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Thanks to all of you who sent comments to the USDA objecting to the Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program, and helped get the word out. I think we made a real impact this time, thanks to you. We will make this sort of regulatory and legislative alert a permanent part of our service. Due to time constraints, we intend to stay focused on regulations and laws that affect the free exchange of seeds and plants. We will be closely watching the feds, but please help keep us informed of state or international developments. Thanks again!

USDA plans to prevent all importation of seeds without expensive certificates. (Note: this is now in effect, and has already doubled the cost of importing many seeds.)

The USDA had planned to implement a new requirement on ALL IMPORTS, even of small packets for home gardeners. All imports are supposed to require an expensive phytosanitary certificate costing up to $60 per shipment. This was to take effect July 22nd, 2002. They claim the plan is now in effect, but they have not been enforcing it and have done some back-pedaling in public statements. Thanks to your letters, the plan has been delayed. We think they have realized from the great public outcry that this was a very bad idea, and simply don't intend to enforce it for small parcels, and hope the controversy quietly goes away.

In the future, if enforcement is actually begun, all of you who have enjoyed ordering rare seeds from overseas or Canada from fine firms like Richter's, Silverhill, or Chilterns will find your orders much more expensive. Some small firms in out-of-the way regions may find it difficult or impossible to obtain these certificates. Even the USDA, ARS (Agricultural Research Service) has objected to this unnecessary requirement!

Please contact the USDA and object to this, as we must keep up the pressure to ensure that they do not begin enforcement. We should demand that the regulation actually be repealed, not just ignored, or it will resurface in coming years. We absolutely must insist that a small-parcel exemption be written into quarantine law—all parcels under 10 kg or $2000 value should be enterable without permit or phytosanitary certificate, based on free, timely inspection at port-of-entry. We pay taxes for a competent inspection service, and should receive what we have paid for.

The following is a post from Conrad Richter on this issue:

Well, as you know, on July 22 the small packet exemption will end and most seed imports no matter how small the package will be stopped unless accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. This is very much about weeds and invasives because the main thing that the USDA is looking for is proof that imported seeds are free of weeds. (This is atypical of what phytos normally address—to certify that seeds are free of seed borne diseases and soil.)

The Canadian government has been trying to pitch to the USDA a new seed program modeled after the Canadian greenhouse inspection program (of which Richters is a participant) whereby authorized exporters will be allowed to ship seeds into the U.S. without the cumbersome phytos provided they are able to comply with basic requirements for traceability and cleanliness. The U.S. government so far has been non-committal and seems to be unconcerned about the havoc the July 22 deadline will create. As it stands now most small packet shipments will likely be stopped after July 22.

According to one of the key negotiators on the Canadian side, a push from U.S. citizens and businesses right now would be most opportune. If gardeners, herb enthusiasts, plant collectors, and even researchers could weigh in with letters and phone calls to the USDA urging it to reconsider its hard line stance on small seed packets (typically defined as packets under 5 pounds), the USDA may yet come to its senses and open up to workable ideas for orderly seed imports. I suggest directing letters, emails and calls to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) in Maryland (http://www.aphis.usda.gov/).

To be sure the potential impact of the new proposals on invasives is much broader than the seed packet issue to which I am referring here. But the July 22 deadline on small seed packet imports is an immediate starting point for stakeholders, i.e., U.S. consumers and businesses, to let their government know that they do not want their right to access to imported plants and seeds taken away.

Conrad Richter

USDA Plans Severe Gardening Restrictions

Direct quotes from USDA Action Plan

Send objections to the USDA
Write your representative (Sample letter)

What President Bush says

What Bill Clinton says

What Al Gore says

What Ralph Nader says

The Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program, which includes the "clean list" or "white list" proposal. They are now going beyond the clean list and are stating that they intend to require permits and inspections for ALL seeds and plants moving interstate this will effectively shut down many popular seed exchanges like the North American Rock Garden Society exchange and the Seed Saver's Exchange. These exchanges have been hailed as important means of preserving biodiversity. How many home seed savers will be willing to get appropriate licenses and inspections when they cost a minimum of $100 (for a nursery stock or seed license here in California). Penalties of up to $250,000 are proposed with a minimum fine of $1000 even for home gardeners. Please link to this page.

Contact Alan.V.Tasker@usda.gov and state you are opposed to the "clean list" and any permit or inspection requirements for interstate movement of seeds and plants. State that the Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program is unacceptable must be halted, additional time for public comment allowed, and no new restrictions on the free flow of any seeds and plants that are not listed noxious weeds be put in place.

