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Can You Import Seeds to the United States?

Banana seed from Brazil.

Banana seed from Brazil.

The US government watches over us closely to see what we are buying from other countries.  If you want garden seeds shipped to your home, will the government let you?

My short answer is: I am not a lawyer and you better do your own research.  This is a public record of my own research.  I am sorry that our government’s regulations are far-reaching and confusing.

The USDA “prohibits or restricts” the importation of seeds intended for planting.  That’s what they say on their own website:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/plant_health/permits/plants_for_planting.shtml

They say they are protecting us from pests that could hurt plants.

How Does the USDA Protect Us?

If we, as individuals, are prohibited or restricted from having seeds, how is this protecting us?  If I can’t get seeds to grow the plants on my property, then the USDA is preventing me from growing the food I want.

It seems like a consequence of all this regulation is that I am getting pressured into using only locally available seed.  What’s wrong with that?  More and more of our local seed stock is being genetically engineered and patented by big corporations.  Is the USDA protecting you and me, the citizens of the United States?  Or is the USDA protecting the international corporations?

My thinking is if a pest destroys a crop, then it’s time to move on.  Choose a different crop, use a different variety, or learn to cope with natural defenses.  Natural defenses include beneficial insects and companion planting techniques. If the USDA limits our access to seed, they reduce the amount of plant diversity on our farms and gardens.  The lack of plant diversity combined with a fungus is what caused the potato famine in Ireland in the 1800s.  Where did the fungus come from?

Irish Potato Famine

Irish Potato Famine

Image from flickr.com

In the Irish Potato Famine, a fungus destroyed most of their potatoes and left the Irish people with a horrible food shortage.  Many starved and others fled the country.  The reason for this farming failure is that the Irish relied on a single variety of a single plant.  They had no plant diversity.  And when a pest came that was a deadly match for that specific potato, they lost much of their food supply.

Related Post:  Price of Bread in Nazi Germany

Learn from Past Mistakes

We can learn from this by diversifying.  Let the pests in and let our crops adapt.

A variety of different plants growing on one farm.

A variety of different plants growing on one farm.

Image from:  crystalspringcsa.com

Plant many different varieties.  Let the strongest survive.  The USDA should not limit our access to the world’s seed selection.

And let us not forget that many of the plants we grow in our gardens and farms today came from foreign lands years ago.  Many of our ancestors brought seeds with them from foreign countries.  The USDA was smaller back then and many seeds were allowed into our country, helping our country’s plant diversity.  We are lucky the USDA did not prohibit or restrict seeds in our country’s early history.  But why change now?  Do the seed corporations benefit financially from this regulation?

Do Pests Obey the USDA?

An insect sitting on top of a turnip blossom.

An insect sitting on top of a turnip blossom in my garden. Where are his papers?!

The pests on the border of Canada do not know that they are not allowed to cross the border into America.  The bugs in Mexico do not obey the checkpoints, turn around and go back to the Mexican farms and gardens.  The “pests” are still free to move as they like, even if they don’t have a human traveling companion.  The USDA does not prevent the flow in and out of our borders for: birds, animals, insects, spores, the wind, airplanes, cars, trucks, trains, and water.  The USDA cannot stop a “pest” from getting in.  They can only regulate what American people legally import.

We as people are being divided from each other.  The USDA is trying to divide us first by countries.  The USDA’s next step could be to prohibit trading across state lines.  Then county lines?  Then do they limit seeds to individual farms?  Where does the regulation stop?  There should be no regulation on seeds.

Entire Seed Collections Banned

We are prevented from accessing the seed collections of entire countries.  For example, the government says you cannot have any seeds from Cuba shipped to your home… for any fruit or vegetable… nothing.  And how does this protect us again?  Right, the policy of banning seeds does not protect us, but it could protect international companies that lobby our government.

How to Import Some Seeds

The USDA has not yet been able to stop all seed trade from all countries, but they have made it a cumbersome process.

This forum ( palmktalk.org ) has a casual online conversation between gardeners, stating the requirements for international seed trade:

  • Seed must be cleaned before sending.
  • Botanical name must be  on each package of seed.
  • A CN22 customs declaration form (international standard) is to be placed on the outside of the envelope or package.  The form is available from post offices around the world.

The forum includes a comment with the following warning:  “I’ve personally had the Department of Agriculture call my house over undeclared Butia seeds I bought on ebay.”

I question the guidelines above and think the government expects even more work to trade seeds.  To keep the government off your back, you could follow the government’s website:  cbp.gov.

“ANY plant parts intended for growing (propagative) require a phytosanitary certificate in advance.”

Conclusion

You can trade freely with other gardeners here in our country, as long as you’re not trading GMO or patented seed.  So make the most of that and trade freely with your fellow Americans.

However, our government has many regulations concerning the importation of seeds.  It looks like I can have some seeds, but not all, shipped to my house as long as the sender follows the rules.  The rules will limit who will send what, as the extra required work will cause some people to give up and choose to not trade.  Who wins?  The corporations, since they are best suited to paper work and regulations.  Individuals like you and me lose.

You can make a difference.

1.  Vote for those candidates that promise and deliver the freedom to grow any food, using seeds from any source.

2.  Trade seeds with other gardeners to keep diversity strong.

3.  Plant different varieties in your garden or farm.

4.  Save your seeds!

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