but only where the holder has had no reasonable opportunity to exercise their right in relation to the propagating material, their authorization may be required in relation to any of the specified acts done with harvested material of the variety.

Like all intellectual property rights, plant breeders’ rights are granted for a limited period of time, at the end of which varieties protected by them pass into the public domain. The rights are also subject to controls, in the public interest, against any possible abuse.

It is also important to note that the authorization of the holder of a plant breeder’s right is not required for the use of their variety for research purposes, including its use in the breeding of further new varieties. The agricultural, horticultural and forestry industries and the final consumer all ultimately gain from the additional stimulus that plant breeders’ rights give to the creation of new varieties that are better suited to satisfy human needs.

Why protect new varieties of plants? Protection is afforded to new varieties of plants both as an incentive to the development of agriculture, horticulture and forestry, and to safeguard the interests of plant breeders.

Improved varieties are a necessary, and very cost-effective, element in the quantitative and qualitative improvement of the production of food, renewable energy and raw material.

Breeding new varieties of plants requires a substantial investment in terms of skill, labour, material resources, money and time. The opportunity to obtain certain exclusive rights in respect of any new variety provides the successful plant breeder with a better chance of recovering their costs and accumulating the funds necessary for further investment. In the absence of plant breeders’ rights, those aims are more difficult to achieve since there is nothing to prevent others from multiplying the breeder’s seed or other propagating material and selling the variety on a commercial scale, without recognizing in any way the work of the breeder.

Why become a member of UPOV? By becoming a member of UPOV, a State signals its intention to protect plant breeders on the basis of principles that have gained worldwide recognition and support. It offers its own plant breeders the possibility of obtaining protection in the other member States and provides an incentive to foreign breeders to invest in plant breeding and seed production on its own territory.

It has the opportunity through membership of UPOV to share in and benefit from the combined experience of the member States and to contribute to the worldwide promotion of plant breeding. A constant effort of intergovernmental cooperation is necessary to accomplish such an aim and this requires the support of a specialized secretariat.

What does UPOV do? The main activities of UPOV are concerned with promoting international harmonization and cooperation, mainly between its member States, and with assisting countries in the introduction of plant variety protection legislation. For smooth operation, international trade requires uniform, or at least mutually compatible, rules.

The fact that the UPOV Convention defines the basic concepts of plant variety protection that must be included in the domestic laws of the members of the Union leads, in itself, to a great degree of harmony in those laws and in the practical operation of the protection systems. Such harmony is enhanced, firstly, through specific activities undertaken within UPOV leading to recommendations and model agreements and forms and, secondly, through the fact that UPOV serves as a forum to exchange views and share experiences.

UPOV has established a detailed set of general principles for the conduct of the examination of plant varieties for distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS), and more specific guidelines for some 170 genera and species. These normative documents are progressively updated and extended to further genera and species. Their use is not limited to plant variety protection, but extends to other areas, such as national listing and seed certification.

The most intense cooperation between member States concerns the examination of plant varieties. It is based on arrangements whereby one member State conducts tests on behalf of others or whereby one member State accepts the test results produced by others as the basis for its decision on the grant of a breeder’s right. Through such arrangements, member States are able to minimize the cost of operating their protection systems and breeders are able to obtain protection in several countries at relatively low cost.

The UPOV member States and the UPOV Secretariat maintain contacts with and provide legal, administrative and technical assistance to the governments of a growing number of States expressing interest in the work of the Union and in the idea of plant variety protection. Regular contacts are also maintained with many intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations.

Information on the development of plant variety protection legislation throughout the world is published in Plant Variety Protection (UPOV publication No. 438(E)).

How is UPOV governed and managed? The Council of UPOV consists of the representatives of the members of the Union. Each member that is a State has one vote in the Council. Under the 1991 Act, certain intergovernmental organizations may also become members of the Union. The Council is responsible for safeguarding the interests and encouraging the development of the Union and for adopting its programme and budget. The Council meets once each year in ordinary session. If necessary, it is convened to meet in extraordinary session. The Council has established a number of Committees, which meet once or twice a year.

