Better Collection and Maintenance Procedures Needed To Help Protect Agriculture's Germplasm Resources

CED-82-7: Published: Dec 4, 1981. Publicly Released: Dec 4, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) storage, collection, and maintenance of germplasm, the genetic base of U.S. crops, to determine if the germplasm system adequately protects against catastrophic loss.

GAO found that the system has numerous operational problems, primarily due to a lack of departmental attention and a low priority given to improving the system. Specific areas which contributed to the problems in collection, storage, and maintenance include: (1) insufficient information on who all of the germplasm curators are and what germplasm exists in storage or in its native environment; (2) insufficient planning to determine what genetic material for crops important to U.S. agriculture should be collected and stored; (3) curators who were supposed to provide permanent backup storage for the germplasm system had sent samples of only about 51 percent of the germplasm they held to the National Seed Storage Laboratory; (4) most of the storage conditions for the working collections were inadequate; (5) particular seeds were in short supply or very old, and this diminished their germination capabilities; (6) the small grains curator and some of the other working collection curators do not have testing equipment to identify when a sudden loss of viability occurs so that germplasm can be replenished; and (7) some curators are behind in replenishing germplasm that is in danger of losing its viability. GAO concluded that insufficient management attention by USDA to germplasm collection, storage, and maintenance has endangered germplasm preservation within the United States.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should verify the need for germination testing equipment at all curator storage facilities. Because some of the curators do not work for USDA, the agency cannot require corrective actions by all curators. If such equipment is not available at non-Federal locations, USDA should encourage the curator to move some of the seed, enough to ensure its continued preservation, to a storage facility with germination testing equipment or arrange for periodic testing at a testing facility.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should take an accurate inventory of the small grains collection. This should include a physical comparison of germplasm in storage and on inventory records, taking appropriate actions to acquire missing germplasm.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should initiate projects to implement backup storage. This should include identifying all curators and their germplasm and comparing those results with the germplasm stored at the National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL). USDA should require Federal curators to provide germplasm for backup storage to NSSL and should require NSSL to ensure that its germplasm is also being stored with other curators. It should encourage similar action for non-Federal curators.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should initiate action to ensure that germplasm in the United States is stored adequately. This should include contacting all curators, both Federal and non-Federal, who store germplasm and determining whether or not they store the germplasm under adequate temperature and humidity controls and are using moisture-resistant containers. Those Federal curators who do not have adequate storage facilities should be required to improve their facilities to meet minimal acceptable conditions or move a sufficient amount of germplasm to storage facilities that can protect germplasm viability. Non-Federal curators should be encouraged to take similar action.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should determine the extent to which curators are behind in their germplasm grow-out programs. Following this assessment, needs should be ranked so that available assistance can be provided to ensure that germplasm most in danger of losing its viability is preserved.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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