Believe it or not, food doesn’t come from the refrigerator or even the kitchen. It doesn’t even come from the grocery store or the farmer. All food—whether meat, grain, vegetable or fruit—owes its existence to seeds. Seeds are the backbone of human existence, providing us with the fundamental necessities needed for life: food, clothing, medicine, and shelter.
To protect the quality of these important, yet often forgotten, natural resources and to promote a robust U.S. seed market (current value of over $7.3 billion), Congress enacted a program over a century ago that would later evolve into what is now known as the Federal Seed Act. The act, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in Gastonia, NC, is a law that protects American businesses, farmers, and the general public from misrepresentation when buying seed.
How could problems in the seed industry affect you? To be honest, seed industry problems only affect you if you like to eat, sleep, and play! The billions of burgers and ice cream cones that are sold each year come from animals that eat feed grown from seed.
Your favorite fruit or vegetable—or even candy—all came from crops that started as seed. The bed that you sleep in…? Yes, all of the materials come primarily from seed. The grass that you, your kids, your favorite sports team, and your family pet enjoy all grow from seed.
The manufacturing of all of these everyday items relies, both directly and indirectly, on a dependable U.S. seed supply supported and protected by the Federal Seed Act. Misrepresentation or contamination of seed in the seed market could limit supply and increase our out of pocket costs on many of items we need and enjoy daily.
The Federal Seed Act also prohibits the interstate transport of destructive noxious-weed seeds to protect property, native plants, and animals. Some weeds, such as poison-hemlock, have even been known to cause allergic reactions, prolonged sickness, respiratory issues, paralysis, comas, or even death in humans. AMS ensures that seed shipped in interstate commerce are labeled and advertised truthfully. This allows seed buyers to make informed choices and promotes fair competition within the industry.
AMS employees also investigate all complaints involving mislabeled seed—which can be submitted by anyone. Here are a few things to look for when you go to purchase seed for your lawn or garden. Don’t be fooled by fancy pictures, bright colors, and catch phrases. Focus on the label. Look for germination and purity percentages, as well as the date of test. This information directly relates to the quality of the seed you are about to purchase. Always keep the label and receipt. This is your evidence just in case you are unfortunate enough to get something in your packet that you didn’t bargain for.
AMS offers many services to the U.S. seed industry and works to ensure that the U.S. seed supply remains safe and unadulterated. Always remember…seed is where it all starts!