The Secretariat of UPOV (called “the Office of the Union”) is directed by a Secretary-General. Under a cooperation agreement with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an organization belonging to the United Nations system, the Director General of that Organization is the Secretary-General of UPOV. He is assisted by a Vice Secretary-General. The Office has a small international staff.

Table 1. UPOV Member States as of 6 April 2001*











Republic of Moldova(3)







Trinidad and Tobago(2)


Czech Republic(2)


New Zealand(2)

Russian Federation(3)







United Kingdom(3)(4)











South Africa(2)(5)







(Total: 47)


* = Azerbaijan, Belarus, Costa Rica, Croatia, Egypt, Georgia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco, Nicaragua, Republic of Korea, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia, Venezuela, Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe, as well as the European Community and the African Intellectual Property Organization, have initiated with the Council of UPOV the procedure for becoming members of the Union. Many other non-member States currently have laws to protect plant varieties, or proposals for laws before their legislatures.

(1) 1961 Act as amended by the Additional Act of 1972 is the latest Act by which State is bound (2 States). (2) 1978 Act is the latest Act by which State is bound (29 States). (3) 1991 Act is the latest Act by which State is bound (16 States). (4) Member of the European Community which has introduced a (supranational) Community plant variety rights system based upon the 1991 Act. (5) Has already amended its law to conform to the 1991 Act; most other member States are in the process of doing so.

OECD schemes for the varietal certification of seed moving in international trade: development - new issues - new approaches

Dr Jean-Marie DEBOIS

Dr Jean-Marie DEBOIS

Principal Administrator, Agricultural Codes and Schemes

2, rue André Pascal
75775 Paris Cedex 16

Tel: +33+
Fax: +33+
E-mail: [email protected]

What is OECD?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental forum composed of 30 market economy member countries from four continents (Europe, America, Asia and Oceania). OECD is a specialist in all sectors of economic activity, allowing governments to study and formulate the best policies; it provides various views on current topics, from unbinding policy advice, to formal Recommendations and binding Decisions. Some of its activities are open to non-member countries, which is the case for seed trade regulation, or, more precisely, the OECD Seed Schemes.

What are the OECD Seed Schemes?

The OECD Schemes worldwide are recognized schemes for the varietal certification of seed moving in international trade. Their establishment (initiated in 1958) resulted from the combination of fast-growing seed trade, the regulatory tradition of European countries, the development of off-season production, the seed breeding potential of large exporting countries in North and South America, and the support of private industry.

There are seven Seed Schemes, with adherence being voluntary for any scheme. Membership varies for each scheme:

  • Grasses and Legumes

(46 countries)

  • Crucifers and other Oil or Fibre Species

(46 countries)

  • Cereals

(44 countries)

  • Maize and Sorghum

(35 countries)

  • Beet

(29 countries)

  • Vegetables

(22 countries)

  • Subterranean Clover and Similar Species

(4 countries)

Which countries participate in the Schemes?

Forty-eight countries currently participate in the OECD Seed Schemes (29 from Europe, 7 from North and South America, 6 from Africa, 4 from Asia and 2 from Oceania) including countries from the Asian-Pacific area, such as Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Russia has applied for admission and is under evaluation.

Among the 29 countries invited to participate in the present Meeting, 11 are participants in the OECD Schemes. They are: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Turkey (all OECD Members); and Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia (all non-OECD Members admitted to the Schemes). Moreover, five countries have lodged an official application. They are Albania, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Latvia hopes to send an application in the next few weeks.

Scope and requirements of the OECD Seed Schemes

The scope of the OECD Seed Schemes is to encourage the use of seed of consistently high quality in participating countries. The Schemes authorize the use of labels and certificates for seed produced and processed for international trade according to agreed principles. OECD certification is applied to varieties satisfying DUS conditions, and the Schemes aim to ensure varietal identity and purity through controlled seed multiplication, processing and labelling.

