The Difference Between Open Pollinated, Hybrid and GMO Seeds

GMO plants in test tubes and beakers

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It is common for people who support (or know little about) genetically modified foods (GMOs) to argue something along the lines of, “What’s the big deal? Humans have been genetically modifying plants for thousands of years.”

Unfortunately, this claim can only be made by someone who either doesn’t understand seed breeding, or who is outright trying to deceive you. Here’s why.

Today, seeds are bred in only one of three ways: 1) in an open pollinated environment, 2) through a hybrid cross, and 3) through direct DNA modification in a lab. Let’s look at each, one at a time…

What are Open Pollinated Seeds?

Open pollinated (OP) seeds are seeds that are produced from cross-pollinating two of the same variety of plant, usually by wind, birds or insects, resulting in plants that are very similar, but naturally varied.

Open pollinated seed saving is the oldest of the three methods of producing seed. Gardeners and farmers have been carefully isolating, selecting and replanting open pollinated seed varieties that have beneficial traits (like drought tolerance or good flavor) for as long as we have been doing agriculture.

All heirloom seeds are open pollinated, and they can be saved and passed from generation to generation.

When a gardener or seed breeder raises open pollinated plants, she has to keep pollen from other related varieties from entering the patch (generally accomplished with distance from the other variety).

If successful at keeping the open pollinated variety isolated, she or he will be able to select and save seeds from the very best plants in the patch, and trust that they will grow out next season with largely the same characteristics as their parent plant.

This is how most of the sweet, juicy, large fruits and vegetables we enjoy today (like corn, potatoes and squash) were improved and selected over many generations from their bitter, small, barely edible ancestors.

What are Hybrid Seeds?

Open Pollinated Seeds Vs Hybrids

The term “hybrid,” which you’ll often see in seed catalogs, refers to a plant variety developed through a specific, controlled cross of two parent plants.

Hybrids are often spontaneously and randomly created in nature when open-pollinated plants naturally cross-pollinate with other related varieties. For creating hybrid seeds, plant breeders just direct the process to control the outcome.

The advantage of growing hybrid seed compared to inbred, open-pollinated lines comes from the ability to cross the genetic materials of two different, but related plants to produce new, desirable traits that can’t be produced through breeding two of the same plants.

For example, many of today’s livestock and companion animals were created through crossing different breeds to create what are essentially hybrids—from beefalo to mules to the Labradoodle!

A whole new world of food crops became available as a result of hybridization, including Canola, grapefruit, sweet corn, canteloupes, seedless watermelons, “burpless” cucumbers, as well as tangelos, clementines, apriums, pluots and other unique foods.

In fact, in addition to edible novelties, today’s methods of hybridization are helping us breed all sorts of drought and pest tolerant plants that are helping us survive and adapt to a changing climate.

Hybrids have another advantage too. Developing a non-hybrid, open-pollinated variety using classic plant-inbreeding methods can take six to ten generations. That’s a lot of time!

Mendel Box demonstrating genetic traits of pea plants

However, building off of the method of controlled genetic crossing devised by Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century (Remember those Mendel Box genetic tables from high school biology?), plant breeders can now produce hybrid seed that combines the desired traits of two pure parent lines in the first generation.

The oldest and simplest form of plant hybridization is corn detasseling. In this method, three rows of the father breed of corn are planted, and then one row of the mother, and over and over. The mother rows are detasseled (have their pollen removed) ensuring that any pollen they receive comes only from the father rows. The mother’s seeds can then be harvested as what is known as an F1 (first generation) hybrid.

Most hybrid seeds today are created in this low-tech, low-cost way, usually under row covers in isolated fields or in greenhouses. Some hybrids are created in labs using high-tech DNA manipulation methods as well.

There is another major distinction between open pollinated and hybrid seeds: If you grow out an open pollinated seed variety, keep it well isolated, and save it for seed, you will get offspring that are very similar to the parents. But, if you purchase an F1 hybrid and you save it for seed, and then attempt to grow it out, the next generation (F2) will be a very random mix of the parents DNA, and all the plants will be wildly different.

This means you can save open pollinated seeds, adapt them for your area over many growing seasons, and enjoy caring for the plants through their entire life cycle as they produce for you from generation to generation. But, if you grow an F1 hybrid seed and you like it, you must go back to the source you got it from if you wish to grow it out again.