Last year, the USDA requested comments on its clean list proposal—they received an overwhelming response—8 to 1 against, yet they are ignoring the clear will of the American people. The government tried to impose a clean list policy three times during the 1970s, and had to back down each time due to negative response from biologists. Apparently, "no" is not an acceptable response.

The initial public comment period ended March 29th, but it is important to keep up pressure even after this date, particularly by writing your representatives. Apparently there will be another public comment period at some point in the future—we will keep you posted.

The USDA is clearly out of touch with the American people. They just got through the huge furor when they tried to impose "Organic Rules" which allowed irradiation and toxic sewage sludge use. They collaborated on the infamous "Terminator Seeds" technology and patent, which created self-sterilizing varieties to prevent seed-saving by farmers. They have also instituted new phytosanitary certificate requirements which they admit are designed to prevent you from ordering from overseas. Please object to the new phytosanitary rules in your letter, too.

Write to your representatives and demand that the out-of-control USDA be reined in.

These proposals fundamentally change the regulations on the importation and distribution of plants. Currently, you may import, possess and distribute all plants except a few known harmful species that are banned a "blacklist" approach in which everything is permitted except what is prohibited. The new Clean List (or white list) policy is the opposite everything is prohibited except what is on a government-approved "clean list" of species that the USDA permits. This will effectively ban 99% of the species on the planet. The clean list or white list has been called an internet hoax, and the agencies involved have actually sent out letters denying they have such plans go to their website and read for yourself what they say:


See Weed Action Plan—4th blue box down on the right.

(Note that this is a pdf file and takes a long time to load—you will see a blank page for a while after clicking here)

Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program

Page 5:

Interstate movement:

"2) Issue regulations that require that any plant, plant product, biological control organism, noxious weed, article, or means of conveyance imported, entered, to be exported, or moved in interstate commerce be accompanied by a permit and a certification of inspection and be subject to remedial measures necessary to prevent the spread of plant pests or noxious weeds..."

"Any plant or plant product" will include dried medicinal herbs, as well as clean seeds.

Page 9:


"Emergency Action
(recommended regulatory change)
The PPA authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to hold, seize, quarantine, treat, apply other remedial measures to, destroy, or otherwise dispose of any plant, plant pest, noxious weed, biological control organism, plant product, article, or means of conveyance moving into or through the United States, or interstate, or moved into or through the United States, or interstate, that the Secretary has reason to believe is a plant pest or noxious weed, is infested with a plant pest or noxious weed, or is in violation of the PPA. This authority includes action on the progeny of any plant, biological control organism, plant product, plant pests, or noxious weed. Further, the Secretary may use extraordinary emergency action for weeds threatening plants or plant products, if those weeds are new to or not known to be widely prevalent in or distributed within and throughout the United States."

Page 14:

"Civil Penalties (recommended program change)
The PPA authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to hold, seize, quarantine, treat, apply other remedial measures to, destroy, or otherwise dispose of any plant, plant pest, noxious weed, biological control organism, plant product, article, or means of conveyance moving into or through the United States, or interstate, or moved into or through the United States, or interstate, that the Secretary has reason to believe is a plant pest or noxious weed, is infested with a plant pest or noxious weed, or is in violation of the PPA. This authority includes action on the progeny of any plant, biological control organism, plant product, plant pests, or noxious weed. If a plant, plant pest, noxious weed, biological control organism, plant product, article, or means of conveyance is in violation of the PPA, the Secretary may issue civil penalties ranging from $1,000 for an initial violation by an individual moving regulated articles not for monetary gain, to $250,000 per violation. The Safeguarding Report recognizes that the PPA civil penalty fee structure provides an effective deterrent against violations of the regulations. APHIS plans to use our new authority under the PPA to issue civil penalties for noncompliance with the regulations."

"An individual moving articles not for monetary gain" means home gardeners.

Page 19:

"Risk Assessment for Imported Nursery Stock (Propagative Material)
Current regulations do not mandate a screening process for the invasive potential of plants imported for propagation. Under 7 CFR 319.37, nursery stock is admissible unless it is on a regulated list. Plants on the regulated lists are prohibited either because they are Federal noxious weeds or because they are associated with certain plant diseases or other plant pests. The Safeguarding Review recommends adopting a modified "clean list approach" for propagative material, specifying what is permissible, rather than listing regulated plants. Similarly, the draft Invasive Species Management Plan recommends development of risk analysis and screening system for evaluating first time intentional introductions of non-native species before entry is allowed.
The PPA states that the Secretary of Agriculture may prohibit or restrict the importation, entry, exportation, or movement in interstate commerce of any plant, plant product, biological control organism, noxious weed, article, or means of conveyance to prevent the introduction into the United States or dissemination within the United States of a plant pest or noxious weed. The PPA further provides the authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to initiate a screening process to evaluate proposed new introductions of non-native plants. Risk assessment for propagative material has two weed-related components: evaluation of the commodity as a potential weed and evaluation of the commodity's potential to provide a pathway for weeds."

