I want to kind of break this down to the basic level.
Suppose grandma wants to import 200 pepper seeds for her garden.
Grandma is not a seed or agriculture conglomerate, she just wants non GMO pepper seeds that are more exciting than what the Big name US retail stores offer.
What can grandma do?
She can order seeds on the internet. Most companies that are not based in the USA will just send them in an envelope.
However we have an US office and a Belize office. So we have to be licensed to Import and Export seed and agricultural products in the USA and in Belize.
Now grandma does not have an Import License so she is legally supposed to get a small seed permit.
Somehow on the internet or through a licensed exporter she might find this site from the USDA. The link is at the bottom of this post.
Grandma sees this.
How to Apply for a Small Lots of Seed Permit: For fastest turn around time, apply on-line at https://epermits.aphis.usda.gov/epermits. Alternately, use PPQ Form 587, Application for Permit to Import Plants or Plant Products. On the first line of section 3 of the application, enter “SMALL LOTS OF SEED PROGRAM”. Starting on the second line, list the seed species and countries from which you want to ship each species. If the list of species is long, you may enter “eligible taxa”.
By using this option, you are accepting responsibility for determining the eligibility of the seeds. The Permit Unit cannot tell you if the species are eligible for importation if you do not list them. A permit is issued for taxa that are admissible with no restrictions beyond the port of entry inspection. If port of entry inspectors find prohibited or restricted seeds in your shipment, they will seize and destroy the ineligible kinds.
To find the entry status of seed taxa, see (2) above and refer to the Plant Protection and Quarantine Nursery Stock Manual’s reference section. (Follow this link: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export /plants/
manuals/ ports/index.shtml). Click on “Nursery Stock Restrictions”, and then find the List of Regulated Propagative Material starting on page 1-9 of the manual. Plants that are not listed in this section are generally admissible and eligible for the small lots of seed program. Plants that are listed in this section are ineligible for the small lots of seed program, with the following exceptions:
A taxon is eligible for the small lots of seed program if the relevant manual entries exclude seeds (check entries at both the genus and species levels and note family level listings for Cactaceae, Cycadaceae and Rutaceae).
Species noted only as FSA-A or FSA-V in the “other requirements” column are eligible, but must meet the import provisions of the Federal Seed Act; i.e., the labeling must include variety names for vegetable seeds and lot numbers for both agricultural and vegetable seeds.
Species noted only as CITES or ESA in the “other requirements” column are eligible if accompanied by any required CITES or ESA permits. Generally, seeds of both Threatened and Endangered plants are regulated under the Endangered Species Act; however, the seeds of Threatened plants are not regulated if they come from cultivated plants. See:
Well grandma is overwhelmed. She is not sure if she can import 200 pepper seeds. (She can)
It says registering online is faster. (Three to four weeks in reality).
But grandma is scratching her head. What is the botanical name? She just wants the funky looking jalapeño ones. She is not aware the botanical name is Capsicum annuum.
Instead of doing it the faster way she chooses to download PPQ Form 587 and mail it in. Assuming that she filled out the paperwork properly in about 4 to 6 weeks she will get shipping labels with here permit number.
Then she needs to mail us the permit label (2-3 weeks). We legally cannot send the seeds without the Permit label that has official watermarks and bar codes.
If Grandma had figured out the online application she might get the permit labels 2 weeks sooner. Online she will get a license number a lot quicker.
Can she send us the number? No, we cannot the ship to the USA until we get that permit label. Can she send us a bar code? Nope. Why not just scan the bar code and send it to us? Not legal, she can’t.
So she mails it to us.
When we get grandmas permit label we have to pack the seeds like this.
(5) The seed meets the following packaging and shipping requirements:
(i) A typed or legibly printed seed list/invoice accompanies each shipment with the name of the collector/shipper, the botanical names (at least to genus, preferably to species level) listed alphabetically, as well as the country of origin, and country shipped from, for each taxon. Each seed packet is clearly labeled with the name of the collector/shipper, the country of origin, and the scientific name at least to the genus, and preferably to the species, level. The invoice/seed list may give a code for each lot, which may be used on the seed packets in lieu of the full list of required information. In this case, each packet must at least include the proper code, which is referenced to the entry for that packet on the seed list/invoice.
(ii) There are a maximum of 50 seeds of 1 taxon (taxonomic group such as genus, species, cultivar, etc.) per packet; or a maximum weight not to exceed 10 grams of seed of 1 taxon per packet;
(iii) There are a maximum of 50 seed packets per shipment;
(iv) The seeds are free from pesticides;
(v) The seeds are securely packaged in packets or envelopes and sealed to prevent spillage [Note: we recommend that seeds are packed in resealable, clear plastic envelopes to ease inspection];
(vi) The shipment is free from soil, plant material other than seed, other foreign matter or debris, seeds in the fruit or seed pod, and living organisms such as parasitic plants, pathogens, insects, snails, mites; and
(vii) At the time of importation, the shipment is sent to an approved port of entry listed in the permit.
If we don’t pack the seeds like this the shipment can get confiscated.
Now this is the basic idea without a rant about USDA regulations. The fact is a lot of items are cleared or denied based on the mood of the Agriculture bureaucrat.
One mistake the shipment can get destroyed at customs.
Not a big deal for a 200 pepper seeds order.
However it is a different world if you are importing an entire container load.
It would almost make a small book to outlining the process.
Regulation is how the USA is trying to end the small trader.
Grandma might get her seeds legally 2-4 months after she ordered them.