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Are These Seeds GMO?

It’s been a crazy time the past couple of weeks travelling around Washington and giving away seed packets as part of our Washington Grown At Home program this summer!  One more week and my trusty car and I will have a break from the road - well, for a couple of days at least.

It has been fun meeting you, and talking about gardening and farming, and even answering some gardening and farming questions.  One of the most commonly asked questions I have been asked has been, “Are these GMO seeds?”

The fact that I am asked that question tells me that while many people seem to be concerned about GMO seeds, people don’t know much about them.  If society was truly educated about GMO seeds, they would know a very simple fact:

There are no GMO gardening seeds.

In fact, only farmers can obtain GMO seeds to grow.  I feel bad for consumers who fall victim to a marketing ploy and pay extra to get “non-GMO” seeds because all gardening seeds are non-GMO, whether your seed packet says it or not. Paying more for “non-GMO” labeled gardening seeds is like paying more for an apple labeled “fat free.” (In case you aren’t aware, apples are essentially fat free.)

One person told me she had accidentally purchased some "terminator seeds." After further discussion, I learned these were in fact pumpkin seeds and that the pumpkins would shrivel and not grow on the vine.  Luckily I had experienced this myself and was able to educate her that her problem was actually a pollination issue - that squash plants have both male and female flowers and that unless you have a numerous pumpkin plants and/or lots of pollinators, you may have to hand pollinate (take pollen from the male flowers and put is on the female flower) your pumpkins in order to have proper pollination.

But I also knew to look further and ask more questions about her situation because of another simple seed fact:

There are no terminator seeds commercially available at all.

Not even farmers (who can get GMO seeds) can get terminator seeds.  Where did this terminator myth come from? 

According to Wikipedia, "genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology or suicide seeds, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile."  The USDA instigated the research of terminator seeds.

Of course, much of the internet hysteria blames their usual scape-goat for all things agriculture-related: the vilified Monsanto Company. One quick internet search for “terminator seeds” revealed many sites claiming Monsanto is developing and distributing this seed in an effort to monopolize and starve the world, making the world dependent on Monsanto for its seeds each year.

Baloney.  While they may have researched terminator seeds, Monsanto committed as far back as 1999 to never make terminator seeds commercially available at the concerns of farmers and others.

When looking for seeds to grow in your garden, don’t worry about a “non-GMO” label or accidently getting “terminator seeds” - you can’t get either one!  The biggest thing to look for when you are getting your seeds is to get the freshest seed possible.  Those seeds that have been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years just don’t grow as well (because they naturally deteriorate) as seeds harvested the previous year.

While many of us still have a lot to learn about seeds and growing food (myself included!), I’m excited to be here to answer your questions and to learn with you.  The fact that you want to know and are asking questions is awesome!

Garden on!

For further reading, check out this post by Ask the Farmers: I plant GMO’s in my fields, not in my garden.