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These days, there are so many different labels on seed packets that it’s hard to know what exactly they all mean, especially when we see the non-GMO label.
GMO seeds are seeds that have been genetically modified to produce a desired trait within that plant. GMO seeds are only available commercially and therefore not something that can be grown in the average home garden.
Understanding GMOs and their labeling can be a little confusing. But, I’m here to break it down for you so that you know everything you need to know about GMOs and what they mean for your garden.
What does GMO mean?
GMO is an acronym that stands for Genetically Modified Organism. GMOs are any organisms that have had their DNA altered through human intervention. They have been engineered in a lab to cross genetic traits between organisms that otherwise wouldn’t be able to cross in nature.
This lab-induced gene transfer is one that often gets mistaken for the process in which hybrid seeds are created. Just to be clear, GMO seeds and hybrid seeds are two completely different things.
Hybrid seeds or hybrid plants are those that have been bred for specific traits through the cross-pollination of different plant varieties. Check out this article for more information on using hybrid seeds.
When seed companies create hybrid varieties, they are mimicking a process that also occurs in nature. Oppositely, GMO seeds do not occur naturally and are completely man-made.
Most common GMO seeds
Not every plant that we eat has been genetically modified. There are only a handful of crops in the United States that have been. The common GMO crops are corn, soybeans, cotton, potatoes, papayas, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, apples, and summer squash.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, about 92% of corn, 94% of soybeans, and 96% of cotton planted in the U.S. are GMO. These crops are being grown on large-scale industrial farms which are much different than our small backyard gardens.
Also, most of the GMO crops grown are not being sold as fresh produce but are instead used as ingredients in other processed food items or as feed for livestock.
Why are GMO seeds used?
Genetically modified organisms were created as a way to increase crop yields within the global food chain. Many GMO crops are resistant to insect pests or diseases or can tolerate certain herbicides.
This makes it possible to grow much more produce without the risk of it being lost to pests, disease, or weed pressure.
Some crops, like potatoes and apples, have been genetically modified to keep them from browning or bruising after they have been bumped or cut as a way to cut down on food waste.
Other crops, like corn and cotton, have been genetically modified to be resistant to certain insect pests which reduces the need for farmers to spray crops with insecticides.
Are GMOs bad?
There is a lot of controversy around the use of GMOs and what their effects may be on the human body. While there is no evidence at this time that GMOs cause any long-term consequences to people, it’s always good practice to know what is in the food you’re consuming and where it comes from.
Many brands have opted into the Non-GMO Project and include in their labeling that they use non-GMO ingredients as a way to give peace of mind to concerned consumers.
Something else that’s important to note but can also be a little confusing when it comes to labeling is the non-GMO vs organic labels.
Just because a food product is labeled as non-GMO does not necessarily mean that it is also organic. If buying organic is important to you, make sure you’re looking for an organic label separate from the non-GMO label.
Can I grow GMO seeds in my garden?
So what does all of this information mean for us gardeners? Luckily, not much. GMO seeds are only available to commercial growers and farmers and therefore can not be purchased by home gardeners.
Any seeds you buy for your home garden are guaranteed not to be GMO. Although, some seed companies may include a non-GMO label on their seed packets. This can sometimes be misleading and make you think that other brands of seeds are GMO.
Creating GMOs is a very intricate process and therefore makes the seeds very expensive. Far more costly than any small home gardener would want to spend on seeds.
Can GMOs still end up in my garden?
Many of us have probably heard the stories of GMO plants going to seed and those seeds accidentally ending up in someone else’s yard through natural occurrences like wind, water, or animals.
I’m here to tell you that the odds of a genetically modified seed ending up in your garden and growing into a genetically modified plant is very slim if not impossible. Unless you live directly next to an industrial farmer or you are one yourself, genetically modified seeds will not end up in your garden.
GMOs and composting
If you have a home compost system and like to throw food scraps into your compost, there’s a chance that GMOs will end up in your compost and ultimately in your garden. This is because, as I mentioned earlier, many foods in grocery stores are GMO or contain GMOs.
But, it’s important to mention that this doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with your garden or that your garden is unsafe.
Going back to what I mentioned previously, GMOs are not proven to be harmful to humans. It’s just something to keep in mind if you’re trying to be more conscientious of GMOs and where they show up in your life.
Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of GMOs and made them less intimidating for you. Vocabulary is important in the food-growing world, so just make sure you’re not confusing GMO labeling with other terms like “hybrid” or “organic”.
Luckily, using genetically modified seeds and growing genetically modified plants is not something that we small-scale gardeners have to worry about since GMO seeds are not available to us. You can sleep better tonight knowing that your seeds are definitely not GMO.
“GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond” U.S. Food & Drug Administration https://www.fda.gov/food/agricultural-biotechnology/gmo-crops-animal-food-and-beyond Accessed on October 6, 2022
“GMO Facts” The Non-GMO Project https://www.nongmoproject.org/about/ Accessed on October 6, 2022