What Is the Safe Seed Pledge?

We just received a new shipment of seeds from Botanical Interest
greenerynsy/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

So you see that your favorite garden catalog has taken the Safe Seed Pledge. Or, you read an article that suggests buying only from those companies that have taken the pledge. What does this mean for you as a gardener?

The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999. A group of seed catalog companies, headed by High Mowing Organic Seeds, came up with the pledge to state their position on genetically engineered, or GMO, seeds so their customers would be assured that the companies were not selling GMO seeds. Since then, over 70 companies have taken the pledge, including:

  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
  • Botanical Interests
  • Bountiful Gardens
  • Comstock Ferre & Co.
  • The Cook's Garden
  • Ed Hume Seeds
  • Fedco Seeds
  • Ferry Morse Seed Company
  • John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
  • Johnny's Selected Seeds
  • Lake Valley Seed
  • Nichols Garden Nursery
  • Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
  • Renee's Garden
  • Seed Savers Exchange
  • Select Seeds
  • Territorial Seed Company
  • Victory Seed Company

There are also several smaller, regional seed companies who have taken the pledge in addition to these more well-known companies.

What the Safe Seed Pledge Promises

The Safe Seed Pledge, which the companies that have signed on to it carry on their catalogs and websites, states:

"Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities."

Is It Regulated?

The Safe Seed Pledge is fully voluntary, and there is no oversight, which has been a sticking point for the pledge's critics. These companies are basically saying: "We swear that we don't knowingly sell GMO seeds." We count on them, to be honest in this. It's worth noting at this time that there are very few if any, GMO varieties available to home gardeners anyway. So chances are good that no matter who you're buying from, you're not buying GMO seeds.​

It's also worth noting that taking the pledge does NOT mean that a company isn't still doing business with Monsanto. Monsanto currently owns about 40 percent of the home vegetable seed market, since acquiring Seminis. This means that many popular heirlooms, such as 'Early Girl' tomatoes, are owned by Monsanto. This is worth mentioning because many assume that companies who take this pledge are not in any way involved with Monsanto—in most cases, such as those companies that only sell heirloom varieties, this is definitely true.

Fun Fact

If you're buying organic seed, you're automatically assured that you're not buying GMOs.

What It Means for Gardeners

Really, the Safe Seed Pledge is more a statement about what a company stands for more than anything else. If a company has taken it, they're publicly taking a stand against GMOs and saying that they believe they have no place in our gardens. We appreciate companies that address consumers' growing concerns over the safety and possible environmental impact of GMOs. If someday, GMO seeds become available to home gardeners, it will be even more helpful to know which companies carry them, and which do not.