How French seeds are certified
The French seed certification system is one of the most well developed and stringent certification systems in the world. Consumers, general citizens, industry stakeholders, and farmers alike are concerned about environmental, food security and ethical questions related to food production.
France’s seed certification system is helping improve the quality of agricultural output and products while also limiting the spread of plant diseases and pests.
Seed certification systems arose from the need for seeds and planting material to demonstrate a consistent minimum level of quality. Indeed, for crop production to be successful, seeds must be healthy, display species and varietal purity, and have the ability to germinate. Stakeholders in the agricultural and agrifood industries also benefit from the seed certification system because it guarantees traceability and ensures the variety that stakeholders need is the one being produced.
France began laying down the framework for controlling commercial seed quality in the 1950s. Ten years later, the system was solidified via national, then European, legislation. The French government has made the French Interprofessional Organisation for Seeds and Plants responsible for seed control and certification. This task is carried out by the official service for control and certification of seeds and plants (French acronym: SOC), which is headed by an appointed government senior official.
SOC certifies agricultural seeds and plants, belonging to the following groups: grains, maize, beets, oilseeds, linseed and flax, potatoes, and forage plants. For vegetable species, which do not need to be certified according to the regulation, SOC verifies identity, varietal purity, and germination ability once the seeds are marketed.
Guaranteeing the identity and varietal purity
Farmers wish to grow specific crops with the aim of meeting consumer demands. Their consumers may be industrial clients, distributors, or private individuals. Farmers must therefore be able to have faith in the varietal identity and purity of the seeds and plants they have purchased. In other words, farmers need to know that the lot of seeds they have purchased include only the plant variety that they intend to produce.
Guaranteeing the technical quality of seeds
There are two main technical characteristics of concern:
1) the analytical purity of seed/planting material lots, meaning an almost complete absence of dirt, debris, broken seeds, and other plant species ;
2) germination ability.
Guaranteeing that certain types of seeds and planting materials (potatoes, lucerne, sunflower, etc.) are healthy and disease free (e.g., fungal or viral)
It is crucial to ensure that seeds and planting materials are healthy. Potatoes provide a useful example. Potatoes are susceptible to mildew epidemics, which have resulted in past famines, such as the one that afflicted Ireland in the mid-19th century. At present, certified seed potatoes are scrutinised at every stage of production to guarantee that farmers will get healthy planting materials. Seed potatoes must be confirmed to be free of pathogens and/or parasites that would trigger quarantine conditions (e.g., Clavibacter and Ralstonia bacteria, nematodes). The presence of such harmful organisms could force farmers to destroy their entire harvest. This process also helps limit the risk that seed potatoes will be contaminated by fungi or viruses that could result in a failure of seedling growth and lower yields.
Header photo : © SEMAE / Stéphanie Buffaz