Protecting Organic Seed Integrity
The Organic Farmer’s Handbook to Genetically Engineered (GE) Avoidance and Testing
Organic seed production is especially vulnerable to transgenic (GE) contamination and is also a
crucial link to reducing contamination. Organic seed, by definition, is free of genetically
engineered organisms, also known as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If organic crops
are grown with contaminated seed they will inevitably yield a contaminated crop, which is
Maintaining the integrity of organic seeds is of the highest priority to organic farmers.
Compromised organic seed integrity could have broad impacts on the viability of organic farms
and the credibility of organic products. Organic farmers may also be at risk for patent litigation
in the face of contamination. Under this project, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association has produced a manual entitled Protecting Organic Seed Integrity: The Organic Farmer's Handbook to GE Avoidance and Testing, to provide best practices to avoid genetic contamination and serve as a tool to help farmers, seed handlers, and seed companies to maintain genetic purity in organic seed and food
The Handbook offers guidance on seed contamination avoidance for the crops that are at risk due to the existence of USDA-approved GE counterparts that are currently in commercial
production: corn, soy, cotton, alfalfa, papaya, canola (Brassica rapa), sugarbeet, and squash
(Cucurbita pepo). Crop-specific testing protocols have also been assessed to enable early
identification of contaminated seed lots and prevent further dispersal through trade channels.
The recommendations for avoidance and testing have been synthesized through an assessment of
international literature, as well as solicited input from organic farmers, seed company
professionals, and seed breeders familiar with isolation and purity concerns, along with
implementation constraints in the field. Through this analysis, avoidance strategies and testing
protocols are outlined based on both crop specifics and scale. While specifics are geared to crops currently at risk, the process for determining best management practices remains the same for
other crops and is helpful in assessing risk management for potential future GE releases, and
even the impact of GE field trials. The Organic Farmer's Handbook to GE Avoidance and
Testing also addresses economic burdens and liability concerns.
Surveys of organic farmers and the organic seed industry will follow the outreach campaign in
2014 to determine acceptance and adoption of recommended protocols within the organic