I've heard that keeping seeds is illegal. What do I need to do to keep them/distribute them to stay legal?

I heard about it in this video from someone with a huge gardening following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txRUeuuKex4

  • I keep seeds for my crops every year, which is totally legal. I assume you are talking about something else: you might explain what that is.
    – user6726
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 4:35
  • I heard that in some places it was illegal to keep a seed library (MN for example), and this is about the seed trading/exchange side of things, but I can't make a good tag for it, since there isn't one TMK.
    – person
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 5:02
  • Can you provide a reference to that - it would seem odd to me.
    – davidgo
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 5:05
  • 2
    Truth is stranger than fiction, turns out.
    – user6726
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


There are such laws throughout the US, but I will focus on Pennsylvania where the regulators caused a problem. The Seed Act of 2004 is the basis for Ag's letter which incorrectly states that "The Pennsylvania Seed Act requires all distributors of seed to purchase a seed license". (See below why this does not mesh with the law). They then say

All Seed being distributed in Pennsylvania must be labeled according to the PASeed Act and Regulations. This includes, but not limited to, such things as Germination Test date, Sell by date, lot #,Seed Kind, distributor's name and address

The law itself says

It shall be unlawful to sell, offer for sale, expose for sale or transport any seed subject to the provisions of this chapter for seeding purposes in bulk, packages or containers unless the package or container in which the same shall be exposed or offered for sale or transported shall have attached thereto, in a conspicuous place on the exterior thereof, a tag or label on which shall be plainly and legibly written or printed in English the following information relating to the seed.

Since as I understand the library just holds seed and distributes it, they are not selling or transporting, so while the library is required to obtain a license, they are not required to engage in the testing.

The gardener who brings in the seed would have to transport the seed. So it does appear that gardeners are violating the law. There is a bit of a legal bind here. The first thing that the law requires be included on the label is "the name and address of the distributor who labeled the seed". To determine whose name is to appear on the package, we must look to the definition of "distributor", which is "The person whose name appears on the label of seed". This is pretty simple, then: if there is no name on the label, then there is no distributor. The gardener transporting the seed to the library must attach a label, and if they include a name and address then they become a distributor by the act of including the name and address. The gardener must also include "a treatment statement as prescribed by the secretary in the regulations", plus information in germination tests performed.

About the license requirement. The law does not require a license of everyone who distributes seed: it says

Every person functioning as a distributor of seed in this Commonwealth shall, on or before January 1 of each year or prior to distribution, apply for and obtain an annual license for each legal entity. Each distributor shall complete a form furnished by the department and pay a $25 application fee.

Since "distributor" is defined in the definitions section as being the guy with the name on the label, then the distributor is not the person who distributes. It is the guy whose name and address are on the label. So check whose name and address are on the label.

Similar statutes probably exist in all states, so here's the Washington law (RCW 15.49.051). There is a subtle difference between the states: in Washington, restrictions are on "transport for sale", and in Pennsylvania it is simply "transport".

  • So grocery stores need to fill out these forms just incase someone gets the bright idea to plant grocery store food?
    – person
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:11
  • E.g. owing to the fact that tomatoes and apples contain seeds? As long as the store doesn't put its name and address on the produce, they are not legal distributors. Since "seed" is not specifically defined in the act, food that incidentally contains seed probably would not be deemed to be "seed", in the same way that the tomato is not a legal fruit, see Nix v. Hedden 149 US 304 (1893).
    – user6726
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 16:37
  • but if you're explaining to the produce guy it is for planting purposes only for why you're buying it, then it is illegal for them to let you buy it. example: whole foods
    – person
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 19:24

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