Monday, August 4, 2014

Are Seed Libraries Illegal?

Recently a story came across our Facebook feed that told of an action taken by the Pennsylvania Dept of Agriculture that seemed foreboding.  In brief, the PA Dept of Agriculture, went to an organizing meeting for a new seed library in the town's public library (a senior official and ag agents!) and claimed it posed a threat of "eco-terrorism" urging the community library to disband the project, which, of course, they did.  After reading the story, a number of SLOLA members had a fast and furious correspondence on Facebook supplemented by text messages and phone calls; was this a concern we could be facing?  The answer appears to be: Definitely a maybe.

Showing children the seeds, letting them touch them
and see the amazing diversity of just one plant: corn.

We found the California codes on the same subject and they had the same wording as the Pennsylvania codes - in fact, we have learned since that almost every state uses the same language, taken from the Federal laws, so there is consistency. So it seems that Pennsylvania could be the harbinger of future actions in other states.  The language that seems to be critical to seed libraries comes towards the top of the code, in definitions, where it states: 

"Sell" includes offer for sale, expose for sale, possess for sale, exchange, barter or trade."

The italics are mine.  That is where I think seed libraries seem to cross with this law. Until this action, state departments of agriculture have not thought of seed libraries as dens of terrorists or people proposing to grow noxious weeds, but who knows what lurks in the hearts of Pennsylvanian gardeners?  After all, it is the home of the Rodale 'empire' and Mike McGrath, gardening radio personality with a decidedly irreverent streak, and all those Amish seed savers and William Woys Weaver.  I can fathom where they begin to see their seed saving gardeners as truly a hotbed of insurrection.  However, there appears, at least to me, some wiggle room around this wording - after all, do we barter, exchange or trade?  Are we not simply 'lending' seeds to members who have agreed to our model of seed saving?  

If this does apply to seed libraries, we are in for some interesting times ahead because, it seems, we will be responsible for seed germination tests, and labeling requirements.  I'm sure we can find ways around this (declare the seed to be 'substandard' and do away with subjecting our seeds to the germ test entirely). But that's only two of many requirement and the totality of these laws might make seed libraries an onerous burden to the public libraries that house many of them.  We have questions, but at this time no answers.

In the meantime, SLOLA is seeking a pro bono attorney to help us decipher the legalese.  Look for more information on this and our responses to it coming up.  We aren't going away and hopefully all seed libraries can use whatever we find in regards this legal morass

Keep your dial on this station - as some folks say, "more will be revealed."


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