Last summer when Pennsylvannia’s Department of Agriculture shut down the seed library at the Mechanicsville Public Library stating that they were breaking laws the news went viral with gardeners, off-griders, and food activists blasting thousands of complaints into the blogosphere. Now sustainable economy attorney, Neil Thapar, having studied these laws for many states, reports that this isn’t a case of a zealous ag agent over-interpreting regulations written to protect farmers, and mail order seed shoppers from unscrupulous seed dealers. Seed sharing is definitely illegal in 30% of the United States.
It’s perfectly understandable why the commercial segment of such a law would be written. No one wants to go through all the work of preparing the ground (or containers), sowing seed, and caring for it, only to discover they were sold seed that wasn’t viable. For a farmer whose very livelihood depends on that seed germinating, or getting the wrong seed entirely such a purchase would be financially devastating, not to mention leaving consumers with fewer food sources.
But farmers don’t get seed from seed libraries, only home gardeners do. No money changes hands. It isn’t destroying the food chain. It is however protecting seed diversity, and offers a source of climate acclimated fruit and vegetables to local gardeners. Seed from plants grown in your community will already have adjusted to the elements and growing conditions in your micro-environment, which means they will likely be easier to grow to harvest because the weather and temperatures won’t lower their immune systems due to stress inviting pests and disease to set in.
Naturally suspicions are now high that these laws are the results of lobbying done by the 5 agri-giant corporations who control over 90% of the seed globally. As if the 20 tomato seeds the die-hard gardener would grow to bear fruit will topple their lofty stature. More people buy seed from mail order houses than those who frequent seed libraries, though the more gardeners learn about plants and growing their own food, the benefits of locally grown seed could begin to outweigh the glossy beauty shots of perfect tomatoes, pumpkins, beets, and pole beans that arrive in seed catalogs right after Christmas.
It’s not like seed you purchase is NEVER mistakenly labeled. A situation which seems to be more frequent as the years go by. I have grown several crops recently that are not what was supposed to be in the package. Last year it was pepperoncini pepper plants that developed cayenne peppers instead. They looked nice as a bouquet in a teacup brightening up the kitchen over the long and dreary winter, but did nothing for putting food in the pantry. This spring I started lettuce seed – two green leaf varieties, and didn’t two out of the four seed started sprout red leaves instead of green! So, if I complain to my Dept. of Agriculture they will levy a fine to the tune of thousands of dollars a day against the seed company I bought them from? Why would I even want to do such a thing? Red lettuce goes just as well with other salad fixings as green does. I didn’t get to can any pepperoncinis, but is that really a reason to sink someone in hot water over ridiculous regulations?
I’m sure others have had the same thing happen. It’s no different than perennials ordered that blooms the wrong color – the same thing happens at the local garden center. The tag got switched on the shelf, or the nursery was pushing workers too fast at churning out finished pots… whatever. Stuff happens! Humans make mistakes, which is totally acceptable until you decide to give your seed away.
In some states there are laws that state you must get a permit to share your saved seeds. There’s a seed industry group, the Association of American Seed Control Officials, who have developed a Recommended Uniform State Seed Law that stipulates a permit must be obtained to transport seeds anywhere, and they’re trying to get this passed in all 50 states, perhaps even Canada. Their scope of control covers ALL seed: fruits, vegetables, herbs, perennial and annual flowers, trees, shrubs, grains, and grasses. Let them claim their suggested national seed laws are to preserve seed quality and prevent misidentification, but the bottom line is that this is a special interest group. Note the word ‘control’ in the name of their association. They seek to protect patented seed intellectual property rights and outlaw seed sharing everywhere.
So, they’ve started a seed sharing petition to get these laws removed, because they really go against our ability to sustain life and community. Seed diversity and people sharing for the good of community is beyond important – it’s the very basis of civilization. No government or corporation should be allowed to take something so basic as life away, which is what they’re doing in owning all rights to seeds that produce food. In fact, no plant that will reliably recreate itself from seed true to the parent should be allowed to be patented. In such a case the intellectual property rights should belong to the plant, because that is the entity that created those seeds. It’s not a machine, its a living thing that only creates seed to perpetuate it’s species.
Source: Mother Earth News
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