Adopted in 1963, the UNECE Standard S-1 concerning the certification and commercial quality control of seed potatoes provides a framework for the international trade of seed potatoes. It is currently the only international standard that ensures that seed potatoes meet specific and harmonized criteria for commercial quality, health and traceability, all of which are essential for maintaining global food security and supporting sustainable agriculture.
This year’s anniversary serves as a reminder of the importance of UNECE's work to facilitate trade in key agricultural products and staple foods, such as potato, through the adoption of quality standards for trade.
Today, the UNECE standard for seed potatoes is widely recognized and used in many parts of the world. It serves as the basis for much of European Union legislation in this field, and legislation in EU member states is largely harmonized with the standard. In certain countries and regions, such as Latvia and Lithuania, this standard is quoted in national legislation, while in others, such as Australia, Israel, New Zealand and the United States, it is used voluntarily and provides a valuable international reference for the certification of seed potatoes.
Through the Specialized Section on Standardization of Seed Potatoes, a subsidiary body of the UNECE Working Party on Agricultural Quality Standards, experts from governments and the private sector meet to improve and update the standard and produce related guidance and capacity-building materials.
“The standardization of seed potatoes strongly supports the sustainable production of potatoes and generates profitable, high-yielding potato crops for farmers,” reminded Hanna Kortemaa, Director of the Plant Production Department of the Finnish Food Authority and Chair of the Specialized Section on Standardization of Seed Potatoes. “The Specialized Section continues its important mission to provide the standard and relevant guidelines for seed potatoes in international trade. In the future, it will continue to discuss emerging topics, such as the use of true potato seed and the effect of climate change on potato production.”
Over time, the UNECE standard for seed potatoes has evolved to include more detailed requirements related to physiological and biochemical characteristics. For example, UNECE developed requirements for testing seed potatoes for viruses, such as potato virus Y, potato leaf roll virus, and potato spindle tuber viroid, which can have significant impacts on crop yields.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the global potato production in 2021 stood at 376 million tonnes. With continued growth in demand, the efforts of UNECE and its partners to facilitate the availability of high-quality seed potatoes remain ever more significant for reducing diseases and pest, and ensuring healthy crops, thus increasing yields and helping meet the world's food needs.
UNECE's international commercial quality standards cover a wide range of perishable products, including fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruits and nuts, seed potatoes, eggs and egg products, meat and cut flowers. Today, over 100 standards have been adopted for the purpose of facilitating international trade. UNECE cooperates with other standard-setting bodies, such as the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission to avoid duplication of work and divergence in standards.