More info than you probably need about importing into theUSA

Lee Poulsen
Sun, 23 Jan 2011 17:49:59 PST
Can I add a little to what Bill has so kindly explained to us, based on my experiences only, before and after the small lots of seeds permits were instituted?

From about the early 1990s until shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I traded and even imported both seeds and bulbs from outside the U.S. into the U.S. without any permits or phytosanitary certificates (PC). I also had a plant import permit that did and still does require that you get a PC from the originating country before bringing the plants into the U.S. So I read in the material that they sent me with that permit that I didn't need to use the permit to import seeds or dry dormant bulbs. And indeed that is exactly what I did: I traded seeds with international friends who mailed them to me in envelopes and packages. I purchased seeds from other countries (e.g. Silverhill Seeds in South Africa) and had them sent directly to me without any permit or anything. I ordered bulbs from British and European companies directly as well as from Australia and New Zealand. I even brought bulbs and seeds back with me from travels I made abroad. I even brought back both bulbs and plants from Japan in my luggage. I got the necessary PC at the Tokyo (Narita) Airport before boarding my plane back and I only had to get the PC for the live plants and not for the bulbs or seeds.

[BTW, Japan up until 8 years ago--I haven't been back since then so don't know if this is currently true--must have the best and easiest method for getting a PC of any country in the world. They have inspectors at the international airport. You call and make an appointment for about 2 hours before you needed to check in and after arriving at the airport went to the inspection office where they inspected all your plants for FREE, typed up a certificate, and sent you on your way!]

Anyway, not too long after 9/11, the USDA/APHIS/PPQ suddenly announced one day that they now were going to require PCs and use of a plant import permit (which is still free--yay!) for any plant material of any kind including dry dormant bulbs and seeds. When many hobbyists and plant clubs blew up at this, they pointed out how they had always had the right according to law to do this, but had decided not to enforce it, lo! all these many decades. Sure enough, there it was in the law all this time. But now with increased security being in vogue, they decided to start enforcing it. I guess most people relented on the bulbs since they can easily carry viruses, etc. whether growing or dormant, but most seeds due the biological nature of how they come to form, are usually disease-free except for a few minor but important cases. Many people, spearheaded by Joyce Fingerut of NARGS, as Jim W. pointed out spent a lot of effort writing, emailing, and calling the USDA about how this new policy would essentially wipe out all legal trading of seeds, especially in small quantities, between other countries and the U.S., and only large corporations with the money and means to go through all the hassle of doing it legally would be the only ones importing seeds. The few times I called APHIS/PPQ headquarters or emailed them in the early days of this policy gave me the distinct impression that many of the agents there had no idea we were all trading seeds or of how difficult and/or expensive it is in most countries to get a PC, especially by individuals for a very small quantity of seeds. However, to their credit, as Bill has pointed out, they were sensitive and listened to all these comments and objections and not only invited many of us to join their stakeholders list, but came up with the small lots of seeds permit, which I think is a pretty good compromise and doesn't require the dreaded PC. I know there have been many bumps and kinks in getting it working at all the inspection stations across the U.S., but I have found that the agents at the local inspection station by LAX have tried very hard to be helpful while still trying to understand and follow the new regulations. They have always tried to help me follow the rules better each time I get some seeds through them where the sender didn't quite follow the rules exactly. I really have to give them credit for that. (Still, there is room for improvement...)

I only wish there were a similarly easy way to import bulbs. I recently returned from a business trip to Brazil and Argentina, and got to meet with both Mauro Peixoto and Mariano Saviello again, and they both told me how extremely difficult it is to get a PC. Mariano told me it's so difficult in Argentina that he doesn't even try, and Mauro told me that in Brazil, the government will only issue PCs to commercial entities and won't issue them to private individuals making it basically impossible for him to get one under any circumstance. I'm not sure if there is anything in the international treaty governing PCs that addresses this, but I'm not sure our USDA recognizes this difficulty based on the conversations I've had with our local inspection agents and the national office. In other countries it can be incredibly expensive such as Australia where they charge quite a bit and you have to pay in minimum 15-minute increments. In some countries, you can only obtain a PC at one location in the capital city and nowhere else, effectively eliminating the ability to get a PC for individuals who don't live anywhere close to the capital (and can't afford to travel there due to cost or distance) even if the U.S. citizen is willing to pay for the PC. From what I've seen, 95% of the companies in other countries that I've looked into refuse to even try getting PCs.

Anyway, this brings me up to the current situation we're in today, which is by no means perfect, but isn't too bad as far as seed importations are concerned. I think that APHIS/PPC needs to think more on the bulb importation method, since one of their stated goals is to make the regulations such that Americans *want* to follow and support them and not try to smuggle items in. And the current difficulties with getting PCs almost everywhere (although not impossible from England or South Africa for example), make the current regulations for bulb importations such that people will be strongly tempted to try smuggling some in now and then. IMHO.

--Lee Poulsen
Pasadena, California, USA - USDA Zone 10a

On Jan 23, 2011, at 3:00 PM, William Aley wrote:

> the small lots of seed permits do not require a phytosanitary certificate. The seeds are inspected at 100% at the USDA Plant Inspection Station. The limits to the small lots of seed permit are 50 lots not to exceed 50 grams or 50 seeds, each, which ever is greater. Its an arbitrary number and amount~ ie:  50 grams of larkspur seed verses 50 palm seed.
> Larger lots of seed (often up to several hundreds of Kilos) imported under the standard Q37 permit are often sampled by a Department of Homeland Security Customs Border Protection (DHS CBP) inspector at the first port of US entry, usually in a Customs Bonded warehouse. The inspectors could not easily inspect 100 Kilos of seed at 100% and get all of the other inspections accomplished in a day.
> The authorization as stated on the permit  requires a phytosanitary certificate for the general permit and except for woody tree seed, a DHS CBP inspector can inspect the seed at the first port of entry. Under the small lots of seed the shipment must go to a Plant Inspection Station for inspection.
> Thus it is not a convenient as far as how fast or when the shipment is inspected. Also not all seed requires a permit for import into the USA, again know the rules of importation as stated in the CFR.  Restrictions are based upon disease status of seed borne pathogens and insect pests and the country of origin.
> The pros and cons: obtain a PC and a CBP inspector can inspect and release at any port of entry OR use a small lots of seed permit, limited by weight, size and number and it must go to a plant inspection station, but no PC is required.
> This permit is a concession to individuals who tend to trade as a collector or for breeding purposes since the import regulations were put in place for commercial imports. Again, 100 years ago most people were not importing small amounts of seed into the USA.
> This change is less than 10 years old as a result of the way trade has evolved.
> Hope that helps.On Jan 23, 2011, at 1:40 PM, Adam Fikso wrote:
>> Re Ellen's good questionwhich I never asked...  Was  the thinking ever explicated?
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Ellen Hornig" <>
>> To: "Pacific Bulb Society" <>
>> Sent: Sunday, January 23, 2011 8:36 AM
>> Subject: Re: [pbs] More info than you probably need about importing into theUSA
>>> Bill A - I'm curious (and I'm not being accusatory - it's not like you're responsible for this system) - what was the thinking behind requiring separate permits for small seed lots and general plant (or large seed lot) imports, when they are, at least as I understand it, the same type of permit. just differently designated?  Why couldn't those of us who own general permits be allowed to use them for small seed lots too?

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