June 9th is World Accreditation Day, a global initiative set forth by the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) to celebrate the importance of accreditation. Members of the two organizations, along with its partners, stakeholders, and conformity assessment bodies, including A2LA, celebrate this day each year as an opportunity to promote the critical role accreditation plays all around the world.
The theme for this year is “Accreditation: Supporting the Future of Global Trade,” with an emphasis on several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, like zero hunger and good health and wellbeing. According to ILAC, “This theme will showcase how accreditation and accredited conformity assessment activities support the ongoing global supply chain restructuring that continues to be a source of trade normalization as [organizations] seek new markets and investment opportunities to build resilient and flexible supply chains.”
Here at A2LA, when we think of supporting global supply chains, we often think of seeds. Let us explain.
Many of the world’s foods, products, and medicines are derived from plants—plants that are grown from seeds. In particular, the world’s food supply depends on the quality of these seeds and their ability to produce viable plants in ever-changing environments. In order to ensure farmers, growers, manufacturers, and producers can rely on seeds to produce the plants we need, they must be tested in labs for purity, germination capacity, bacteria, fungi, and so much more.
The results of these tests answer important questions. Will these seeds grow what they’re labeled to grow? Will these seeds yield enough crops to meet the growing demand? Can these plants grow in difficult environments, like in the case of a drought or a wet growing season?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Seed quality equates to crop stand, yield, and overall value. High quality seeds provide the foundation for meeting our food, medical and housing needs…Today, virtually all of the world’s population depends on seeds, or the plants they develop into, to carry out functions of daily life.”
So how does accreditation fit into the picture? Accreditation improves confidence in these critical test results. To achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger and good health and wellbeing, seed testing plays a significant role in ensuring the quality and quantity of healthy crops that are safe to consume.
What are seeds tested for?
There are many different laboratory tests to determine the quality of a seed. Standard seed testing often includes planting a seed and visually inspecting the plant as it grows to determine whether it will produce a viable crop in the field.
Seeds can also be tested for their genetics and traits. Adventitious presence testing (testing for unwanted transgenic traits) ensures the germplasm contains the specific DNA and characteristics it is expected to have. For example, if a section of DNA was inserted to give the plant an insect, herbicide, or disease tolerance, genetic testing can confirm those traits, as well as find potential traits the plant is not intended to have.
“From a food safety and chemical standpoint, we can test for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants. From a microbiological perspective, we can test for things like mold and bacteria,” said Anders Thomsen, Business Unit Manager of the Food Chemistry Lab at Eurofins. “Mold can lead to mycotoxins, so we test for their presence to make sure there’s nothing that can cause harm.”
In addition, most seeds in the United States are treated with a coating to protect them from fungus, bacteria, and pests. Overapplication can be costly and potentially phytotoxic, while underapplication leaves the seed open to biological threats. Seed treatment loading rate analysis is a test that can confirm that the appropriate amount of this coating has been applied to the seeds.
Seeds can also be tested for their nutritional value to ensure they contain enough nutrients for the people or animals that will be consuming them. Plants that don’t produce the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals can lead to malnourishment in farm animals and potential food shortages.
Thomsen adds, “it’s estimated that there will be 10 billion people on earth by 2050. How do you produce enough protein to sustain life for that many people? Much of it comes from animals but they’re also looking at grains, plants, and other protein sources to make up what they eat. Testing for the nutritional value of our plants will help make sure animals and people can get enough protein to sustain life.”
In addition, global seed trade is supported by phytosanitary certificate testing/seed health testing for export to ensure that seed can move between nations and not carry unwanted problems with them.
Why are seeds tested?
There’s a lot at stake when it comes to the quality of seeds, including our food supply and our wellbeing. Just about everyone relies on high-quality seeds for safe, nutritious food, effective medicines, comfortable clothes, materials for our homes and offices, and so much more. With so much on the line, oftentimes seeds are required to be tested by state or federal regulators to ensure they’re labeled correctly, will yield enough crops, and are safe for consumption.
“Standard germination testing is required by the USDA and seed labeling laws. Germination data is use to create a label that can be audited,” said Brenda Johnson, Business Unit Manager of the BioDiagnostics Laboratory at Eurofins. “Trait purity tests are also required per trait licensing agreements by the producer of that transgenic trait to ensure that the seed performs as expected. Accuracy and precision is of ultimate importance. For example, if seed labeled as herbicide resistant is planted then sprayed with herbicide and a significant portion of the field dies, it would be devastating for the grower.”
At the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Laboratory, the team tests a representative selection of seed samples available for purchase in the state. They look for things like seed purity and pure seed content percentage, so that residents of the state can rely on the labels and trust that their crops will produce a successful yield.
“When we test against the facts on the label, we’re making sure it’s a fair marketplace,” says Diandra Viner, Plant and Seed Analysis Supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Laboratory. “Whether you’re a farmer or just planting veggies in your garden, you have to be able to trust the label and know that your plants will grow how you expect them to.”
Overall, seed testing helps ensure the seeds being used for agricultural or horticultural purposes are of high-quality and have a good chance of producing healthy, productive plants.
How does accreditation support seed testing?
Accreditation and conformity assessment serve the seed testing industry by building confidence in test results, solidifying our global food supply, and giving credibility in enforcement scenarios. It supports the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals of zero hunger and good health and well being, and reduces barriers to global trade.
“When it comes to accreditation and seed testing, you’re selling trust,” said Thomsen. “Accreditation ensures high-quality test results. You’re selling a number and there’s a significant level of trust that comes with that.”
Bryanne Shaw, Lab Director of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Laboratory adds, “because the analysis that we are providing could be used in an enforcement decision or for regulatory purposes, test results must be legally and scientifically defensible. Accreditation gives our customers the assurance that our data is good. Without accreditation, our results may not hold up to scrutiny and we wouldn’t have much backbone to enforce our actions.”
Additionally, accreditation can serve as a valuable marketing tool, setting laboratories apart from their competition, as well as helping manage risk within any organization. A2LA is among the largest globally recognized accreditation bodies in the world, and a signatory to ILAC, IAF, and Asia Pacific Accreditation Cooperation (APAC). Currently, A2LA has over 4,00 actively accredited certificates representing all 50 US states and more than 50 countries.
This World Accreditation Day, take a moment to reflect on how conformity assessment can affect even the smallest parts of daily life, and how you can begin to plant the seed of quality within your own organization.
For more information on the benefits of laboratory accreditation, contact us at info@A2LA.org.