Sowing a Culture of Interdependence
Dear Seed Librarians,
I wanted to update you on the an article that recently came out about the Simpson Seed Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania where the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s requested them to comply with a Pennsylvania statute regulating seed distributors. Here is an article, Department of Agriculture cracks down on seed libraries (July 31, 2014). The following is a summary of what has occurred.
The Simpson Seed Library received a letter from the Seed Controllers Office (June 12, 2014) about their need to comply with Pennsylvania Seed Act and Regulations and requesting them to purchase a seed license as a seed distributor. They would need to be in compliance with the rules that govern a seed company “including, but not limited to, such things as Germination test date, Sell by date, lot #, Seed Kind, distributor’s name and address.” Furthermore the “returned” seed would have to be tested using the “Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA) Rules for Testing Seed” and labeled according to that standard. Additionally records of each seed lot would need to be maintained for 2 years and a file sample of each lot would need to be kept for one year.
Shortly after they received the letter from the PA DOA, Rebecca Swanger, a librarian at Joseph T. Simpson Library contacted me requesting help. I sent out the letter from the PA DOA to the other Pennsylvania seed libraries. No one else had or has received a similar letter. The information was also shared with some seed experts and organizations. As you can read in the article above, the PA DOA was uncompromising. With all due respect, the Simpson Seed Library chose to comply with the PA DOA’s request and beyond their original appeal and not legally pursue the matter. They will be not be closing the seed library but will only stock new commercially donated or purchased seeds and hope to host seed exchanges, which are allowed.
There are many reasons to be concerned and it is important for us to be clear in our response as sister seed libraries. Note, that this is a Pennsylvanian law and not federal. However, we do seem to be on Big Ags’ radar. Fortunately, we are also on the press’s radar with all of the great press your seed libraries have received in your communities and beyond. USA Today wants to do a piece on this particular event. It seems that though Simpson Seed Library chose not to go with big publicity and a campaign to fight the decision, that the story has been picked up and there will be a need for us to respond. The main issue is not the law, as the law is there for a good reason to insure seed quality. What is of concern is that they see seed libraries in the same boat as seed companies and want to enforce the same rules on us. Interestingly, failure to comply with this Pennsylvania law is a “stop sale.” Even the languaging doesn’t apply to seed libraries. If you would like additional information, you can go to the Simspon Seed Library's website. There are a list of resources including the correspondence with the PA Department of Agriculture, PA Seed Act and a press release from the public library.
We want to be proactive in explaining what we do as seed libraries and why we provide a valuable service that needs to be preserved and encouraged. Attached are some talking points if folks ask you about what happened in Mechanicsburg, PA. If you receive a similar letter, please email me. We have a large network and there is support, including a few organizations that offered possible legal assistance. I’ve also created a Google form so if folks have other things they would like to add to the conversation they can do so and I will (try) to make the results visible to everyone so that all of the information is accessible for the benefit of all.
In seed SOILadarity,