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Weed seed contamination in imported seed lots entering New Zealand


Rubenstein JM, Hulme PE, Buddenhagen CE, Rolston MP, Hampton JG (2021) Weed seed contamination in imported seed lots entering New Zealand. PLoS ONE 16(8): e0256623. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256623 

Imports of seeds for sowing are a major pathway for the introduction of contaminant seeds, and many agricultural weeds globally naturalised originally have entered through this pathway. Effective management of this pathway is a significant means of reducing future plant introductions and helps minimise agricultural losses. Using a national border inspection database, we examined the frequency, origin and identity of contaminant seeds within seed for sowing shipments entering New Zealand between 2014–2018. Our analysis looked at 41,610 seed lots across 1,420 crop seed species from over 90 countries. Overall, contamination was rare, occurring in 1.9% of all seed lots. Among the different crop types, the arable category had the lowest percentage of seed lots contaminated (0.5%) and the forage category had the highest (12.6%). Crop seeds CapsicumPhaseolus and Solanum had the lowest contamination rates (0.0%). Forage crops Medicago (27.3%) and Trifolium (19.8%) had the highest contamination rates. Out of 191 genera recorded as contaminants, Chenopodium was the most common. Regulated quarantine weeds were the rarest contaminant type, only occurring in 0.06% of seed lots. Sorghum halepense was the most common quarantine species and was only found in vegetable seed lots. Vegetable crop seed lots accounted for approximately half of all quarantine species detections, Raphanus sativus being the most contaminated vegetable crop. Larger seed lots were significantly more contaminated and more likely to contain a quarantine species than smaller seed lots. These findings support International Seed Testing Association rules on maximum seed lot weights. Low contamination rates suggest industry practices are effective in minimising contaminant seeds. Considering New Zealand inspects every imported seed lot, utilises a working sample size 5 times larger than International Seed Testing Association rules require, trades crop seed with approximately half of the world’s countries and imports thousands of crop seed species, our study provides a unique overview of contaminant seeds that move throughout the seed for sowing system.


  • Amaranthus palmeri
  • Amaranthus tuberculatus
  • Ambrosia trifida
  • Sorghum halepense


  • Capsicum
  • Medicago
  • Phaseolus
  • Raphanus sativus
  • Trifolium


Type File Size
Pest Risk Analysis Download 888,03kB

PRA Area

  • New Zealand