A consequential benefit of the Schemes is the removal of technical trade barriers for the OECD certified seed, officially recognized as “quality-guaranteed” seed. In 1998/99, more than 370 000 t of seed were OECD certified, traded and used by farmers. The main OECD principles are also applied to a much larger quantity of seed to be certified domestically and internationally.

The Annual OECD List of Varieties eligible for OECD certification includes varieties which are officially recognized as distinct and having an acceptable value in at least one country (formerly known as the List of Cultivars). It contains most internationally traded varieties, the number of which has grown steadily over the last twenty years. The number of listed varieties is doubling every decade, to exceed 23 000 entries in the 2000 issue (see Table 1). Among species, the highest increases are observed for maize and oilseed rape. Other species, such as sunflower, rice, some forage or other self-pollinated species, are also part of this trend. The List is available on the Internet (free access) at:

Table 1. Number of cultivars eligible for certification (all data approximate)








400 (33 spp)

900 (42 spp)

2 500 (54 spp)

3 025 (54 spp)

3 245 (55 spp)


700 (61 spp)

1 399 (72 spp)

2 000 (81 spp)

2 400 (81 spp)

2 563 (81 spp)






1 016 (10 spp)

Other Herbage and Oil Seed


210 (7 spp)

1 340 (9 spp)

1 895 (10 spp)

2 196 (10 spp)



1 550

2 575

3 355

3 833 (12 spp)





1 085

1 257

Subterranean clover




56 (8 spp)


1 275

3 400

4 976

6 505




641 (5 spp)


2 645

6 175

13 675

18 050

21 312 (183 spp)

Trueness to type (Varietal identity): Through the OECD Seed Schemes, participating countries agree on common requirements and methods of maintaining seed varieties true to themselves (to the description of the varieties) throughout multiplication, especially when seed is multiplied abroad.

Minimum varietal purity standards: Participating countries recognize that seed lots must satisfy minimum levels for varietal purity to be preserved. These requirements are achieved by way of previous cropping conditions, isolation distances, field inspections and plot control as appropriate. Chemotaxonomic tests are also used.

Seed categories: The following categories of seed are recognized in the Schemes, each corresponding to a clearly specified generation number and associated technical conditions: Pre-Basic Seed; Basic Seed; Certified Seed. This nomenclature is widely recognized as harmonizing those used traditionally in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Samples and laboratory analysis: Each lot of OECD certified seed is subject to official laboratory tests for analytical purity and germination. OECD Certification uses ISTA (or, if necessary, similar) sampling and testing methods. It has also endorsed ISTA’s lot size limits in its rules.

The primary purpose of the OECD Seed Schemes is to facilitate international trade in seed, by providing an official and recognized tool for certification. When a country joins the Schemes, there is no obligation to subject all domestic seed production to the OECD requirements; the Schemes are often applied only to exported seed. However, they prove to be useful as they enhance the use of clear and reliable methods in the production of seed and therefore benefit the internal market. The Seed Schemes may be part of advisory and extension services, or export promoting policies. They enhance national competitiveness and may be seen as a public service provided to companies, especially smaller or medium-sized ones.

How does the system operate?

The government of each country participating in the Schemes designates a National Authority for the purpose of implementing the Schemes. The operation and progress of the Schemes are reviewed at an Annual Meeting of representatives of the Designated Authorities, held alternately in Paris and in a country participating in the Schemes (e.g. South Africa in 1998, Germany in 2000, Bolivia in 2002). Proposals for new rules or adaptation of existing rules to current needs are made regularly. In addition, these Meetings foster the sharing of information, experiences and problems encountered in countries and with the seed industry.

