Land owners and small farmers are an important Fair Shake constituency, so I listened with interest to a recent radio story on WHYY’s News Works about how the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture closed a local seed library. According to the story, the seed library was started by the Cumberland County public library to allow people to take seeds at the beginning of the season and replace them after harvest. But, according to the source story in the Cumberland Sentinal, this practice violates the 2004 Pennsylvania Seed Act, which requires seeds to be tested in various ways. This is due to concerns including the spread of invasive species and agri-terrorism. According to the Sentinal story, the Ag Department’s lawyer also indicated an intention to crack down on other seed libraries around the state.
Now the story has gone national, getting attention on the environmental blog Grist and the website of The National Review. But, in the latest twist, apparently a loophole exists. According to an analysis posted by the Sustainable Economies Law Center, the requirements for testing apply only to the “selling” of seeds, rather than to simply “supplying.” It will be worth keeping an eye on this story as things develop, especially as the seed library trend gets more traction. In the meantime, the Cumberland library has changed to hosting seed swaps.
Jamie Baker Roskie
UPDATE: According to this story on the Alleghany Front website, the Department of Agriculture has responded, saying they never intended to shut down the seed library. Rather, they maintain, they were attempting to help the library comply with “quality control” regulations. The Department’s spokesman said they suggested that the library convert to a seed exchange, and that the library’s closing took the Department by surprise.