Big seed companies like F1 hybrids because the process gives them proprietary ownership of each new variety. And because seed from F1 hybrid plants won’t produce uniform offspring, gardeners must purchase new seeds each year.

A Brief History of Hybrid Seeds

Hybrid seeds offer many benefits to U.S. and European farmers who have the money to buy them year after year, including greater yield, improved pest resistance, and more. However, the widespread introduction of hybrid seeds has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for developing countries.

Launched in the 1960s, the Green Revolution aimed to increase grain yields worldwide by promoting the use of hybrid seed varieties that could be densely planted and required irrigation, mechanization and the heavy application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to get higher yields.

The underlying objective of the Green Revolution was to increase farm productivity in countries perceived to be susceptible to communism because of rural poverty and hunger. But rather than raising production by alleviating the highly unequal land ownership in these countries, the Green Revolution favored technological fixes.

To accomplish this agenda, the U.S. government promised countries like India and Mexico that the “new miracle seeds” would produce more food and lift their farming peasants out of poverty. U.S. agricultural and chemical companies even gave away free bags of hybrid seed and fertilizer to entice small subsistence farmers to try them.

Unfortunately it was all a dirty trick.

When the peasant farmers grew these new hybrids, they were indeed more productive, even though they required more fertilizer and water to grow. But when they collected and saved the seed for replanting the next season—as they had done for generations and generations—none of it grew true to the parent crop, little food grew, and these poor farmers, having none of their open-pollinated traditional varieties left viable, had no choice but to go back to the big companies to purchase the hybrid seeds again for planting year after year.

U.S. companies like Cargill intentionally disrupted the traditional cycle of open-pollinated seed saving and self-sufficiency to essentially force entire nations to purchase their seeds, and the agricultural chemicals required to grow them.

Most of these poor subsistence farmers never had to pay for seed before, and could not afford the new hybrid seeds, or the new petrochemical fertilizers they required, and were forced to sell their farms and migrate to the cities for work. This massive displacement of people from the land to the city is how the massive, infamous slums of India, Latin America, and other developing countries were created.

Many other farmers committed suicide, having lost everything they had, including the very means to feed themselves and their families. And once those farmers sold or abandoned their land, guess who bought it all up? That’s right. Agribusiness.

Hybrid seeds were the seminal foundation of corporate-controlled, industrial, petrochemical-dependent monocultures.

By the 1990s an estimated 95% of all farmers in developed countries and 40% of all farmers in the developing countries were using Green Revolution hybrid seeds, with the greatest use found in Asia, followed by Mexico and Latin America.

The world lost an estimated 75 percent of its food biodiversity, and control over seeds shifted from farming communities to a handful of multinational corporations.

What are Genetically Engineered Seeds?

Hybrid Seeds Vs GMOs

In both open-pollinated and hybrid seeds, we have always been breeding crops that were genetically able to reproduce, like two types of stone fruit, or two varieties of squash, or two breeds of dog.

But today, with sophisticated and expensive lab techniques (like retroviruses and gene guns), we can now manipulate and combine the DNA of species that could never, ever breed in nature—like fish and tomatoes, Brazil nuts and soybeans, or bacteria and corn.

We can even genetically engineer cows to produce human breast milk!

Combining or splicing together genes from different organisms in the lab (without actually sexually breeding them) is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified (GM or GMO),” “genetically engineered (GE),” or “transgenic.”

GMO corn developed by Monsanto, for example, includes genetic material from the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills European corn borers by punching holes in their gut lining. This means that every single cell of the GMO corn plant contains the DNA of a bacteria that damages the digestive tract of whatever eats it. And because it is engineered into every cell of the corn plant, it doesn’t wash off.

Though biotech companies swore that Bt always breaks down during digestion, Bt has been found in the gut lining and bloodstream of humans.

RoundUp-Ready crops are plants that have had their DNA manipulated with bacterial genes to withstand heavy, repeated applications of the herbicide RoundUp, also called glyphosate.

While Bayer-Monsanto swore that glyphosate (Round-up) was safe to eat and couldn’t get into ground water supplies, it is now listed as a probable carcinogen, and found in the waterways and groundwater in every country where it is sprayed, often at levels higher than allowed in drinking water.

Glyphosate can also be found in the urine and blood of people worldwide, and is implicated in the epidemic of birth defects in Argentina.

