Since the crackdown on seed libraries by some U.S. states last year, organizers (including Shareable) around the country have been working to protect seed sharing. In both Minnesota and Nebraska, bills that specifically exempt non-commercial seed sharing from commercial seed laws were recently signed into law.
This historic legislation is a big win for the seed sharing movement as it sets a precedent for other states and sends a message to seed regulators that the application of commercial seed laws to non-commercial seed sharing is misguided, and that non-commercial seed sharing should not be held to the same expensive, rigorous testing as commercial seed operations.
“Over time, I think it will result in states changing their seed laws to protect seed sharing,” says Neil Thapar, staff attorney at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), which worked with organizers and officials to draft the amendments. “In the interim, it just provides a strong signal that this organization of seed regulators, the organization whose membership are the people who began to inspect seed libraries and regulate them, has now come around and said, ‘We actually support non-commercial seed sharing as being exempt from these laws and don’t think these laws should apply.’”
Even if the seed law is unclear in a particular state, the law may not be enforced in the way it’s been enforced in the past year because this precedent has been set.
In Nebraska, Common Soil Seed Library led the campaign. In Minnesota, a group of organizations including Do it Green! Minnesota, the Duluth Public Library, Gardening Matters, Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council, the Institute for a Sustainable Future, St. Paul Ramsey County Food and Nutrition Council, and the St. Paul West Side Seed Library worked to get the legislation passed.
The next step for the Save Seed Sharing campaign is to influence this legislation at the national level through a proposed amendment to the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law (RUSSL), a preferred model for state seed regulations. The proposed changes would explicitly exempt non-commercial seed sharing in this model law that states use to craft their own seed law. The Association of American Seed Control Officials (AASCO) will vote on the amendment at their annual meeting in July. SELC will be there to protect non-commercial seed sharing.
“What we hope,” says Thapar, who will be on a panel discussing the issue at the meeting, “is that the amendment will be adopted into RUSSL and therefore, over time, as states decide to update their seed law, they’ll look to RUSSL, as they often do, and see that this new language was added in.”
Thapar says it’s unclear how controversial—if at all—the debate will be, but the president of AASCO is the seed control official from Minnesota, which just passed this legislation around non-commercial seed sharing.
“Whether or not he as an individual supported this legislation,” says Thapar, “the Department of Agriculture itself worked with us to create the language that they were happy with. To that extent, it feels that there’s a really positive message that can be brought from Minnesota, that the leader of this organization, that his state supported it.”
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