California Seed Sharing Bill Signed into Law

“A resilient food system starts with a resilient seed system.”

Seed sharing in California took a major step forward on Friday when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Seed Exchange Democracy Act, an amendment to the California Seed Law. It’s the latest victory in a global movement to support and protect seed sharing and saving.

AB 1810, which was introduced by Assemblymember Marc Levine, exempts non-commercial seed sharing activities from industrial labeling, testing, and permitting requirements. This means that local seed libraries and seed sharing activities aren’t held to the same cost-prohibitive testing required of big, commercial seed enterprises. The law allows seed sharing and saving to continue on a local level, which supports food security, urban agriculture, climate resilience, healthy eating, and a stronger local seed systems.

Seed sharing gained mainstream attention in 2014 when agriculture officials in Pennsylvania cracked down on the Joseph T. Simpson public library’s seed library. The event served as a catalyst for the seed sharing movement. Last year, Shareable partnered with the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), Richmond GrowsSeed MattersSeedSavers Exchange and several other organizations in the Save Seed Sharing campaign designed to:

  • Educate stakeholders about how seed laws apply to seed sharing through seed libraries
  • Build public awareness and grassroots support for seed libraries
  • Empower local stakeholders to engage in policy advocacy to support seed sharing
  • Remove legal barriers to seed sharing through seed libraries
  • Support seed libraries that face regulation under seed laws

Since that time, bills that exempt non-commercial seed sharing from commercial seed laws were signed into lawin Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska, the Association of American Seed Control Officials (AASCO) created a working group to create a compromise recommendation, and now California has a new seed sharing law.

Leading advocacy efforts for AB 1810 was a class of 4th grade (now 5th grade) students at Olive Elementary School in Novato, CA. that “testified to the importance of seed saving and sharing and biodiversity at the Assembly and Senate Agriculture Committees,” reports SELC, who partnered with a number of organizations, including California Climate & Agriculture Network, California Guild, Center for Food Safety, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, Pesticide Action Network – North America, Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, Seed Library of Los Angeles, Slow Food California, California FarmLink, Transition Palo Alto, the Ecology Center, and more to advocate for the bill.

As Neil Thapar, Food & Farm Attorney at SELC noted, “the success of this legislation is due in large part to the collaborative efforts of all the individual and organizational advocates coming together. We share a common belief that a resilient food system starts with a resilient seed system based on locally adapted varieties that represent genetic diversity and a longstanding cultural heritage and tradition of seed saving and sharing.”

This post first appeared in Shareable.

By Cat Johnson

Cat Johnson is a freelance writer focused on community, the commons, sharing, collaboration and music. Publications include Utne Reader, GOOD, Yes! Magazine, Shareable, Triple Pundit and Lifehacker. She's also a musician, record store longtimer, chronic list maker, avid coworker and aspiring minimalist.