U.S. seed exports are expected to increase as a result of the newly established National Seed Health System (NSHS), which provides an accreditation scheme for non-government entities to perform laboratory seed health tests and phytosanitary inspections to meet international import regulations.

This accreditation program will allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) to issue phytosanitary certificates required for seed export in a much more timely manner. The NSHS officially came into effect on Aug. 17 per APHIS' final rule in the July 18, 2001 Federal Register.

Federal phytosanitary certificates are required by most countries importing U.S. seed. As U.S. seed exports have continually increased in the past decade, so has demand for laboratory testing and phytosanitary inspection services to meet import requirements. The NSHS will help meet this demand by accrediting non-government inspection entities to report pre-harvest phytosanitary inspection and seed health testing results to APHIS in a timely manner. The agency will then be in a much better position to keep up with the demand for phytosanitary certificates.

More timely issuance

“The NSHS will allow for more timely issuance of phytosanitary certificates required by most, if not all, importing countries,” said Greg Lamka, Ph.D., chair, NSHS Seed Technical Working Group. “This should reduce international business costs for U.S. seed exporters and increase their export opportunities and contracts for which delivery time is vital. It will also save APHIS a lot of leg work and time.”

Export certification is not required by the APHIS regulations; rather, it is provided by the agency as a service to exporters who ship seed to countries requiring phytosanitary certification as a condition of entry. Under the NSHS, accreditation will cover laboratory seed health testing, including sampling; seed production field inspection, including greenhouses or plant growth chambers; and visual inspection of seed prior to export.

Iowa State University's Seed Science Center will be the primary administration unit for the NSHS. However, other organizations, including state plant protection agencies, may be utilized to evaluate all of the non-government entities that wish to be accredited.

Dozen or more laboratories

It is estimated that a dozen or so seed testing laboratories will become accredited under the NSHS, allowing for expansion of their services. Seed businesses of all sizes are encouraged by the NSHS to apply for accreditation as well as state agencies. The NSHS will require all accredited testing facilities to utilize standardized testing methodologies approved by its scientific review panels. The accreditation program is designed to be self-financing; costs should be recouped through accreditation fees.

NSHS standards for accreditation of non-government entities were published by APHIS in two manuals. They are Reference Manual A for the Administration, Procedures, and Policies of the NSHS and Reference Manual B for Seed Health Testing and Phytosanitary Field Inspection Methods. The manuals are available online at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/pim/accreditation.

The NSHS is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Plant Board, Iowa State University, American Seed Trade Association, Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies, and the Association of American Seed Control Officials. More information about the NSHS will soon be available at www.seedhealth.org.