Saw palmetto berry harvest now requires state permit

As of Tuesday, July 17, anyone harvesting saw palmetto berries in Florida was being required to have a “Native Plant Harvesting Permit” issued through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), its Division of Plant Industry has announced.

Extract derived from the saw palmetto plant’s berries has been the subject of research as a possible treatment for men with prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society says, however, that “available scientific studies do not support claims that saw palmetto can prevent or treat prostate cancer in humans.” But that has not stopped makers of nutritional supplements from producing one that they claim “may help prevent prostate cancer.” As long as the manufacturers don’t say the saw palmetto supplement “does” prevent cancer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot regulate its production and distribution. Thus, saw palmetto has become a popular supplement in recent years, raising global public demand for the product.

As a result — and after receiving comments from private and public landowners, conservation groups and other interested parties — the Florida Endangered Plant Advisory Council recently unanimously recommended that the state DACS put the saw palmetto on the department’s list of commercially exploited plants and to require the permit for harvest.

Any person wishing to take and sell the berries must submit their application for a Native Plant Harvesting Permit a full two weeks, or 14 days, before they intend to conduct the harvest.

Violators may be prosecuted on a misdemeanor charge if caught transporting saw palmetto berries for sale without the permit. In addition, any illegally harvested berries will be confiscated and returned to the owner. If the owner cannot be identified or located, the berries will be destroyed, the DACS says.

Gene McAvoy, Hendry County director of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Service, said the prohibition of harvesting without a permit means that “it is unlawful for any person to willfully destroy or harvest such plant without first obtaining written permission from the landowner and a permit from the state.” And, he said, anyone transporting saw palmetto berries “for the purpose of sale, selling or offering for sale such plant must have a permit in his/her immediate possession. It is unlawful for any person to falsify any paperwork/document that permits another person to destroy or harvest such plant.”

The native plant harvesting permit requirement also will apply to anyone transporting the berries via any public road or highway, who will be subject to a first-degree misdemeanor charge.

UF/IFAS Extension and the Florida DACS are advising that any landowners who are having problems with trespassers harvesting the berries should contact their local sheriff’s office or call the Florida DACS at 800-342-5869. Today, the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a forum about the law, at 7 p.m. at the Okeechobee Civic Center, 1750 N. U.S. 98.

Information on how to obtain a permit is also available at www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Plant-Industry/Business-Services/Plant-Pest-Permits/Native-Plant-Harvesting-Permit.
For any other questions, contact Tyson Emory at 352-395-4709 or email Tyson.Emery@FreshFromFlorida.com.

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