IPPC sets new standard to make trade in seeds safer

Trade in plants and seeds
Agricultural products that are destined for consumption, there is a greater risk that any pests carried in seeds could establish themselves and spread after planting.

International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the global body that oversees plant health, has adopted a new standard to ensure that international trade in plants and seeds is free from agricultural pests and disease-causing bugs.

According to IPPC, the threat of transmission of pests on ships and containers transporting agricultural cargo, especially seeds, is a growing concern around the world. The Agency added that unlike other agricultural products that are destined for consumption, there is a greater risk that any pests carried in seeds could establish themselves and spread after planting.

Seeds are moved internationally for production of food, forage, ornamental plants, biofuels and fiber as well as for forestry and for pharmacological uses. Often, they are also used in research, breeding and seed multiplication. However, once ashore, the pests such as the giant African snails and gypsy moths can invade new environments, devastate crops and cause much hardship.

The IPPC says that the rapid growth in agricultural trade via online marketplaces is aggravating the situation, making it harder for countries to ensure that all shipments – big or small – are free from bugs and diseases.

The new standard now provides guidance to assist National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) in identifying, assessing and managing the pest risk associated with the international movement of seeds.

It outlines procedures to establish Phytosanitary import requirements to facilitate the international movement of seeds; on inspection, sampling, testing of seeds; and on the Phytosanitary certification of seeds for export and re-exportation.

It stipulates that the importing country may undertake post-entry quarantine for seeds in cases where a quarantine pest is difficult to detect, where symptom expression takes time, or where testing or treatment is required. National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPOs) may also prohibit the importation of seeds of certain species or origins when a pest risk analysis determines that the seeds pose a high pest risk.

In a news release, the agency said that the new standards, adopted by the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures, the governing body of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), will help harmonize the way countries deal with the complexities of the international seed trade.

The efforts are also expected to facilitate trade in seeds – valued at about USD 12 billion annually – while ensuring that such shipments safeguard food supplies for a growing global population.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) underscored that such steps are important to protect global food security as well as for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly those related to combating hunger.

“The decisions made here will be essential to further protecting the world’s plant resources, the very foundation of life. FAO’s vision of a world without hunger can only be accomplished with healthy plants that are free from regulated pests.” FAO Assistant Director-General Kundhavi Kadiresan said.

The Commission on Phytosanitary Measures is also discussing guidelines for an import regulatory system, and a series of treatments that stop pests from burrowing into wooden packaging materials and methods to stop fruit flies from attacking citrus fruits.