Pa. seed libraries allowed to hold seed exchanges

Department of Agriculture clarifies that Seed Act does not apply to non-commercial seed libraries

seeds in vials

MILLHEIM, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has clarified that seed libraries and other non-commercial seed exchanges are not subject to the licensing, labeling and testing requirements required of commercial seed distributors in the Seed Act of 2004 (Seed Act).

A statewide coalition, led by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Grow Pittsburgh, the Public Interest Law Center, and members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, as well as individual growers and organizations, worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to clarify protocol about the Seed Act.

Related: Need a seed? Our National Seed Swap Day resource will help


The Act was originally applied to a seed library at the Joseph T. Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, which officials say severely limited its operations.

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.

Asked for clarification

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 makes 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.

Upon review of the letter, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture “determined the Simpson Library does not meet the definition of a ‘distributor’ as defined in the Seed Law because, “they are not selling, offering for sale or exposing seed for sale,” concluding that the “edicts of the Seed Law do not apply.”

Next step

In addition to clarifying its earlier decision, the department has invited a representative from Grow Pittsburgh to participate with a PDA staff member in a non-commercial seed-sharing work group organized by the Association of American Seed Control Officials (AASCO).

The working group is drafting a proposal for the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL) that formally exempts “non-commercial seed sharing” from the cost-prohibitive licensing, labeling, and testing required of commercial seed exchanges.



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