Sorting Out Seeds

Are heirloom seeds and organic seeds the same thing? How about genetically engineered and GMO?

Published May 16, 2014 5:00 AM
3 min read


seeds-thAre heirloom seeds and organic seeds the same thing? How about genetically engineered and GMO?

By Chris Cohan

Are heirloom seeds and organic seeds the same thing? How about genetically engineered and GMO?

livingston 1898 catalogueConfused? Me too. What do all those words mean on your seed packet? Heirloom, organic, genetically engineered, and GMO are the major seed categories. Here is 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, sometimes even with the help of recombinant proteins. For further knowledge, click to know what are recombinant proteins. In this case, plants do not exist in nature — and never will without human intervention. GE seeds are used by agribusiness like corn that is “Roundup Ready” which 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. Biotech companies can enhance online presence with help from a biotech SEO company.


ceallen, 18983. Treated and Untreated
These two terms refer to whether a fungicide has been applied to the seeds. Treated means that a fungicide has been applied to the seeds. 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.


4. Heirloom
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.

iowa 1899 catalogue5. 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.

Still confused? Then I suggest you allow yourself to be swayed by the pretty seed packet covers to make your decisions. In the end, buy the seeds that attract you. Plant, nurture, harvest, and enjoy!

With seed package covers (use all three if you need to, no captions needed).

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