Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mi è arrivata la lettera dalla dogana

In other words...a letter arrived from italian customs. Oh happy day!

Sometime in the middle of June this year, my father had sent a gift of vegetable seeds from Hawaii. He was told that it would take a total of approximately 10 days to reach Italy, and I awaited its arrival in the mailbox. At this point I would like to say that I have never had any problems with 2 previous seed orders from the United States. If a parcel has been subjected to inspection by italian customs (and it has already happened once in my case), it is clearly evident upon delivery: a clean slit is made at the top of the package, neatly resealed with strong tape, and legibly stamped with the words Effettuato Controllo Doganale.

Imagine my horror, then, when I received a registered notice in the mail informing me that my garden seeds were being quarantined for reasons of questionable origin. As I said earlier, the seeds were a gift. My father gave a rough value estimate on the green declarations form when he sent it, but being that it was a gift, did not include a receipt for its monetary value. For all I know he could have bought seeds from Walmart and thrown them in an envelope.

Now I am aware of certain restrictions in regards to foreign seeds entering Europe, but the conclusion I have come to is that as far as Italy is concerned, as long as those seeds are not genetically modified and you heed certain limitations, your seeds will arrive intact, if not delayed, at your doorstep. Since this is the first time where I've come across problems with italian customs, the following notes might prove helpful to a gardener ordering/receiving an overseas delivery. If you receive a notice in the mail with a form like the one shown here, fill it out as best you can and send it along with the required documents to the proper address.

1. If a gift of seeds is being sent in the mail and you know about it beforehand, ask the sender to compile a list of the contents with receipt of purchase attached. The amount should match the total written on the declarations form.

2. Seeds should be packaged in commercial envelopes that illustrate what it is. I've read about an incident where a woman in Switzerland simply wanted to send garden seeds to her friend in Italy, but since those seeds were not readily identifiable by customs, they sent her a form just like the one I received and requested further information, such as the sender's address (already written on the envelope). The thing is, if the contents are a gift, there is not much info to pass on, especially if you have no idea what type of seeds are in the package. Here's the link (in italian) to this poor woman's headache with the dogana.

3. And lastly, the english translation of a form regarding small quantities (plants admitted in derogation). I had a vague idea of what derogation meant in legal terms, but here's a link to the definition. Suffice to say that I did not receive my seeds because of one reason only - the amount of seed packets exceeded the maximum limit of 5! Odd that my previous seed orders all contained more than a total of 10.

Small quantities (plants admitted in derogation)
Provided that they are not prohibited and there is no danger of spreading harmful organisms, under Article. 38 of 214/2005 the introduction of small quantities of plants is permitted.

The status of small quantity is applied to both delivered and directly transported goods by the passenger.

Considered as small quantity: plants, plant products, foodstuffs or animal feed intended for use by the owner or recipient in a non-industrial, non-commercial, non-agricultural purpose, or to be consumed during transport.

Such goods can also be subjected to agricultural inspection; is not required to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate of origin; and is not subject to the ag inspection fee.

If a person intends to import a small quantity he should only absolve the obligation to submit to the SFR a declaration in lieu of an affidavit, in which it specifies that the products are not imported for industrial, commercial or agricultural purposes. The reference values that identify small quantities are those as specified below:

Type and quantity
Leafy vegetables and small fruits (cherries, blueberries) - two (2) kilos
Other fruits and vegetables (excluding potatoes) - ten (10) kilos
Cut flowers - one (1) bouquet, forty (40) stems max
Succulents for collection - ten (10) units
Plants of ornamental, vegetable, fruit or forest species - five (5) units
Bulbs, corms, rhizones, tubers (exluding potatoes) - one (1) kilo
Seeds (excluding seed potatoes) - five (5) commercial packets or for retail (max 2 grams per package)

Average daytime temperature: 11°C / 52°F


  1. Sigh...I still remember the trials and tribulations of mail between me and my daughter while she was in Italy. I truly understand their concern for plants or seeds coming into the country, but it is the exceeding slowness of their actions that used to be so infuriating. I sent a package once and it took two and a half months to get there! We had actually given up on it arriving at all. I think it could've gone faster by a raft! I know the slowdown is in Italy. That is a given. Maybe there is something to be said for the Federal system that we enjoy over here.

  2. yipes! I remember bringing a box of stuff that I was sending off to the post office and the guy wanted a detailed report of each item and its weight (um, the box is already taped??!!)

    hope they will release these precious seeds to you!!

  3. Gail - ah yes, the late (or lost) packages. Postal delivery persons on mopeds with no discernible uniform, cigarettes dangling out of their mouth. Italy does have its charms!

    But, I can't speak ill of them all of the time...the second commenter above (K and S) is from Japan and her care package actually arrived on my doorstep not much later than the estimated date! She has actually restored my faith (a little) in the system.

    Kat - I have never had that happen to me...yet. Btw, you have very nice handwriting!

  4. Seeds from Hawaii??!
    I immediately would think you were receiving seeds for the No. 1 cash crop - POT!

  5. Maybelline - you got your coordinates wrong. Over here (since I'm across the pond), pot seeds come from Amsterdam, not Hawaii. They most likely didn't agree with the Walmart package!

  6. Oh dear. I've never had seeds sent from the States, but I know our deliveries of National Geographic and Scientific American are a matter of "this month you see them, next you don't".

  7. I've always smuggled plants in from Australia in my hand luggage but NEVER the other way round - I wouldn't dare !
    I just send them in the post ;)

  8. Hey Rowena, if you want some seeds carried over, let me know - happy to carry them back for you.

  9. I am surprise they are strict with seeds too over there. I encountered this but always with live plants, not seeds.

    I am quite torn in between - its good to protect the local ecosystem against exotic pets and plants (millions were spent annually uprooting foreign weeds from local habitat), but from a gardener's point of view its really a P in the A.

    We have to blame ourselves for setting bad precedence I suppose.

  10. Fern - you are a doll! If I come across something that I really, really need, I'll let you know asap!

    Dinesh - I agree that we have to take some responsibility for transporting non-indigenous plant species to wherever else in the world, but like you said from a gardener's point of view, it's a pain in the A**! I grow things in the interest of biodiversity and maintaining species that haven't (yet) been fiddled with to include a wretched patent. In other words, I'm growing food for love, not for money. Can't they just leave me alone? ;-)


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