While, like all technologies, there is potential for recombinant DNA technology to do good (GMO papaya or GMO insulin, for example), the vast majority of GMO crops have been created solely to prop up corporate-controlled, industrial agriculture, force farmers to buy patented seed year after year, and promote dependence upon toxic chemicals like glyphosate (RoundUp).

Whatever you believe, don’t believe for one second that transgenic GM crops are anything like other forms of seed breeding. Genetically modified foods have no precedent in nature. Only GMO crops cross the species barrier, making them the biggest ecological experiment ever conducted on the planet.

A Brief History of GMOs

seed industry structure infographic
Click to enlarge

Between 1997 and 1999, genetically-modified (GM) ingredients suddenly appeared in about two-thirds of all U.S. processed foods. This change to our food supply was fueled by a single Supreme Court ruling. It allowed, for the first time, the patenting of life forms for commercial profit. Since then, thousands of applications for experimental GM organisms have been filed with the U.S. Patent Office alone, and many more abroad.

The first commercially grown genetically modified whole food crop was the Flavr Savr tomato, which was made more resistant to rotting by Californian company Calgene (later bought by Monsanto). The tomatoes were released into the market in 1994 without any special labeling.

Later GM crops included insect resistant Bt cotton and herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready soybeans, both of which were commercially available in 1996.

Between 1995 and 2005, the total surface area of land cultivated with GMOs had increased by a factor of 50, from 17,000 km² (4.2 million acres) to 900,000 km² (222 million acres), of which 55 percent were planted in Brazil, mostly on land that had been tropical rainforest.

By 2006, 89% of all U.S. soybeans, 83% of cotton, and 61% of corn were genetically modified varieties. Today in 2013, U.S. farmers can barely even find non-GMO corn, soy or cotton seed anymore, unless they buy certified organic seed.

For crops like corn, canola and alfalfa, wind can easily carry the pollen from GMO varieties quite far to contaminate non-GMO and even organically grown varieties on neighboring farms. And there is no mandatory labeling of GM content in seed.
[clickToTweet tweet=”It is estimated that over 85% of all the food on supermarket shelves contains GMO ingredients. Click to learn more… ” quote=”It is estimated that over 85% of all the food on supermarket shelves contains GMO ingredients. “]

Monsanto’s Dirty Little Secret

In 2005, Monsanto grabbed 40% of the U.S. seed market and 20% of the global seed market when it bought out Seminis, making them the largest seed company in the world. This purchase gave them control over the genetics for 55% of the lettuce on U.S. supermarket shelves, 75% of the tomatoes, and 85% of the peppers, with strong holdings in beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, broccoli, cabbage, spinach and peas!

One of the main reasons that Monsanto and other biotech companies have bought up so many seed companies is to use the germplasm (DNA) of those non-GMO varieties in their future GMO products.

You see, the dirty little secret of the GMO industry is that most of the traits that they brag about trying to create (like drought tolerance, greater nutrition, etc.) are actually the product of traditional breeding.

By buying up all the seed companies, Monsanto can literally steal the work done by thousands of gardeners and farmers over generations to produce quality hybrid varieties with beneficial growing traits. Then they can slip a “Round-Up Ready” or other proprietary gene into it and call it their “own”, and sell it with patent restrictions.

This is not a company any gardener would want to support.

Why GMOs Are Unsustainable

[clickToTweet tweet=”Most seeds are created through guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are the product of species-crossing methods used to create untested organisms that would never occur in nature. Click to learn more…” quote=”Most seeds are created through guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are the product of species-crossing methods used to create untested organisms that would never occur in nature.”]
Like open pollinated seeds, many GM seed varieties can be saved and expected to produce uniform offspring the following season. But GM seed cannot be saved because all GMO seeds are patented. It is actually illegal to save GMO seed.

You see, GMOs are so expensive to produce (thousands of times more expensive than hybrids or other publicly bred seeds), without patents, biotech companies couldn’t make their money back, much less hold the world hostage to their product monopoly.

Subsistence farmers in developing countries, just like during the Green Revolution, are even worse off—now more dependent than ever on having to purchase seeds year after year—and the chemicals that go with them. That is, if the effort hasn’t already impoverished them off their land in the process.

Biotech companies are so rabid about protecting their patents that many U.S. farmers have been sued by Monsanto when GMO crops were found illegally planted on their fields.