"...specifying what is permissible, rather than listing regulated plants" means that everything that is not on the government-approved list will be prohibited. Currently, they list only what is prohibited—"regulated plants."

Page 20:

"Proposed Strategies to Achieve the Goal:

1. Risk assessment: Use risk assessment processes that follow international standards to support identification of weed species to be regulated, provide classification of undesirable plant species, identify potential pathways, and determine appropriate regulatory action.

3. Weediness Screening: Explore revision of the nursery stock regulations (7 CFR 319.37) to require risk assessment before a commodity is approved for entry."

"Weediness Screening" and "risk assessment before a commodity is approved for entry" means that all species will be denied entry (import) until the government has determined that they are approved.

How to Contact Your Members of Congress in Washington, DC:

Contact information and a search by state for Senators and Members of the House of Representatives is as follows:

Find your Senators at: http://www.senate.gov/contacting/index_by_state.cfm

Find your Congressperson at: http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Sample letter to an elected representative:
Please print this out and send it to your representative. E-mailing is second-best, as a physical letter carries much more weight. Send a copy to the USDA, marked "My comments on the Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program."

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman
Jamie L. Whitten Federal Bldg. Rm. 200-A
12th & Jefferson Dr., SW
Washington DC 20250
Phone 202-720-3631, Fax: 720-2166 Email: agsec@usda.gov

and E-mail them a comment objecting to the clean list.

Also be sure to send 4 copiesof your comments to:

Docket No. 01-034-1
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS Suite 3C03
4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

This is necessary so that your e-mails will not simply be deleted. Also send copies to your representatives.

Honorable _________________________

As a concerned voter, I am writing object to the USDA Draft Action Plan for the Noxious Weeds Program, which will implement a "clean list" and other unwarranted restrictions controlling the import and movement of plants and animals in the U.S., allegedly to stop the spread of "invasive species."

I feel that this "clean list" would be a reckless and irresponsible policy, for the following reasons:

  1. Such a policy requires adequate, scientifically verified methods of predicting which species would be "invasive," yet all scientific attempts at predicting "invasiveness" have failed.
  2. We already have adequate weed laws. We already know which species are pests; implementing a sweeping, poorly-conceived ban on what will amount to 99% of the world's species will cause more problems than it could possibly solve.
  3. Scientific researchers need ready access to the earth's biological resources for new food crops, new medicinal plants, new industrial uses. Limiting this access will place U.S. scientists at a disadvantage in the competitive world markets. Limiting our farmers' access to new crops will increase our dependence on foreign supplies.
  4. It will result in greater usage of herbicides on our public lands.
  5. It will do nothing to address the fundamental causes of "invasive" species—disrupted ecosystems.
  6. Small entrepreneurial businesses are responsible for the majority of all jobs created in the past 20 years, and they will bear the brunt of the economic harm this measure will create. Small nurseries have been responsible for the majority of new plant introductions from overseas which have revitalized the entire gardening industry in recent decades.
  7. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, horticulture and floriculture are the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture with 12.1 billion in revenues in 1998, and this has steadily risen since. In these difficult economic times, it is grossly irresponsible of the USDA to obstruct such an economic powerhouse with completely untested, unproven and unnecessary regulatory restrictions.
  8. These restrictions may be illegal under free trade treaties, and are sure to invite retaliatory measures by our trading partners. This comes at a time when entrepreneurial free trade should be encouraged.
  9. The clean list is only the latest in a pattern of USDA obstruction of legitimate business and biodiversity conservation efforts, as witness the recent imposition of outdated regulations that haven't been enforced in decades due to their inapplicability. The phytosanitary-certificate requirement for flower seeds which has been unnecessary and unenforced for over 50 years, and irrational prohibitions of modern sterile-culture orchid seedlings (essential for orchid conservation), have both been suddenly enforced by an out-of-control USDA, sending shockwaves throughout the nursery industry and gardening community. Antiquated, outmoded regulations from the 19th century should not be enforced in the 21st.
  10. The clean list proposal is a reckless and irresponsible expansion of an antiquated, cumbersome and inefficient bureaucracy at a time when government should be moving towards a streamlined and efficient future.
  11. When the USDA requested comments on the clean list proposal, American scientists, businessmen and gardeners were 8 to 1 against the clean list, yet the USDA ignored the clear mandate from the American people, and included this and even more restrictive proposals in the Draft Action Plan. The USDA is totally out of touch with the American people remember the recent "Organic Rules" furor?

