california seed law

California seed law

For example, the California Seed Law requires persons selling agricultural and vegetable seed to obtain authorization from the Secretary of Agriculture before they sell such seed, regardless of the amount [F&C Division 18, Chapter 2 Section 52351]. The Food and Agriculture code defines “sell” as offering for sale, exposing for sale, possessing for sale, exchanging, bartering, or trading seed. Persons selling agricultural or vegetable seed in California without authorization are in violation of Section 52351 and are subject to enforcement actions by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

There is historical precedent for concern about the identity and quality of seed offered for sale. For this reason the legislature and the seed industry worked together to develop the seed law. Their objective is to provide for an orderly market of seed that protects the consumer while also preserving the reputation of the seed industry.

State and federal seed laws have specific rules for the labeling of seeds to prevent the sale and distribution of seed that are different than what is represented on the label. It is detrimental to the consumer and the industry if poor quality or even non-viable seeds are sold at any level. The Seed Services Program in the California Department of Food and Agriculture routinely takes enforcement action on companies or individuals that offer seed for sale without authorization, or who deliver seed of lesser quality than is represented on their label.

In addition to violating state seed law, individuals who propagate seeds in their backyard and offer such seeds for sale, are often surprised to learn that they may be violating the intellectual property rights of the plant breeder that originally developed the variety. Furthermore, if the backyard producer renames any harvested seed and sells it into another state, he or she will be in violation of the Federal Seed Act, which prohibits the sale of seed under a variety name that is different than the name assigned when it was originally commercialized. In other words, it’s illegal to rename someone’s variety and represent it as your own.

People or organizations selling small packets of protected varieties to garden clubs and other limited markets, often believe that the volume of seed they sell is small and the impact to the developer is insignificant. This is generally not the case. Propagating and selling a protected variety without permission of the PVP Certificate holder is a violation of the Plant Variety Protection Act and it can cause significant direct and indirect financial loss to plant breeders or firms that developed the variety. Plant breeders occasionally contact seed control officials and complain that individuals are selling lesser quality seeds of their protected varieties on the internet. As a result of the poor quality seeds, consumers frequently post unsatisfactory remarks about the performance of that seed in various chat rooms. Such postings harm the reputation and marketability of a protected variety that a plant breeder may have spent years developing. This problem is especially obvious when the original variety is sold as an F1 hybrid plant and the consumer harvests the F2 seeds to offer them for sale under the same variety name as the F1 seed. The consumers often do not know about genetic segregation and do not understand that the F2 seeds they are offering for sale under the same variety name are entirely different than the F1 seed developed and marketed by the plant breeder.

All of these laws do not mean that a consumer cannot save their seed. Gardeners are welcome to retain seed of non-patented varieties they purchase, including varieties protected by PVP, and they can legally plant the harvested seed for their own use on their own property. Once they decide to sell seed however, they are no longer hobbyists but are now part of the seed industry, regardless of how much they sell. They must abide by all of the seed laws, including the Federal Seed Act, state seed laws and the Plant Variety Protection Act. In addition, if they wish to sell seed as organic, they should be aware of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which required USDA to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products. In short, seeds that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be produced and processed in accordance with the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. A civil penalty of up to $11,000 can be levied on any person who knowingly sells or labels as organic, a product that is not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program’s regulations.

It is only through an orderly market that consumers and plant breeders are protected. Strict enforcement of the California Seed Law ensures that all sellers of seed properly label their seeds for consumers and that intellectual property rights are observed so new seed varieties get developed. The ultimate goal of the California Seed Laws is to guarantee that Californians have the best possible seed to plant.

A list of firms authorized to sell agricultural and vegetable seeds in California can be obtained at:

A copy of the California Seed Law and an Application for Authorization to sell agricultural or vegetable seed in California can be found at the CDFA Seed Services Program’s web page:

John Heaton
Senior Agricultural Biologist
Seed Services Program
California Department of Food and Agriculture
1220 N. Street Room A-372
Sacramento, CA 95814

California seed law For example, the California Seed Law requires persons selling agricultural and vegetable seed to obtain authorization from the Secretary of Agriculture before they sell such