Seed Authentification
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Marli Draper
Posted on: September 23, 1999

Each year we purchase a lot of your seed via your agent in Australia, Eschol Springs. Due to external auditing requirements, we ask that you could provide a certificate of authenticity, stating that all your seed is guaranteed to be the true authentic species specified. Could you please supply such a certificate to assist us to meet our regulatory requirements? This would be greatly appreciated.

We cannot provide that kind of blanket assurance for all of our seeds. No herb seed company can. All seed companies sell seeds with a disclaimer as to the identity (as well as productiveness) of the seeds, limiting any potential liability to the value of the seeds purchased.

We endeavour to provide, to the best of our ability, true-to-name seeds of the highest quality -- that much we can guarantee. Unlike most of the seed industry which is content with germination and purity tests only, we perform identity tests also on each lot. These include seed-level identity tests (e.g. checking seeds against our own reference seed collection) and seedling-level identity tests (i.e. checking seedling identity in greenhouse seedflats) performed on each lot for which such tests are practical. In addition, because we use the same seeds we sell for our own plant production, we have a high degree of confidence that our seeds are true to name.

But, in our minds, a certificate of authenticity implies more than this. A certificate of authenticity requires that each lot of seed is checked in some way that is absolute. As much as our system is designed to check identity, it is not an absolute system, and mistakes can happen. The reason for this is that there is no simple, universal way to check the identity of all seeds at every step of the way from the source fields to the package. An assurance system from source to package requires that source plants be checked by a trained botanist using taxonomic and chemical tests. The costs of performing this level of testing on each variety and each lot, and documenting that at every level of supply and at every level of processing, is prohibitive.

The herb seed industry has only begun to develop certified seed supplies. Richters is among the first in the world to offer certified Echinacea angustifolia seed, in response to widespread industry confusion over echinacea species identity. In the case of echinacea there is a real need for certification because it is difficult to tell E. angustifolia seeds from seeds of E. pallida and other species, and there have been cases of inadvertent or intentional substitution of one species for another. However, for the vast majority of herbs, seed identity has not been a problem -- at least not at the species level -- and consequently there has been little or no call for certified seed. Certified seed is only available for a few varieties at present, and will only be provided for additional varieties on an "as needed" basis.

The whole concept of certification is at a early stage of development in the herb seed industry. Precisely what is meant by a "certificate of authenticity" may be different for different people. Our own notion is that a certification system must provide a very strong level of assurance requiring absolute tests and controls, which is why we are only able to offer it for a few species at present. If, however, your external auditing requirement can be satisfied with a letter from Richters certifying that our seeds have been subjected to our own internal identity control system, we can provide such a letter on request.

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