Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV): The Seed Health Testing Dilemma

  • On October 14, 2020

As more countries add seed health testing requirements for ToBRFV on tomato and pepper seed, companies are discovering it is harder to find seed-testing sources. Several factors have contributed to this dilemma.

For seed imported into the U.S., companies are finding it more difficult to get testing performed in a timely manner in the country of origin. Many countries do not have the capacity for high throughput testing, resulting in long delays in obtaining phytosanitary certificates. For seed that is being exported or re-exported out of the U.S., similar situations have occurred, at least in the short term. This is due in large part to the new European Union ToBRFV phytosanitary requirements for specific molecular tests, eliminating the option of certification based on country-free-from options.

A number of U.S. laboratories are accredited through USDA’s National Seed Health System (NSHS) to perform seed health testing for the purpose of export certification; however, they are authorized to only use methods that are approved by the NSHS. A ToBRFV molecular testing method is currently going through the approval process, but until it is approved, only government or certain university labs are authorized to do the testing. Most of these labs are unable to provide this service. At this time, the Iowa State University (ISU) Seed Lab is the primary option, and the current backlog is four or more weeks. Texas A&M University has recently established a ToBRFV testing program for tomato seed that is able to do some limited ToBRFV testing. A tremendous amount of tomato and pepper seed is re-exported to the EU from October through early spring, all of which now requires certification based on seed health testing.

The NSHS is working to expedite the method approval process. A strong effort is being made to consolidate all the proficiency data and fast track the external scientific review process, and then conduct remote audits rather than physical audits of the accredited entities to further expedite the process. The goal is to complete this process by the end of October or early November. In the meantime, ISU has been adding capacity (equipment & staff) to reduce the backlog. For further information, please contact Ric Dunkle at ASTA.