Seeds are at the foundation of human and animal existence on this planet. Since the dawn of agriculture, over 10,000 years ago, human have domesticated, bred, and selected plant varieties that provide us with nourishment. Indeed, saving and sharing seeds is one of the few unbroken traditions we share with our ancestors.
In the last century, however, the tradition of sharing seeds has been largely replaced as the dominant form of exchange by the buying and selling of seeds in the marketplace. As a result, in 2016, three companies control more than 50% of the commercial seed market. The consolidation of the seed industry has also led to a sharp loss in seed diversity around the globe. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that we have lost 75% of the world’s plant genetic biodiversity in the last century and that currently, nearly 75% of our food comes from just twelve plant varieties and five animal species. Studies show that seed genetic diversity is a key element of ensuring that our agricultural systems are resilient in the face of a number of social, political, and environmental threats.
In recent years, communities across the country have found a new home for continuing the age old tradition of seed saving and sharing - seed libraries and exchanges. Over 450 seed libraries, and countless more seed exchanges, exist in the United States, with many more in countries around the world. Seed libraries and exchanges offer people free access to seeds and promote genetic diversity and local adaptation to increase the resilience of the local food system.
So when we heard that seed libraries and exchanges were threatened with shut downs by state regulators back in June, 2014, we decided to do something about it. We researched these seed laws being applied by state departments of agriculture and found that, in some cases, these laws are being misapplied, and in other cases, that seed laws need to be changed to protect seed libraries' rights to share locally grown and saved seed. We launched the Save Seed Sharing campaign to promote people's rights to save and share seeds and to protect our seed commons.
September 9, 2016 - California Governor signs into law CA Seed Exchange Democracy Act, exempting noncommercial seed sharing from testing and labeling requirements in the state seed law.
August 16, 2016 - Illinois passes amendment to state seed law to exempt seed libraries from state seed law requirements.
July 17, 2016 - At the 35th annual Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout, the steering committee of the International Seed Library Association reach an agreement with Seed Savers Exchange and USC-Canada to create the Community Seed Network as a joint project to support the national seed library community.
July 14, 2016 - AASCO votes to adopt an amendment, initially introduced by the Law Center and negotiated with several stakeholders, to the Recommended Uniform State Seed Law that creates exemption from testing, permitting, and most labeling requirements, creating replicable language that state legislatures can draw from when updating state seed laws. Read the text of the amendment here.
July 15, 2015 - The Law Center staff attend national gathering of American Association of State Seed Control Officials (AASCO) to advocate for changes to model legislation that creates exemption from testing, permitting, and labeling requirements for noncommercial seed sharing initiatives. The amendment is not accepted, but a working group is created to develop amended language including representatives from AASCO, SELC, seed libraries, and seed companies.
May 27, 2015 - Nebraska Governor signs into law legislation that exempts seed libraries from state seed law.
May 19, 2015 - Minnesota becomes the first state to pass a law amending the state seed law to exempt noncommercial seed sharing from testing, labeling, and permitting requirements, based on language developed by Sustainable Economies Law Center.
May 3-6, 2015 - First-ever International Seed Library Forum is held in Tucson, Arizona, hosted by the Pima County Public Library to bring together over 100 seed advocates to discuss the state of the seed library movement, state seed laws, and develop strategies for growing the national and international network of community-based seed sharing. The participants unanimously adopt a Joint Resolution in Support of Seed Libraries. The Law Center begins advising steering committee on creation of a backbone organization to support seed libraries, tentatively called the International Seed Library Association.
November 11, 2014 - With support from the Clif Bar Family Foundation, the Law Center launches the Save Seed Sharing campaign with national online petition to spread awareness and build support for legal protections for seed libraries and other community-based seed sharing initiatives. The petition eventually receives over 20,000 signatures.
August 11, 2014 - The Law Center co-publishes article with Shareable and Center for a New American Dream outlining the need to change state seed laws to protect community-based seed sharing activities. The Law Center also launches the Seed Law Tool Shed, a publicly accessible, crowdsourced database of state seed laws and analysis.
June 12, 2014 - Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture sends letter to Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, informing the library staff that their plans to open a seed library violate the state seed law.