One of the founding fathers of our nation, Thomas Jefferson, said: "The greatest service a man may do for his country is the introduction of a useful plant." I hope you will stand with Jefferson on this issue, and rein in the out-of-control USDA and NISC.

I am totally opposed to any "clean list" policy as well as the new phytosanitary and orchid-seedling restrictions, and am opposed to any further restrictions and roadblocks to interstate commerce. The USDA must get back to its mission of serving agriculture, not obstructing it.

In closing, I want to point out that gardeners are the single largest common-interest group in the U.S., and that you can be sure we will Remember In November. I will be waiting for your response, indicating what you are doing to rein in the USDA and NISC, and where you stand on the "clean list" issue.


President Bush speaks on trade:

President Bush speaking in New Orleans Jan. 15 2002 http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020115.html

"I'm worried about jobs. And I believe if you trade more, there are more jobs available for hardworking Americans. (Applause.) There are some who play politics with the trade issue. They want to shut down trade. I like to remind people, those who shut down trade aren't confident. They're not confident in the American worker; they're not confident in the American entrepreneur; they're not confident in American products.

I'm just the opposite... therefore, we ought to have free and fair trade around the world. (Applause.) I'm not the only one that feels that way. Some of the longshoremen that I met coming in said, we need trade so I can keep working...

This isn't a Republican issue, this isn't a Democrat issue. Trade is a jobs issue. (Applause.)"

"Small business is the backbone of the free-enterprise system, and small business owners embody the American Dream." President G. W. Bush quoted on a poster in the Post Office.

Former President Bill Clinton speaks on free trade:

"We don't need to build walls, we need to build bridges. We don't need protection, we need opportunity. But in a world of stiff competition we also need more than free trade. We need fair trade with fair rules."
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 34 - 35 Jan 1, 1996.

"But, overall, trade has brought vast benefits to most Americans. Jobs in exporting companies on average pay considerably higher wages than jobs in companies that sell only within the US."
Source: Between Hope and History, by Bill Clinton, p. 33 - 34 Jan 1, 1996

"The global economy is giving more of our own people and millions around the world the chance to work and live and raise their families with dignity... We must embrace boldly and resolutely our duty to lead... and to put a human face on the global economy so that expanded trade benefits all peoples in all nations, lifting lives and hopes all across the world."
Source: President Clinton's farewell address Jan 18, 2001.


Al Gore speaks on trade:

"All developed countries—whether in Asia, Europe, or the Americas—must play a role, and keep tearing down trade barriers. In the end, in this global economy, protectionism will only protect us from prosperity itself."
Source: Speech at APEC Business Summit Nov 16, 1998

"We must welcome and promote truly free trade. But I say to you: it must be fair trade. We must set standards to end child labor, to prevent the exploitation of workers and the poisoning of the environment. Free trade can and must be—and if I'm President, will be—a way to lift everyone up, not bring anyone down to the lowest common denominator."
Source: Speech to the Democratic National Convention Aug 18, 2000


Ralph Nader speaks on trade:

"The global corporatists preach a model of economic growth that rests on the flows of trade and finance between nations dominated by the giant multinationals—drugs, tobacco, oil, banking, and other services. The global corporate model is premised on the concentration of power over markets, governments, mass media, patent monopolies over critical drugs andseeds, the workplace and corporate culture. All these and other power concentrates, homogenize the globe and undermine democratic processes and their benefits.
Far better for countries to focus on building domestic markets through land reform, microcredit for small businesses, use of local materials for housing and renewable energy solar-style. For developing countries, it is far better for bottom-up capital formation to encourage activities that are more job intensive—generating purchasing power—than adopting highly capitalized and chemical plantation type agribusiness with destructive technologies."
Source: "In the Public Interest" newspaper column Dec 7, 1999.


Direct quotes from USDA Action Plan

Send objections to the USDA
Write your representative (Sample letter)

What President Bush says

What Bill Clinton says

What Al Gore says

What Ralph Nader says

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