If you’re into seed saving and seed sharing, you might already have known that some states in the U.S. have been tightening up legislation to control and limit the legal sharing of seeds between friends and neighbors. One incident that got a lot of publicity was the case of a community seed bank in Mechanicsburg, PA. Back in June of 2014, the local public library in Mechanicsburg got a letter from their state’s Department of Agriculture. They were told that the community seed bank, hosted by the library, was in violation of the Pennsylvania Seed Act of 2004. All seeds must be tested for purity and germination rates – tasks that obviously fall outside the expertise and budget of a small public library.
The Mechanicsburg story demonstrated that seed saving and seed sharing in communities could become subject to the massive administrative and legal red tape that is intended for industrial producers of seed for commercial agriculture. This development threatened to “outlaw” all local seed banks. This painted a serious gloom and doom scenario for practitioners and proponents of seed saving.
Setting a New Precedent for Sharing Seeds
Recently, two states have taken steps to turn the tide in favor of small community seed sharing. The legislatures in Minnesota and Nebraska have both passed laws exempting non-commercial seed savers from the rigorous red tape that is really intended for industrial seed growers.
In Minnesota, a bill has passed that exempts “interpersonal sharing of seed for home, educational, charitable, or personal noncommercial use.” Take a look at the bill to get an idea about just how rigorous the testing and control we’re talking about is. You can see it here: http://wdoc.house.leg.state.mn.us/leg/LS89/HF1554.2.pdf. This kind of scrutiny is obviously not appropriate for people who are growing small scale in their own yards and gardens. And the application of this type of law to individual seed savers threatens our ability to grow food for ourselves.
In Nebraska, a bill has passed that specifically exempts seed libraries from the controls intended for industrial/commercial growers. The Nebraska bill goes even further, and includes a large section called the “Community Gardens Act” that is dedicated to the promotion and protection of community gardens. If you have been worried about big agriculture taking away your right to grow your own food, check this document out. I think it is definitely a step in the right direction, and it seems like a good way to begin defining a better precedent, less like what happened in Mechanicsburg, and more like what should happen in healthy American communities everywhere. You can read the Nebraska law here (the Community Gardens Act is found in sections 11 – 15): http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/104/PDF/Slip/LB175.pdf.
So, we chalk up a couple of victories for the good guys. We’re still a long way off from where we need to be with regard to control of the food supply and seed saving, but it is nice to see a couple of states starting to get it right. Hopefully the precedent they set in MN and NE will carry over to surrounding states. If this issue touches home for you, get involved! There are many great organizations out there fighting the good fight.
If you are interested in saving and sharing seeds but you haven’t been successful yet – here is a good place to get the basic info you need to get started: seedsaving123.com.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Elizabeth for encouraging me to circulate this news. You can see the original article from Sharable here: http://www.shareable.net/blog/seed-sharing-movement-wins-big-with-new-legislation.