Unfortunately, many of these farmers did not intentionally plant the patented seed; rather, the GMO pollen drifted onto their property via wind or insects, and contaminated their non-GMO crops. This didn’t stop Monsanto from winning their cases against them though, and shutting those farmers down.

Pollen contamination has also affected U.S. wheat and alfalfa exports, and crops that farmers did not know were contaminated have been turned away by countries that do not allow GMOs in their food. This has cost farmers a pretty penny, for sure!

Lastly, and perhaps most gravely of all, because of pollen drift and genetic contamination, we are starting to permanently lose food biodiversity. Control over seeds and the very ability to produce food at all continues to concentrate even further into the hands of just a few multinational corporations.

Notice a theme here?

Every time big chemical companies get involved in agriculture, none of their efforts are to grow food in a healthy, natural or sustainable way. Everything they create is meant to destroy regional food systems and local self-reliance, and foster dependence on expensive technologies, purchased seeds, and more use of chemicals and drugs.

With GM techniques, we can grow rice that contains pharmaceutical drugs in every cell of the plant, we can grow soy and corn that can survive gallons of toxic chemicals dumped on it, and we can force cows to produce twice as much milk as they were ever meant to, requiring widespread use of antibiotics to deal with udder infections.

Sadly, as if we learned nothing from history at all, Bill Gates wants to export patented GMO seeds to Africa as the next big Green Revolution—this time to supposedly lift African subsistence farmers out of poverty.

Related: Can Organic Farming Feed the World?

Why We Are All Guinea Pigs for GMOs

So far, mostly commodity crops with GM traits—such as Canola, corn, soy, cotton, alfalfa and sugar beets—have been approved by the USDA for use, primarily in processed foods and animal feeds. The exceptions are rBGH-treated milk, and GMO papaya, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, some sweet corn, and one variety of apple, which are available—without labels—at your grocery store.

It is estimated that over 85% of all the food on supermarket shelves contains GMO ingredients.

The trouble is that nobody knows how these unnatural, new organisms will behave over the long run. The seed companies that develop these varieties claim intellectual property rights so that only they can create and sell the variety. In most cases, biotech companies refuse to allow independent scientists to obtain and study their GM seeds.

And the USDA doesn’t test them either before approval; they rely solely on the self-testing done by the biotech companies themselves.

Nevertheless, many independent scientists worldwide are studying GMO crops, and the mounting evidence against many GMO crops (especially the ones requiring the use of glyphosate) is looking grim.

From the development of allergies, tumors and reproductive disorders in lab animals, livestock and possibly humans, to the destruction of beneficial soil organisms and good soil structure that make it possible to grow food; from the creation of Superweeds and Superpests, to the dozens of peer-reviewed studies proving the toxic effects of RoundUp (glyphosate) on human health, most GMO crops are looking far worse for ecological and human health than we ever imagined.

So, if anyone ever tries to convince you that hybrid seeds and GMOs are the same thing, or that genetic modification technology is “just another” form of seed breeding, you will know the truth: Most seeds are created through guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are the product of high-tech, species-crossing methods used to create untested organisms that would never occur in nature.

While it is possible to use genetic engineering technology in the public interest (with the precautionary principle applied), the majority of GMO crops available today were created by chemical and pharmaceutical companies to create profit and dependency at the expense of people and planet.

65 thoughts on “The Difference Between Open Pollinated, Hybrid and GMO Seeds”

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  1. Wow! thank you.
    I might actually do the rebellious organic garden this year on what should be lawn ! It is going to take a GIANT footprint of pebble gardens to dent the likes of Pfizer and the greedy nationals at the grocery store..

  2. I understand that when an existing conventional farming operation converts to organic that the yields drop off dramatically (as much as 50%) since synthetic fertilizer is no longer used their production of the converted organic acres. If this is true, how could 100% organic farming be sustainable and continue to feed everyone?

    1. Yields can drop in the first year of a typical 3-year organic conversion, because the soil ecosystem needs time to repair, recover and establish organic fertility supplied by manure, additives like blood meal and green cover crops like legumes. But once the soil microbiota is restored and organic, holistic systems of soil management are in place, organic farms can be as productive as industrial farms, and in some cases, even more so. Here’s more info.

