In perusing seed catalogs, you may have noticed that the company has taken the Safe Seed Pledge. What this means is that the company has promised that they do not knowingly buy or sell genetically modified or engineered (GMO) seeds, bulbs, or plants. The pledge is part of the Safe Seed Campaign begun in 2000, promoted by the Council for Responsible Genetics, a non-profit organization that encourages public awareness and debate about biotechnology. About ten percent of seed companies have made the pledge.
The genetic modification of seeds and plants is a massive topic that cannot be fully explored in a single article. Succinctly put, genetic engineering involves the moving of DNA, or genes, from one organism to another. An example is "golden rice": to add beta-carotene to rice, scientists inserted genes from daffodils and bacteria into the DNA of rice. On the surface, this seems good. Yet this is very new technology that has not had extensive testing, and many are concerned about possible long-term effects of eating these kinds of engineered foods. Science simply cannot predict how genes from different species will interact.
The traditional method of creating new plant varieties is plant breeding, which requires careful attention to cross-pollination and selecting the desired traits in each generation. This is the kind of plant propagation the Safe Seed Campaign advocates.
There is some gray area concerning the adequacy of the pledge. Some companies that supply non-GMO seed are owned by major players in the biotechnology arena. Seminis, which produces more than 20 percent of the world's vegetable seed, is owned by Monsanto, the leader in genetic modification. The catch-22 is evident. For the purist, seek out companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and also produce all or most of their own stock. Two seed companies that meet this criteria are Seed Savers Exchange and Sandhill Preservation Center. Fedco Seeds also has made the pledge, and in addtion they categorize each variety according to where the seed comes from.