Seed Libraries in Pennsylvania Allowed to Engage in Free Seed Exchange
MILLHEIM, PA. March 15, 2016 – Thanks to a statewide coalition of concerned advocates, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has clarified that seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges are not subject to the cost-prohibitive licensing, labeling and testing requirements required of commercial seed distributors in the Seed Act of 2004 (Seed Act). In providing this clarification, Pennsylvania sets a precedent to protect and encourage seed libraries throughout the commonwealth.
The statewide coalition, led by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), Grow Pittsburgh (GP), the Public Interest Law Center, and members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC), as well as individual growers and organizations, worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to clarify protocol about the Seed Act. The Act was originally applied to a seed library at the Joseph T. Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, PA, which severely limited its operations as a result.
Seed libraries are nonprofit, community-based organizations. Through seed libraries, growers maintain and increase biodiversity, as they save seeds from season to season, and share seeds with one another. The number of seed libraries has surged in recent years; there are an estimated 26 seed libraries across the Commonwealth, with more than 350 nationwide. Concern about the compliance with the Seed Act has been a deterrent to seed library operations in Pennsylvania.
In 2015, the coalition sent a letter to Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, Russell C. Redding, urging that PDA make clear its position. In the letter, the coalition argued the licensing, labeling, and testing requirements under the Seed Act were being misapplied to seed exchanges like the one proposed by the Simpson Library. Because seed exchanges, “operate on a noncommercial basis and do not sell, offer for sale, expose for sale, or transport seeds,” the letter’s cosigners contend, nonprofit seed exchanges are not subject to these sections of the law.