    1. Disease or insect resistance; better yield; less need for inputs; unique cultivars with interesting flavors, colors, flowers or growth habits; special traits like seedless watermelons, burpless cucumbers or thornless blackberries… There are many good reasons for buying a hybrid, and they tend to cost only pennies more, if there is any mark-up at all over non-hybrids. It all depends on what the traits the hybrid was bred for, and what you are looking for in a plant.

  3. Dear Mrs., thank you for your article. What do you think about the in vitro cultivation of plants (plant cloning) as a technique to supply seedlings for small-scale agriculture?

    1. Low tech propagation methods such as dividing, transplanting runners or stolons, rooted cuttings, grafting, etc. are great ways to propagate plants. What we don’t need are high-tech, expensive, patented cloning processes that make food less accessible to people who want to grow and eat it.

  4. Thank you so much for this article that opens one’s eyes to the terrible crime perpetrated upon humanity by chemical, pharma and gmo companies, in cahoots with financial speculators who fund these companies and politicians who protect them.

    Based on articles like yours and others, it is apparent that we, the children of the only planet that supports life, are in a death spiral. Even children of the super rich executives of these companies ( who probably eat only pure organic seed based food from their personal organic seed banks) won’t be able to survive when their market (we) are finished off gradually. Maybe they will attempt to create gm humans to support their lust for riches.

    The earth will have the last laugh when humanity finally extincts itself through science, greed and a combination of the two.

  5. Dr. Sher Aslam

    Honorable Madam,

    Your efforts in seed sector are really praiseworthy. you mentioned about your health, may you have best of heath every movement of your life.


  6. After crossing between two parent plant (same species but different variety), we get F1 generation. This F1 generation is known as hybrid. The F1 hybrid is a variety that has been produced by the carefully controlled cross breeding of two parent plants specially chosen for their different desirable qualities such as plant type, disease resistance, uniformity, crop yield, unique color and so on.

  7. Jeff Kirkpatrick

    Very good article. The pro-GMO advocate trolls always declare, “We have been eating GMOs for 10,000 years” and similar statements. Utter crap. I always respond with a list of definitions of GMO, starting with none other than the one from the beast itself:

    As defined by Monsanto. “Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism the genetics of which have been altered through the use of modern biotechnology to create a novel combination of genetic material. GMOs may be the source of genetically modified food ingredients and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.” Typically, that is what people are referring to when they use the term GMO on these pages.
    Then I usually list a few more similar definitions from other biotech companies. I mean, hey, they love those biotech companies so much, they ought to accept the reality of what a GMO is.
    Then I usually follow that up with a definition of what hybridization is from the site “Science Daily.” Now I am even more inspired by your article.

    One technical glitch: I tried to print out each section, but each time, no matter how I tried it, the first section was the only one that would print. Strange.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, Monsanto is owned by Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, which says a lot about their agenda. They are trying to breed food that contains vaccines and other drugs, and there are many vaccines and other drugs currently on the market already contain GMOs.

      I’m not sure all of this is totally bad. For example GMO insulin has been a revolution for people with Type 1 diabetes, and GMO papaya has saved the papaya from virtual extinction. (Note that neither of these products were developed by biotech companies, rather they were developed by universities.) However, I think informed consent via labeling and proper application of the technology is key here: For example, there is no need for current GMO crops that are pesticide resistant or contain pesticides, knowing what we know about farm ecosystems, climate change, and human health. A GMO created just to sell more drugs and chemicals is a bane on the earth, IMO.

      I’m not sure why you’re having trouble with printing. Maybe try printing from the menu bar of your browser, rather than the print button on the page?

      1. “Sadly, as if we learned nothing from history at all, Bill Gates wants to export patented GMO seeds to Africa as the next big Green Revolution—this time to supposedly lift African subsistence farmers out of poverty.

        And all of this we call “Progress”!?!”

        It is progress. Convoluted progress. GMO does not equal evil, if you can make a more resilient corn crop that has no other drawbacks why wouldnt you? It seems like the political, and business side of the practice causes the problems, rather than the scientific aspect of the modifications.

        1. Dawn Gifford

          No, not all GMOs are evil (GMO insulin, for example, saves lives), but the ones Monsanto keeps making are made solely to increase sales of their chemicals, which are highly toxic and linked to cancer and other health problems. So far, GMOs have not provided greater resiliency to crops; traditional breeding has done that. The dirty little secret about Monsanto is that they are using the work of farmers who did regular breeding to get good crop results, and then slipping in a proprietary “Round-up-ready” or BT gene to get the patent on that seed.

