SO!!! Much. Fun, flipping through Organic and Heirloom Seed web catalogs and postings, getting ready to order unusual heirloom seeds for this years garden. With the windfall from my IJustRead.It win, I decided to use part of the money to purchase a grow light setup for my basement for my veggie and herb seeds, and then to use part to purchase heirloom seeds from small growers selling seeds on Amazon.
I had no Idea what a confusing bunch of nonsense I was going to be embroiling myself in! See, here’s the thing . . . There are lots of people advertising “Organic/Open Source/Heirloom” seeds on Amazon. Available in small packs, there are some really interesting varieties they claim are all, or some, of the above. Take, for instance, the Hillbilly Tomato. From Wikipedia: Hillbilly Tomato, also known as the “hillbilly potato leaf tomato”, scientific name Solanum lycopersicum, is an heirloom cultivar originating from West Virginia in the 1800s. This fruit is considered a beefsteak tomato weighing 1-2 pounds. It is round, heavily ribbed and its skin and flesh is orange- yellow with red streaks. The flavor is described “sweet and fruity” and is low in acid.  
It is on my “Seriously considering planting” list. So, as I am looking through Amazon seed listings, I saw this one and added it to my wish list, where I am gathering all the different things I like – then whittling the list down to what I can actually fit in my garden (big sigh).
But there, Horatio, is the rub. For you see, that particular vendor imports the seeds from China.
So, I started doing some digging…. and digging….. and digging……………………
And learned quite a few things. There are Chinese laws about “organic.” There are American laws about “organic.” And never, ever, shall the twain meet. . .
The Chinese are now requiring that the Americans meet their particular organic regulations on imports, as we have required them to meet our regulations on organics . . . but they don’t come close to matching (and of course American exporters are all up in arms that they have to meet “expensive” export regulations. Big sigh.)
I dug deep on marketing laws, organic specifications between the two countries, etc. ad nauseum. I was looking, hard for rules about whether you could market seeds as organic, open source, etc. if they are imported from other countries. I found laws regarding endangered plant species, phytosterility, and all sorts of other little goodies dealing with small batch seed imports. But the more I read, the more ‘confusticated’ I got about my original question – should sellers be required to tell buyers that their supposedly organic seeds are imported from other countries? Are these seeds even close to being what they are marketed as? This particular seller had multiple reviews indicating the seeds, 1) Didn’t arrive because US Customs seized them, 2) Didn’t sprout, or 3) If they did sprout, they weren’t what the customer had ordered but some other tomato entirely. OK. Not good. I had wanted to buy from small, independent growers, and my Amazon credit – – – but if this is what I can look forward to, forget it. It looks like Territorial Seed Company is getting my business again this year!
I finally sent a letter to US Customs and Border Protection (since they are the ones who stopped the other customer’s seeds from coming through customs) as follows:
I recently nearly ordered vegetable seeds that were advertised as “Organic” from a company on Amazon.com, but reading reviews I noted that the seeds were imported from China and orders had been held by US Customs. There were other issues with that particular seller as well (which I addressed with Amazon) but my questions are:
1. Are companies who are selling Chinese imports required by law to notify American Consumers that they are doing so?
2. Are there strict laws in place that require Chinese seed sources to prove via chemical testing that they truly Are organic and non GMO?
I have read the phytosanitary regulations and USDA APHIS, but I can’t find clear and unassailable information. I find differing information on the internet, and I don’t trust any of it. I want to be absolutely certain that any seeds I buy are organic, open sourced, and (in my case) heirloom varieties – but I have found that more than one supplier out there is actually selling Chinese imports that, until you receive them from a Singapore address, or receive a letter from US Customs saying the product was destroyed, you have no way of knowing for sure are imported.
Your clarification would be greatly appreciated – and will be happily spread to my organic gardening groups!
I wonder if they will answer? They do say it can take three weeks or so for a response from a customer service agent. And if they do, what the response will be? Have you thought about these questions? Do you plant heirlooms, organics, open source and/or non GMO seeds? Inquiring minds want to know!
(Veggie photos courtesy of Pintrest.com)