Food safety has become a major focus of seed companies.

“We have the safest food supply in the world. Despite the listeria outbreak, the sheer volume of produce, fresh or processed, that is consumed by the American public with little or no incidence is testimony to that fact,” said Pete Suddarth, product development and field director of customer relations for Abbott & Cobb Inc., Feasterville, Pa.

“Unfortunately, the consequences are dire when there is a problem” he said.

To combat the potential for these food safety issues, seed companies work to adapt their products to a changing environment and increased market demands.

“Consumers are increasingly health- and quality-conscious, which has led to continuous growth in vegetable consumption and a shift from canned vegetables to lightly processed and fresh produce,” said Scott Langkamp, head of vegetables in North America for Syngenta, Boise, Idaho.

Successful crops must be both high-yield and disease-free.

“In order to assist growers in fulfilling these needs, breeders must continue to develop varieties that offer elite genetics, which are at the heart of every healthy crop,” Langkamp said.

The disease package is an important consideration to any new seed product because resistance to infection, pests and disease is a crucial aspect of food safety that begins with the seed.

“As the global population continues to grow and the industry is required to produce more food with fewer resources, growers will need access to varieties with improved resistance packages and maximum yield potential that produce high-quality crops,” Langkamp said.

Abbott & Cobb is working on reducing the heavy netting on cantaloupes to make them less susceptible to moisture absorption. This trait would help to reduce possible pathogen infections, according to Art Abbott, president and chief executive officer.

Reducing the need for potentially harmful chemicals is also a goal for seed companies.

“As you add more disease-resistance, you reduce the need for pesticides, which makes the product more health-conscious,” said John Nance, product development manager at Hazera Seeds Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.

Nunhems USA also is working to decrease the need for chemicals and has an entire division devoted to using seed technology to manipulate genetics.

“Food safety issues hardly ever come back to seed, but we can support them by giving growers these disease resistant varieties,” Rebecca Catlett, produce chain manager for the Americas of Nunhems USA, Parma, Idaho, said.