  8. “we have always been breeding crops that were genetically able to breed, like two types of stone fruit, or two varieties of squash, or two breeds of dog.”

    Actually, plants can be hybridized to a much larger degree than most animals can. You can even create a new hybrid species in a single generation, that’s unknown to happen with animals. I don’t know if there are instances of such species being grops grown for food, but that wouldn’t be a problem by itself. Nor are GMOs not being restricted by ontologic compabitiliy of somewhat closely related lineages, allowing to insert or remove specific genes. It’s certainly not more “playing God” than making Chihuahuas and Saint Bernards from wolves, and even probably of more benefit to humankind, on the whole, specially considering toy breeds with tendencies to have genetic problems. Not more “playing God” than having slowly engineered lineages only from the genes that were available within that lineage and closely related ones, through selective breeding — that’s where vitually 100% of our food comes from, not wild/God-given natural species. Not more “playing God” than building houses, having agriculture, and cooking food, either. But, who knows, maybe we should go back to caves and eat everything raw, like God really wanted us to. And just wild variations. Maybe even worms and other parasites are good for you, God wouldn’t have made them otherwise… we shouldn’t play God trying to get rid of them.

    1. Interesting point of view. There are many who believe that our hubris (or playing God) is the reason we are in such dire straits as a species, with mass extinctions, massive resource depletion, scarce water, climate change, overpopulation and the like. Maybe something needs to change about “playing God” before its too late for humans. What else is possible?

      1. I’m glad I found your site. I totally believe our bad health is a result of GMO products. Do you think that GMO is responsible for the decline of honey bees?

  9. Nice article. It’s too bad that using open-pollinated seed is becoming more precarious as time goes by, and we (human family) lose biodiversity as well. GMO promoters make it out to be a time-saving process of breeding, but in practice, many researchers skip all related species and put a gene from an animal into a plant. For example, lytic protein gene (for fireblight resistance) in apple and pear (1990s), as if they are naive to the fact that fireblight resistance/susceptibility is a polygenic trait.

    1. Thank you for the comment. The lab techniques we have for hybridization are quite rapid now, so it is a myth we need GM for speed. What GMOs are, more than any other type of seed breeding, are EXPENSIVE. They use the expense an excuse for patents that keep the technology secret and the profits coming back to the biotech company, just as they do with pharmaceuticals.

  10. Thank you for the great info. I was buying vegetable plants and some were marked “hybrid”. I ask a worker what the difference was between hybrid and GMO and she said they were the same. I chose heirloom varieties. I’m glad I researched and found this site. I feel like going back to inform her. I will return to the article and research some links. I feel like the more knowledge I get, the more conspiracies I find. More people need to be aware. Thanks again!

  11. A good article. Thanks for taking the time to do the research!! IMHO there is a place for gmos such as cotton and ethanol production but when it comes to food production where nutritional quality and density are foundational factors we need to stick with open-pollinated/heirloom varieties that have been adapted to local environmental conditions. Bottom line is that gmos don’t belong in the food system. Have you done any research on Biophotons? Fritz Popp of Germany developed a machine that measures the coherency of light contained within biological organisms and can determine which plants grew in the wild, which were grown organically, which were grown commercially, which were grown hydroponically and which are gmos with wild foods being the most coherent and gmos the least coherent. Pretty interesting stuff 😉 I have a book that is written in German that I haven’t had translated yet but hope to in the near future – it’s called “The Message of Food” (Die Botschaft der Nahrung). Biophotonic research is a huge game changer in Western understanding about the processes of Life as it opens up a scientific doorway into many of the eastern philosophies. Anyway – thanks again for the great article.

  12. We would love to feature this article on our blog to share this great information with our readership. May we have your permission to do so? Thank you.

    1. Yes, you may excerpt the first few paragraphs and link back to the original article. Thank you for asking!!

      1. can u explain Open-pollinated Varieties for me the exact meaning of this in 1 or 2 sentence .thank you . i am waiting for your answer .

        1. From the first paragraph of the article: “Open pollinated (OP) seeds are seeds that are produced from natural, random, open pollination by wind, birds or insects, resulting in plants that are naturally varied.”

  13. Thank you for well written information on open pollinated, hybrid and GMO seeds. This year our topic of discussion is GMO seeds. I am a Maasai living in Germany active in a Evangelical church.

