Seeds labeled GMO—the acronym for “genetically modified organism”—result from one of the industry’s most controversial practices. GMO seeds are bred not in a garden but in a laboratory using modern biotechnology techniques like gene splicing. Scientists modify a seed’s DNA to ensure the resulting plant produces desired characteristics. Seed Savers Exchange does not produce or sell GMO seeds.
Non-GMO seeds are cultivated through pollination. They can be bred two different ways: as hybrid seeds or as open-pollinated seeds. The term “hybrid” refers to a plant variety developed through a specific, carefully controlled cross-pollination of two different parent plants to produce new traits that can’t be created by inbreeding two of the same plants. Hybrid varieties—also called F1 or “first-filial” hybrids—produce seeds that are not “true to type,” meaning that they do not conform to the known characteristics of a given plant variety.
Open-pollinated seeds, by contrast, are produced from random pollination by wind, birds, insects, or other natural means. Gardeners who save seeds from open-pollinated plants can keep them genetically pure by isolating the plants from the pollen of other plants. They then save seeds from those plants to grow out the following season, confident that the seeds will possess the same characteristics as the parent plant, or grow “true to type.” Seed Savers Exchange both saves and sells open-pollinated seeds, many of which are heirloom seeds that have been passed down through many generations.