NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

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Official Seed Testing Station

Contact: Linda Maile

The urgent need for increased home food production between 1914 and 1918, stimulated a move to control seed supply by legislation requiring seed to be tested for purity and germination before use. To provide the increased seed testing facilities required for England and Wales a new station was established in London in 1917. In 1919 it was decided to set up an institute for crop variety assessment and to site the London seed testing station in this new institute, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (now NIAB Ltd.). The seed testing station therefore moved to Cambridge in 1921 when the new institute building was finished.

From 1917 until the UK entered the European Economic Community in 1973 seed legislation required that seeds should be tested for purity and germination and the results of the tests made available to the buyer. The legislation allowed private seed testing stations to operate providing they met certain licensing conditions, including having staff trained and qualified by the official seed testing stations as being proficient in seed testing. Entry into the EEC resulted in a change of legislation to one with minimum marketing standards, below which seed could not be marketed. However, the mix of official and licensed seed testing laboratories was allowed to continue; though more stringent licensing conditions were introduced for the private laboratories. Since 1973 the station has taken over the technical supervision of the private laboratories now called official licensed stations or ‘Satellites’.

The OSTS at NIAB is designated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for England and Wales (Defra) as an Official Seed Testing Laboratory and is contracted to carry out ISTA tests for customers on behalf of Defra. To enable the OSTS to carry out this function the laboratory at Cambridge is accredited and audited by ISTA and has to meet specified quality criteria based on ISO Guide 25 and EN 45001 standards.

ISTA - The International Seed Testing Association is an international organisation whose aim is to promote the uniformity of seed analysis results by the use of standardised rules for seed sampling and testing.