    1. Nearly all synthetic nitrogen fertilizer (upon which all industrial agriculture currently depends) is made using the Haber-Bosch process which uses natural gas (petrochemical) for the hydrogen and nitrogen gas from the air at an elevated temperature and pressure in the presence of a catalyst to form ammonia (NH3) as the end product.

      There are HUGE sustainability and environmental health problems with this, the least of which is dependence on natural gas and fracking to create this fertilizer. You can read more about this big problem here.

      1. Thank you for the information your article provided in easy-to-understand language. I have had a hard time understanding the differences between seed types. If I wanted to use a non petrochemical fertilizer (besides manure), is there a brand or chemical signature I can look for? Plants often need a boost, but not at the expense of the environment! Thanks!

        1. Look for a fertilizer that is either labeled for use in organic gardens, or that contains only organic or natural ingredients like bone meal, blood meal, kelp or seaweed, bat guano, fish emulsion, etc. Choose what you need based on the fertility needs of your garden, determined by a simple home NPK test, and the types of plants you are growing. That way you can provide just what the garden needs.

          Organic fertilizers sometimes take longer to work in the soil than chemical fertilizers, so make sure to apply them early.

  14. Madhav M. Patil

    What an excellently methodically written article. I would simply say “A MUST READ” topic for all Farmers & people engaged in Food industry. I came across it while studying about types of seeds. I knew superficially about the differences but was not absolutely sure about it. I’m an Indian Merchant Navy Officer cum Farmer cultivating ancestral land. I would highly recommend & pass on the information to as many people as is possible.

  15. The dirty little secret of GMOs is that every beneficial trait they have to date for drought tolerance, etc. comes from traditional breeding. Then they add a proprietary gene to the seed to make it patentable. It is actually substantially cheaper and more beneficial for farmers to select seeds from open pollinated varieties that are locally adapted to the bioregion. Even hybrids are faster and cheaper to produce, though farmers can’t locally adapt those in the same way.

    GMOs have not been adequately tested for safety on humans, so it remains to be seen whether or not they are safe. Whenever you cross the species barrier and combine things that could not naturally combine, you incur risk. And to date, that risk has meant superweeds, superpests, soil biota destruction, harm to pollinators, and more.

    We don’t need expensive GMO technology to feed people. Here’s an alternative view of how smallholders can provide food using methods that are attuned to nature and even more productive than GMOs: Can Organic Farming “Feed the World”?

  16. Joshua Aijuka

    Thank you very much for this well written post, just came across it today and was glad I did, I’m a Ugandan and the GMO debate is top on the agenda. Several GMO crops have been undergoing confined field trails and currently trying to pass a law that will see the GMOs released to the public. As civil society we have stood our position that we do not want these GMOs. The scientist have now resorted to labeling the Anti GMO activists as uninformed, claiming that there is not big difference between GMO and Hybrids, they are also claiming that these GMOs will not be patented and will be availed to farmers at a fair price as any other seeds on the market. One even noted that GMOs can be grown using organic means. They claim that GMOs are the solution to the changing climate since they are more superior and can even be grown in arid conditions. what is your take on this?

  17. Gail @

    Thank you. This is the most thorough explanation I’ve read about GMOs. Maybe I missed it when I read it, but I’m confused about canola.
    Some things I read say it is hybrid and some say it is GMO.
    I am trying to rid my cupboards/meals of GMO, but I notice that tons of things in Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are made with canola oil.
    I thought I read that canola is a name made up for a GMO product made from rapeseed. Is it safe if it’s organic?
    I really would appreciate your wisdom on this.

    1. Canola is both a hybrid and a GMO. First it was hybridized to be edible to humans. Later it was made into a Round-Up Ready GMO crop. This means you can find organic Canola oil that is non-GMO. However Canola oil is bad for you whether it is organic or GMO, because it is a highly processed product that is high in inflammatory PUFAs, often rancid, and has been found to deplete Vitamin E in the body.

    2. Gail @

      Thanks so much. I appreciate your information and checked out the canola article you linked. I used your search tool and typed in “canola” before asking my question, but it said there were no entries. Actually, I’ve searched several other things as well without success. Do you have an archive? Thanks.

