Innocent Seed

Greetings Seedy Zines,

The Pennsylvania State Department of Agriculture recently threatened legal action against librarians at the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. High ranking officials along with department lawyers claimed their new seed library, one of a dozen in the state, contravened the state’s Seed Act by operating as a distributor or seed supplier without a license. Furthermore, to abide by the law, they were told they must pay a $25 licensing fee, have all their seeds tested and labelled to industry standards.

Cooperative by nature, the librarians ultimately succumbed to state-corporate pressure, and agreed to no longer accept or circulate the people’s seeds, which they had bean doing peasfully, without incident, since sprouting this past Earth day, by request of a local women’s group to support the program. The seed library will still distribute purchased or donated commercial seeds, as long as they have been commercially treated. People can still assemble in the library for swap events and share their own seeds with one another, but the library cannot accept or display them for circulation to the general public. This action by the department seeks to classify seed libraries as seed companies, thus forcing them to play by the same rules, rules that are in many cases prohibitive for both start-up seed libraries and small scale seed companies.

Citing concerns over possible ‘agri terrorism’; patent infringement, mislabelled seeds, cross pollination, invasive species, and other unspecified food system threats, the state said it will go after other seed libraries in Pennsylvania before the peoples seeds grow out of state-corporate control. Seed librarians in other states are reading their seedy legislation carefully as they react to this provocation.

Seed libraries, of which there are over 400 globally, are emerging in response to the epic failure of state-corporate seed and food monopolies to ensure food security. Seed libraries are a communities self defense against the very real agri-terror committed by the Monsanto’s of the world, and their systemic monopolization and contamination of our global seed and food supply.

Seed libraries are not seed companies, who distribute and sell seeds. While seed libraries may distribute seeds, they do not sell seeds, nor do most of them even exchange, barter or trade seeds. In most seed libraries the seeds are shared freely with no obligation to return, because the seeds are trusted in the commons. This crucial difference, overlooked by the state’s lawyers, might provide a loophole in which seed libraries can bypass the need to have their small collections processed through rigorous testing and labeling standards that legally do not apply to them. This confusion as to the legality of seed libraries was tackled in an insightful article that first appeared on the website Shareable, by Janelle Orsi and Neil Thapar of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, with input from Neal Gorenflo of Shareable and Sarah Baird of the Centre for a New American Dream. Their team of legal experts dissected Pennsylvania’s Seed Act and suggested a possible way out for seed librarians, for which there may be more. It’s important to note that all States have their own seed laws, with federal laws governing interstate seed exchange.

In Canada the federal government for the most part regulates the sale and distribution of seeds. We are not yet familiar with any laws that regulate community seed sharing or seed libraries, but there are now close to fifteen seed libraries that exist within public libraries in Ontario and more cross country. While there has yet to be a similar case in Canada, we are not immune to the venomous litigious bite of the corporate-state.

As we speak the biotech lobby, led by groups such as the CropLife Canada, run by former junior Harper cabinet minister Ted Menzies, are pushing through a new omnibus Agriculture Growth Act, Bill C-18, that proposes nearly 200 pages of reforms to 9 different agriculture and seed related acts. Because this bill has not been properly debated or aired in public, we do not yet know it’s implications for seed saving farmers and community seed libraries. Ask your MP and farmers themselves.

Seed laws are supposed to protect the safety and quality of our seed supply for good reason; to protect farmers from bad or mislabeled seed. It is with this intention to provide growers with quality seed, that the seed librarians behind the seed library social network are encouraging seed libraries to adopt voluntary protocols to ensure true, viable and quality seeds. Bee sure to save clean and dry seeds from healthy mature plants. Save from a number of plants so that the seed has some genetic diversity in it. If the plant cross pollinates, be sure to keep it isolated so it stays ‘true to type,” otherwise label seeds as experiment with details. Label all seeds with as much information as possible.

As radish seedy zines, we must grow further and contact the media and our legislators to demand new seed laws that explicitly exempt public seed libraries and seed schools. Contact your local library, school, or community garden to start a seed library today. Support your local seed library and efforts to promote ‘literaseed’ and seed sovereignty!

Yours In SOILidarity,

Jacob Kearey-Moreland