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Pennsy puts the arm on "seed exchanges"

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The Wall Street Journal reports on a Pennsylvania decision to limit popular "seed saver" exchanges. These groups seek out and share rare, legacy, historic seeds and propagate them.



In June, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture told a public library in Mechanicsburg, Pa., that it couldn't distribute homegrown seeds. The agency said a planned seed-exchange program would run afoul of a 2004 state law requiring anyone who distributes seeds to conduct certain quality tests, adhere to labeling and storage rules and acquire a license.

The move is believed to be the first time a state has intervened in the growing seed-sharing movement, albeit one dwarfed by what the International Seed Federation says is a $12 billion U.S. industry.

There are an estimated 300 so-called seed libraries in towns and cities across the U.S., including Boston, Cleveland, Nashville and Tucson, up from about a dozen in 2010. Most are affiliated with public libraries, where residents can "borrow" seeds to plant in private gardens, then return others they harvest.

The rise of community seed libraries, which experts say is a throwback to a preindustrial era tradition, reflects increasing interest in locally grown food and urban gardening, as well as concerns over genetically modified crops. Advocates say the programs also nurture locally diverse, hardier seeds that can better withstand a shifting climate.


The exchanges have caught the interest of large seed companies, who fear the competition. The regulators acknowledge they were unaware of the exchanges until recently.




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