Is there anything inherently better about organic seed?

General    northern California

This came up at a meeting of my local garden group. What are the reasons for buying organic seed? We assumed that organic seed producers avoid GMO contamination (for such plants as corn), though presumably all seed producers are aware of the issue. We also assumed that buying organic seed supports the soil-building practices of organic farmers, ideally leading to less pesticide use, less erosion, and more biodiversity. And we generally lean toward eating organically grown foods, so organically grown would be a clearer choice if we were eating the seeds. But for planting, what about the seeds themselves: is there anything inherently better about seeds that were grown organically?

Posted by: Tanya in the Garden (128 points) Tanya in the Garden
Posted: May 10, 2013


People selling products labeled organic must plant organic seed to retain their certification. But the reasons you've given--avoiding GMOs and supporting organic growers--are the main reasons home gardeners choose organically grown seeds. Sometimes the non-organic seeds are coated with fungicides that organic gardeners choose to avoid. But I've never seen evidence for any inherent advantages in the organic seeds themselves, in terms of germination, growth habit, disease resistance, productivity, etc.

Posted by: Peg Boyles (3 points) Peg Boyles
Posted: May 10, 2013

Before I give my answer let me provide some background so we are all on the same page.

Organic produce is edible food stuff from plants grown without the use of use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides on the plants or in the soil. A GMO is a genetically modified organism. Once this term used to mean any sort of breeding but with the rise of DNA technology where genes can be inserted into an organism, GMO has become more focused and applied to organisms where a gene is inserted. The plant has been engineered (someone thought of what was there and added something).

One type of engineering people are familiar with is GM Soy or Corn where the adult plant can withstand herbicides. So, by growing GM Soy the farmer can spray a herbicide safe in the knowledge that it wont kill his /her Soy but only the weeds that compete with his/her crop. This is true only until the weeds evolve resistance against the spray.

You can plant GM seeds and they will have not pesticide or herbicide inside the seed. They may have coatings of fungal or bacterial killing compounds but that is a treatment one can apply to any seed, GM or not.
When the GM seeds grow a grower might choose not to treat them with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and t think they are growing organically. However, even though you have not used synthetic chemicals you are not growing organically according to U.S. National Organic Program Regulations. I pasted the section at the bottom, from that document. GMOS are an 'excluded method'.

To answer the question. You cannot ask if the seeds are "inherently better about seeds that were grown organically". That is because lots of things in the genome of the plants are different since GM engineers would have selected a different race of plant to work with. The non-organic might have been traditionally selected (through breeding) to have desirable traits. Or the GM plant might have them anyway which had nothing to do with the engineering.

I think the decision must rest with what a grower would want to do with the produce. If you want to sell/gift/exchange it as organic you cannot use GM seeds. If you don't want to then the choice is really up to what grows best. A little bit like Heirloom tomatoes, you choose what you hear grows best and suits your needs. But the whole point of GM is that the seed contains instructions to respond to some later treatment (e.g. pesticides) so it would not make sense to buy them and not use that

from U.S. National Organic Program Regulations
"Excluded methods. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology). Such methods do not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture. "

Posted by: David Hughes (63 points) David Hughes
Posted: May 14, 2013

If I get your question right, you want to know the difference if you were to grow organic seeds vs. non-organic seeds--organic in the sense of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
The answer is none. At least as far as anything that could be potentially harmful to you when you eat the veggies from the plants you grow.

Many folks get really hung up on going completely organic, and set up strict standards for themselves when it comes to organic foods. That is definitely appreciated and is a valid concern when it comes to good health, but in the case of seeds that come from crops that have come into contact with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the concern is a bit overboard. I might get some flack about that statement, but if folks are concerned about the minute amount of exposure on the outer casing of the seeds affecting their healyth, then we may as well stop breathing the air! :)

If you are seriously into organic, go Non GMO. As the above responses explain, Heirloom seeds are all Non GMO. Nobody's tweaked their genes and they are natural the way our Creator gave them to us. Anytime you see the term Heirloom, that means that seeds is natural. Heirloom means the seed is original and true to the parent plant, this the word Heirloom.

Posted by: Shi1 (8 points) Shi1
Posted: July 24, 2013

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