Mar 10, 2023
USDA AMS clarifies varietal labeling requirements for seed

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reiterates its standing policy related to varietal labeling requirements for agricultural and vegetable seed shipped in interstate commerce. AMS’s policy is based on requirements of the Federal Seed Act (FSA) (7 U.S.C. 1551-1611), a truth-in-labeling law that regulates the labeling of seed in interstate and foreign commerce. The FSA does not regulate seed that is grown, conditioned, and traded within individual States. This policy statement makes clear that AMS views false advertising and mislabeling of seed varietal names as serious violations of the FSA.

Periodically, AMS receives questions from seed businesses and customers related to varietal labeling requirements. The most common question is whether varietal names are required on vegetable and agricultural seed. For vegetable seed shipped in interstate commerce, the seed must be labeled with kind and variety name. There is no exception to this requirement.

Agricultural seed has three options for labeling: (1) kind name; (2) kind and variety name; or (3) kind name and the words “variety not stated”. The “variety not stated” description only applies to 37 agricultural seed kinds (§201.10). The 37 agricultural seed kinds are: Alfalfa; Bahiagrass; Barley; Bean, field; Beet, field; Brome, smooth; Broomcorn; Clover, crimson; Clover, red; Clover, white; Corn, field; Corn, pop; Cotton; Cowpea; Crambe; Fescue, tall; Flax; Lespedeza, striate; Millet, foxtail; Millet, pearl; Oat; Pea, field; Peanut; Radish; Rice; Rye; Safflower; Sorghum; Sorghum-sudangrass; Soybean; Sudangrass; Sunflower; Tobacco; Trefoil, birdsfoot; Triticale; Wheat, common; and Wheat, durum.

The second most common question involves the proper use of Brand names. Brand names may be associated with the name of the kind or variety of seed; however, the Brand must be clearly identified as not being the kind or variety name. For example, ABC123 Brand sweet corn may not be advertised in a way that creates the impression that ABC123 is a kind or variety name. In this example, the word “Brand” after the word “ABC123” is sufficient to distinguish the Brand.

In addition, if seed advertised under a Brand name is a mixture of varieties and if the variety names are not stated in the advertising, a varietal description or a comparison with a named variety cannot be used if it creates the impression that the seed is of a single or known variety. AMS underscores the importance of avoiding representations that may claim or give the impression that seed Brands add diversification for a grower when that representation is false or misleading. AMS invites the reporting of complaints or tips to or directly to AMS’s Seed Regulatory and Testing Division, contact below.

Kind and variety information is important to farmers purchasing seeds. The Federal Seed Act regulations require seed kind and varietal information to be printed on seed containers, or labels, in a form that is clearly legible. This requirement allows a purchaser of seed to make reasoned and informed decisions. AMS expects farmers to be informed of kind and variety at the earliest opportunity, usually at the time of purchase and no later than the commencement of shipment. This can be accomplished by allowing the grower to physically review the seed container and its label, by making the labeled claims easily accessible to the grower (e.g., a link to an image of the actual label), or through other appropriate means.

AMS is committed to the enforcement of the varietal labeling provisions of the FSA and, through Section 409 of the FSA (7 U.S.C. 1599), the USDA is authorized to initiate administrative proceedings against anyone who violates any FSA provision or regulation. Enforcement outcomes may range from cease-and-desist orders and monetary penalties to seizure of the seed and criminal sanction in the federal court system. Anyone with knowledge of potential violations of the FSA is encouraged to report them to AMS.