International organizations, either governmental or representing industry and farmers, participate as observers in the OECD meetings. UPOV, ISTA and FIS/ASSINSEL are involved in the OECD work. There has been longstanding cooperation with FAO, and regional organizations such as AOSCA, WANA, APSA and, more recently, AFSTA.

The European Commission has a recognized status in OECD, since the current 15 EU Member States are Members of the Organisation.

Recent technical developments

Among the technical issues recently discussed and agreed by the participating countries, the following are worthy of note:

Discussions have been initiated on emerging issues, such as the certification of varietal mixtures of herbage seed, the relevance of certification of ecotypes or landraces, the seed implications of identity preservation of harvested grain, and the appropriate standards for oilseed hybrids derived from advanced breeding methods.

How do States and Companies interact?

The success of the Schemes depends upon close and continuous cooperation between maintainers, seed producers, traders and the Designated Authorities in participating countries. In particular, when seed multiplication takes place outside the country of registration of a cultivar and the Designated Authority has permitted such a commercial multiplication, the maintainer should be consulted and close contact maintained between the Designated Authorities of the countries concerned.

Companies can technically do as well as officials when establishing and maintaining the distinctness, uniformity and stability (DUS) of their cultivars, not only domestically but also across borders with the advent of large international companies. However, companies perform within their own objectives and constraints for each market and compete through differing levels of standards and information. There remains a need for minimum criteria to be commonly defined, endorsed and enforced. The OECD Schemes provide a legal system at international level. Its contribution to monitoring the identity and purity of the seed brings additional benefits. Identification costs associated with future food and environmental regulations along the food chain could be saved in the long run thanks to the Seed Schemes and other closely related OECD activities described on the Bio-Track Website of the Organisation.

The future environment of the Seed Schemes

A fairly large number of countries - from Central and Eastern Europe or elsewhere - have shown interest in the OECD Seed Schemes and may be willing to join soon. Therefore the future of the OECD Seed Schemes seems quite promising, because more countries are entering international markets, and seed “consumers” are becoming more sophisticated: they demand more certainty, safety and efficiency in what they buy, and they want value for money.

At the same time, careful management of public resources and funds must be a constant feature of the OECD Schemes because regulation and quality control costs must remain limited in spite of ever more sophisticated products.

The present cooperation between countries and all seed-related international organizations is viewed as a response to the developing concern for a market-responsive regulatory approach.

Each country, confronted with different legal settings, institutional balances and commercial relations, must nonetheless devise its own approach. Yet the multiplicity of approaches must remain consistent among countries entering international markets as importers or exporters. Participation in an international organization yields clear benefits through enhancement through mutual trust.

The OECD Seed Schemes have since 1962 been opened by the OECD Council to all Member States of the United Nations. New participating countries would contribute in their own way to international seed trade development.

Number of Countries participating in the OECD Seed Schemes (1958-1999)


EESNET - A regional initiative



Secretary General

Czech Seed Trade Association (CMSSA)
Jankovcova 18
170 37 Praha 7
Czech Republic

Tel: +420-2-66710893
Fax +420-2-20191292
E-mail: [email protected]


The EESNET regional initiative owes it birth to the current situation in the region, the most typical feature of which is disintegration. Various stages of economic and political developments can be seen in the individual countries, some of which are oriented to the EU. One common feature is the lack of internal as well as external information, resulting in various approaches to the seed trade and many international misunderstandings, not only in the seed trade.

This situation generates current needs. Preferably, we need information from inside the region and particularly from outside the region in order to create good legislation and good conditions for the seed industry. In order to establish better regional cooperation we need to know who to contact and we need to build up at least some regional integration.

There are several barriers to meeting the current needs: economic ones (participation fees in various international events, travel expenses), political ones (some international events are limited to certain countries only) and language ones (the simplest one to overcome).


