ISF International Seed Federation


What is an "Invasive Species" ?

An invasive plant is one that has the ability to thrive and spread aggressively outside its natural habitat. People introduce species into new habitats for a number of reasons. Many of the introductions relate to the human interest in providing species that are helpful to people. This is particularly true of agricultural species; indeed, in most parts of the world, the great bulk of human dietary needs are met by species that have been introduced from elsewhere. Species introductions in this sense, therefore, are an essential part of human welfare in virtually all parts of the world. In other cases, plants from other parts of the world selected for their horticultural attributes are welcomed, manageable additions to gardens. Beautiful, unusual, exceptionally hardy, drought-tolerant, or fast-growing plants are sought by gardeners the world over.

Introduced plants are not all invasive. A naturally aggressive plant may become invasive when it is introduced to a new habitat. An invasive species that colonizes a new area may gain an ecological edge since the insects, diseases, and foraging animals that naturally keep its growth in check in its native range are not present in its new habitat. In the worst cases, invasive plants threaten other plant life putting pressure on native plants and animals. Threatened species may succumb to this pressure altering habitats and reducing biodiversity.

As a biodiversity issue it is not always possible to identify invasions as inherently "bad". Overall, the flora in many parts of the world has undergone an enrichment of diversity over historical time as a result of human-induced plant introductions. The International Seed Federation considers an "invasive species" as one that is:

  • non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration, and
  • whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health

A significant majority of introduced crop species pose neither economic nor ecological problems; on the contrary they are essential to human welfare. Therefore, introduced crops should not in general be considered invasive.

See also Global Conventions/Teaties That Cover Alien Species


What is "Company Quality Assurance" ?

Company Quality Assurance is the means by which a seed company satisfies itself that the quality of its products and services are maintained and enhanced, thereby meeting customer and corporate expectations.

Quality assurance is usually achieved by (i) defining and documenting the company’s quality standards and policy, (ii) setting formal procedures for reaching the set standards (iii) monitoring processes for a systematic review of the steps where defects or failures could be introduced into the process, (iv) developing process control around these critical points, and (v) auditing products and processes to ensure compliance to and effectiveness of the program.Its purpose is to provide the customer with a sense of order, continuity and confidence that factors impinging on the quality of the product or service have been identified and managed in a formal manner that is reflected at all levels in the seed company.

Internally, it provides employees with measurable performance objectives that tie in with the objectives and interests of the company.


What is the Meaning of "Product Stewardship" ?

Product Stewardship is a concept that translates into practice a holistic follow-up of a new product (e.g. a new seed variety) from its conception to the end of the product life cycle. The objective of good product stewardship is to obtain a long product life cycle without loss of quality, to the product or to the environment. It implies intensive information exchange between the customer, i.e. farmer, retailer, processor or consumer, and the developer on the behavior and performance of the crop. It is usually focused on post-marketing activities but must be developed as part of the entire strategy of the product, from inception to utilization.

With the advent of GM technologies, product stewardship has acquired a much broader meaning, spanning the whole product life cycle from before the design of the first gene vector until (sometimes) significantly after the end of the commercial life of the product. This has become part of the response to all the mandated activities imposed by regulatory bodies on all stages of the product cycle (e.g. field experiment permits, Insect Resistance Management (IRM) planes, monitoring of outcrossing, compliance with Identity Preservation requirements, etc.).

For GM crops the “unit of product stewardship” can vary considerably. In many cases it will be one transformation event and all the varieties that have been bred from it (e.g. all Bt11 corn varieties). But it can also be all the events that deliver the same trait in a crop (e.g. the different Cry 1a(b) events for European corn borer control in Maize). Sometimes the unit goes beyond one crop (e.g. IRM on Bt insect control in cotton and maize in the US cotton belt), because it is the community of crops and its interaction with the farmland ecosystem that is the subject of the management plan.

GM technology has also made it possible to “build in product stewardship” in new events by carefully choosing the right genes under the most appropriate expression control profile. This is recognized as one of the most effective ways to build into the plant genome an inherent resistance to unwanted side effects such as the development of resistant pests.

In the future specialty crops will be cultivated in strict isolation for the production of health food components or nutraceuticals. For these crops, product stewardship will include the choice of the most effective carrier crop, to achieve optimal production of the desired product in a carrier that provides maximum guarantee that there can be no escape.


What are "Familiarity" and the "Precautionary Approach" ?

Familiarity and the use of precaution are the foundations of any risk analysis.

Precaution, or the precautionary approach, is part of any research and development activity. Any new product, before being released is subject to a scientifically sound risk analysis. Therefore, the precautionary approach is not a new concept. However, opponents to modern technologies use a rather different concept, the precautionary principle, to argue that lack of scientific knowledge or scientific consensus should be interpreted as indicating risk.

Familiarity is used in the context that the more familiar one is with something, the more capable one is of accurately assessing and managing any potential risks its use might pose. Risk analysis is based in part on knowledge and in part on the experience (i.e. familiarity) one has with an organism and its intended use. Depending on the extent of familiarity with an organism, the characteristic of interest in this organism, its intended use and interactions with other organisms, the risk assessment could vary from a very short process to an extensive review. The underlying principle of a risk analysis is ‘greater the familiarity, the greater the confidence in its safety’.


What is "Food Security" ?

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as ‘a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’ From this definition, food security can be said to have three components: food quantity, food quality and food safety, each of which is necessary to improve a population’s health status. Plant breeders and the seed industry have an important role to play in improving the access to quality food of the world population through the production of varieties:

  • with improved yields and better ability to resist biotic and abiotic stresses
  • with improved nutritional value (e.g. fatty acid balance, iron and vitamin A content)
  • that limit the development of fungi producing toxins (e.g. mycotoxins on Bt maize)

These contributions from the private sector, complemented by strong public investments in additional agriculture research, institutional capacity, market incentives, effective intellectual property protection, and infrastructure, are helping to meet the full challenge of food security around the world.


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ISF Secretariat - Chemin du Reposoir 7 - 1260 Nyon Switzerland

tel +41 22 365 44 20 - fax +41 22 365 44 21 -