Technical regulations related to the production, control, and certification of seeds and planting materials define the standards that must be met by seed/planting material lots.
In particular, a seed/planting material lot must meet the following requirements:
- be homogeneous;
- remain under a certain size (the exact maximum is species specific);
- be identified with a unique lot number;
- be placed in approved, sealed packaging that displays the product description required by law
(i.e., in the form of official labels for certified seeds and planting materials).
Seed/planting material lots must display certain qualitative features as well. These quality standards are species dependent and relate to germination ability, analytical purity, the number of other species, phytosanitary status, and varietal identity and purity.
Verifying compliance involves taking samples, conducting laboratory analyses, confirming packaging and labelling procedures, and conducting post-control inspections to verify varietal identity and purity. In the case of seed potatoes, vegetables and strawberry plants, lots may also be visually inspected to determine the planting materials’ physical state and whether plant health standards are being respected.
To characterise the features of a seed lot, a series of samples are taken from different parts of the lot; the overall sample should be representative of the lot as a whole and large enough for testing needs. ISTA has defined international methods for seed sampling.
Depending on what the regulations state, seed sampling for certification purposes can be carried out by either SOC or the seed production company itself under the official supervision of SOC.
If the company performs the sampling, it must be done by qualified and authorised personnel. Companies will only be authorised to perform the sampling themselves if they have properly qualified personnel, the necessary equipment, and the relevant organisation.
To ensure compliance, SOC inspectors will audit the company and take secondary samples from lots at random.
For a seed lot to be certified, it must meet technical quality standards that are specific to species and seed categories. The features examined include germination ability, the number of other plant species, water content, and the presence of harmful organisms.
Analytical standard characteristics of seed lots can be determined by:
- official analysis, either carried out by a government accredited laboratory or France’s national reference laboratory;
- analysis under official supervision carried out by a third-party laboratory recognised by SOC, either a company run laboratory or a private independent laboratory that complies with government standards and that has received SOC approval.
Regulations define the standards that must be met by companies and laboratories, including the requirements for receiving and maintaining SOC’s approval.
In particular, a laboratory must comply with certain standards in the following areas:
- administration (for the company running the laboratory)
- staff qualifications
- equipment and facility quality
- analytical and procedural methodologies
An official label is placed on the packaging of each lot of certified seeds/planting materials. The label’s display panel must contain the descriptive elements required by law. The intent is to provide users with clear information about lot contents and characteristics.
The exact elements required depend on seed/planting material type. However, the label must always include the following: species name, variety name, lot number, certification category, seed quantity, and country of production.
Label colour varies depending on seed/planting material type and category:
|white with a violet stripe||initial propagative material and prebasic seeds|
|blue||certified seeds, first generation|
|red||certified seeds, second or successive generations|
|blue with a green stripe||certified seeds in a mixture of rapeseed varieties|
|green||mixtures of certified seeds|
|brown||commercial seeds of certain grass or legume species|
|orange||seeds of varieties currently in registration |
(“not yet officially listed” as stated in Council Decision [EC] No. 2004/842 of 1 December 2004)
|yellow||seeds that are marketed in small quantities in France for use in field trials|
|grey||seeds intended for transfer|
Each label also sports a unique number, which is the basis for certified seed and planting material traceability.
Using field trials, SOC carries out post-control verifications of pre-basic, basic, and certified seeds to confirm the varietal identity and purity of seed lots.
The goal of these tests is to gather information on seeds destined for certification at the earliest generations’ stage (i.e., prebasic and basic) in order to:
- confirm varietal identity (via comparison with the variety’s official reference or description);
- characterise the degree of varietal impurity and identify the features that would allow inspectors to more easily recognise such impurity during field inspections of crops with seeds from the lot in question, thus allowing appropriate measures to be taken depending on growth production stage.
Post-control tests on certified seed lots provide confirmation of varietal identity and information on varietal impurities at the same growth stage as users.
Thanks to the results of these tests, the status of unsold lots or crops produced using the lots in question can be confirmed or modified.
For certain species, companies must grow a parcel each year that will be used for verifying the variety identity and purity of the seeds harvested or certified.