Having recognized this problem, the Czech Seed Trade Association (CMSSA) decided several years ago to organize a meeting of countries from the region in order to get to know each other in our new, historic situations and in order to bring information into the region. The event was called the Eastern European Seed Trade Meeting and covered two days - the first for presentations and the second for bilateral discussions. The first meeting was in 1998 and had a general topic - to get to know each other. The meeting was attended by 125 people from 13 countries. The following year, 1999, the main topic was “International Integration,” and presentations were made by UPOV, FIS/ASSINSEL and the European Seed Association to 130 participants from 15 countries. In 2000, the meeting focused on “The Responsibility of the Private Seed Sector” and was attended by 175 people from 21 countries. Presentations by OECD, ISTA, FIS/ASSINSEL and UPOV were included in the agenda. Nevertheless, the main success of the meeting was the acceptance of the CMSSA proposal to promote regional integration in the seed sector by setting up the Eastern European Seed Network (EESNET).


To understand what EESNET is, let me explain briefly its mission, structure and activities.

Its mission is to know and to be known, i.e. information exchange involving contact details of companies and institutions, seed statistics and seed legislation.

The structure is quite simple - there is no need for membership, a common budget, a secretariat, etc. There is only participation of a country through a focal point, which should preferably be the national seed association, if it exists. If not, then the focal point may be a monopoly company or temporarily even a governmental institution. The steps to be taken will be discussed by the Technical Committee, which is the only body of the network. Each country shall have its own representation in the Committee, all with equal rights. The chairing country is the one that organizes the Annual Meeting. The official language is English, but Russian and German are also taken into account.

The present participation in EESNET is as follows: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Yugoslavia and Ukraine. The participation of Russia and Belarus is now being clarified.

The activities of EESNET are intended to take place at several levels: day-to-day contacts between the focal points; an Annual Meeting; and a website (kindly operated by the International Seed Trade Federation at; and an Annual Report (published by the organizing country).

I have pleasure in announcing that the first Annual Meeting of EESNET will be organized in Prague on 27-28 November 2001 and the topic will be “Principal Aspects of the Seed Trade.” Presentations are being prepared by UPOV and FIS/ASSINSEL on subtopics like “Intellectual Property,” “FIS Rules for Trade and for Disputes,” “GMOs and the Seed Trade,” etc.

The official documentation of the meeting will be available in the summer on the CMSSA web site or on request from the CMSSA Secretariat.

GNIS - Groupement national interprofessionel des semences et plants

Mr Francois BURGAUD

Francois BURGAUD

GNIS - Groupement National Interprofessionel des Semences et Plants

44 Rue du Louvre
75001 Paris

Tel: INT+33+ 1 423 376 94
Fax: INT+33+ 1 423 327 74
E-mail: [email protected]

I would like to say a few words about the French seed sector, which, I hope, will be relevant to the situation in the region.

France is the top producer of seeds in the EU and the third-biggest exporter in the world, but also the second biggest importer. This latter fact is extremely important, because it means we offer our farmers at all times the best varieties currently available.

We have 100 breeding companies and 300 seed producing companies, but most of them (80% of the seed producing companies) are cooperatives or family farms. This means that the involvement of farmers in seeds is very important.

Private breeding is encouraged by special laws and programmes. For example, there are lower taxes on breeding profits, state funding for public and private sector partnership - for genomic projects now, or for maize diversity projects 20 years ago.

I would also like to explain why France has supported the FAO initiative on seed policies since the very beginning. There is a great deal of international negotiation and debate at present which is fundamental for the future of the seed sector: debates about intellectual property rights in the WTO, about certification in OECD, about genetic resources in FAO and in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Different positions have been taken up on all these points, which separate the countries. For example, the United States of America allows varieties to be patented, while the European Union is against such patents.

Too often, the administrative staff who represent the governments in these negotiations are not only not specialists, but also very often know very little about seeds. It is very important for the public services, companies and professional organizations involved in seeds to be well informed, to exchange experience and advice, and to make recommendations to their governments.

The work of FAO in these continental and regional workshops is very important in this respect, and FAO is the best intergovernmental body to deal with these questions.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page