|Friday Five: 5 Tips for Buying Seeds|
|Written by Heleigh Bostwick Friday, 22 June 2012|
Are heirloom seeds and organic seeds the same thing? How about genetically engineered and GMO? If you’re confused about what all those words mean on your seed packet, you’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know when buying seeds this year.
1. Genetically Engineered (GE)
Although GE and GMO are frequently confused, they are distinctly different. GE refers to the use of biotechnological techniques (typically recombinant DNA) to genetically manipulate organisms. In other words, these organisms, in this case plants, do not exist in nature--and never will without human intervention. GE seeds are used by agribusiness (think “Bt-corn” or “Roundup Ready”) and are not available to home gardeners.
2. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)
GMO plants are those that have been bred through any type of genetic modification (biotech or human), including selection of fruits and vegetables for certain traits such as disease resistance, fewer seeds, thinner skins, redder color and so on. All plant hybrids, whether organically or conventionally grown are the result of GMO by plant breeders.
3. Treated and Untreated
These two terms refer to whether a fungicide has been applied to the seeds. As you might guess, treated means that a fungicide has been applied. The package labeling should specify what it is. In general however, treated seeds are for commercial crops and not home use. Seeds with a USDA Organic Certification must be untreated.
Heirloom seeds are those hybridized through natural selection, that is, open-pollinated by insects, wind, or self-pollination. Generally, heirloom varieties are defined as those that are over 50 years old in age or were developed in the 1940s and 1950s, prior to the “modern” hybrids available today. Seeds saved from heirloom plants have the same characteristics as the parent plant.
5. Certified Organic
Certified Organic on a seed packet means that you are buying seeds from plants that have been grown in compliance with the USDA’s National Organic Program. Growing requirements are very specific. For example, applications of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers are disallowed for the three years prior to harvest and there must be an approved Organic System Plan in place. Irradiation, the use of sewage sludge, and genetic engineering are also not allowed.
Photo source: maryjanesfarm.org