INSIDERS Virtual Lab Tour Part 1: A Crucial Difference You’ll See in an...

Virtual Lab Tour Part 1: A Crucial Difference You’ll See in an ISTA-Accredited Lab


Sarah Foster
Sarah Foster
President and Senior Seed Analyst, 20/20 Seed Labs - Sarah Foster is a registered seed technologist, senior seed analyst and president of 20/20 Seed Labs — a company she started in 1989 that provides testing services for all crop kinds, including extensive quality and seed health analysis, molecular testing and accredited crop inspection. Involved in the seed industry since the late 1970s, Foster studied and qualified as an accredited seed analyst at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge, England. Her work experience includes seven years with Sharps Seed International (Advanta) in the United Kingdom, and five years with the United Grain Growers in Edmonton after immigrating to Canada in 1984.

What’s the difference between a seed testing lab accredited by the International Seed Testing Association (ISTA) and one that isn’t?

As an International Seed Testing Association technical auditor, we prepare detailed documentation with respect to a laboratory’s scope of accreditation. In light our own laboratory’s accreditation, I thought it would be a good idea to illustrate just how an ISTA-accredited lab differs from other accredited standards.

The biggest difference is process. According to ISTA rules, an accredited lab must have an entrance open to the public, but a secure one protected by a swipe card or key pad access that allows entry to the lab only for authorized staff.

The client is usually greeted by a receptionist with technical experience who takes their samples and goes over their information to make sure everything is correct and in order. In particular, the seed sample is sealed with a tamper-proof seal.

After that the receptionist enters the secure part of the lab — the sample is now in the receiving area and is processed by a sample entry technician for system entry and is given a unique lab number.

The analysts inside the lab identify samples only by their lab number and are not made aware who the customer is. This ensures a secure testing experience free from any possible tampering or bias. This is a huge and very crucial aspect of the way an ISTA-accredited lab tests its seed.

Both the testing itself and the electronic reports generated are tamper-proof. Essentially, ISTA-accredited labs use a blockchain-style secure technology that ensures all tests are recorded and time-stamped at every step of the way, all the while ensuring the integrity of the customer’s information is protected.

This focus on security and integrity in the results is one of the main advantages that an ISTA-accredited laboratory has over its other accredited counterparts. As technology advances, concerns regarding security are becoming more prevalent. Customers want to know their results are flawless and free from any possible error. The only way to ensure this is to follow the internationally agreed-upon process that the ISTA guidelines lay out.

ISTA’s seed sampling and testing methods have been developed by its members since its formation in 1924. Those methods have gone through strict evaluation to ensure that test procedures give reliable and reproducible results.