  18. I have written extensively on GMOs here, here, here, and here. You will find ample sources in all the articles.

    Given how many studies have pointed to harm or the potential for harm from many GMOs, either to humans, pollinating insects, soil biota or ecosystems, the precautionary principle should apply. The fact that biotech companies won’t even allow long term INDEPENDENT studies rings alarm bells for everyone, which is part of why so many countries are restricting or banning these crops.

    GM insulin (for example) is very different than a GM crop. GM crops are set upon the wild where they can cross pollinate with wild species (creating superweeds) as well as contaminate non-GMO seedstock, destroying biodiversity. And almost all GM crops to date require heavy application of glyphosate, which is a known human toxin, as well as a destroyer of soil tilth and soil biota. Glyphosate is also largely responsible for GM crops being significantly lower in nutrition than their conventional counterparts. (Glyphosate kills by chelating minerals, making them unavailable to weeds and other organisms that need them.)

    GM crops are also created using viruses and bacteria that “infect” the host cell, allowing foreign DNA to enter it. These viruses and bacteria have been shown to jump the species barrier, and can be found in the gut bacteria of animals and humans alike, possibly contributing to the epidemic of gut dysbiosis, food allergies and malnutrition.

    GM crops that contain BT are contributing to superpests, as well as having a devastating effect on beneficial insect populations. Ingesting BT in GMO crops has also been implicated in gut dysbiosis. And given that GM crops have lower yield and lower nutrition than conventional, all around, GM crops have been a big expensive debacle so far with as yet untold consequences. Not an experiment I want to gamble on, especially when there are so many better options. 🙂

  19. This is well thought out and written clearly, but I would like to see your sources. Ingesting a modified food does not necessarily mean that the food will modify anything in our bodies in a negative way. It is important that people understand that allowing for two species of crop to interbreed so we can select for a certain trait is no different than putting the genes responsible for that trait into the plants ourselves in a lab. Also, using your example, fish and tomatoes are both safe to eat. Crossing the two (rather, taking a small part of DNA from one and putting it into another) will not result in an unsafe food by itself. The processes involved to do the cross may be unsafe, or maybe the chemicals needed to treat the resultant crop will be unsafe, but the act of the genetic modification ITSELF is not necessarily unsafe. It is healthy to have a distrust of major corporations (especially Monsanto, which is evil), but academic scientists (i.e. ones who are not profiting from their findings) are generally on our side. They have done extensive research that has been published in peer reviewed journals, and have not found CONCLUSIVE evidence to suggest the actual GMO’s are harmful.

    ***** I understand that you are addressing the more important issue, which is that the PRACTICE of developing and using GMO’s are harmful to third world farmers (unfair and dishonest prices, etc), the environment (harsh pesticides, antibiotics needed), and the economy (allowing big corporations to monopolize seed production). I agree wholeheartedly with you in those areas. I just felt the need to stand up for genetic engineering and point out that the simple act of putting DNA from one thing into another isn’t inherently bad. 🙂 It has given us treatments for cancer, diabetes, and infertility, just to name a few.

    “Response to issues on GM agriculture in Africa: Are transgenic crops safe?”

    “Genetically modified plants for food use and human health—an update”

    “[Genetically modified food–unnecessary controversy?]”

  20. This is really good info on GMO’s! Everyone concerned about the poisones food we are eating NEED to read this. Thanks, Dawn

  21. Gabriela Longley

    Thank you for this! It’s well written, easy to understand. I have no problem absorbing this knowledge for myself, explaining it is another matter. Shared on Twitter, and emailed a link to my mother-in-law. I am an organic herbalist and I struggle at effectively communicating this to my clients, many of whom are hearing about GMOs for the first time. Do you mind if I link to this page from my website?

    1. Not at all, as long as you don’t excerpt more than a paragraph or so. I’m glad to help spread good information and dispel myths about GMOs.

  22. WOW!! I wonder if there is any link between GMOs and cancer!?! It wouldn’t surprise me if it is very direct. Dawn, thank you for an article that was very thorough and enjoyable to read!

  23. Very good post for those who want to know! (I do!) Sharing it on FB for my friends to see what I am always yelling about!! Thanks for sharing this with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday! Hope to see you again today!

    1. If you mean on the side of environmental sustainability, small farmers and poor people everywhere, then indeed, I admit, I am very one sided. 🙂

  24. annie @ montanasolarcreations

    Wow, what an awesome post! This was so informative- thank you for sharing at Simply Natural Saturdays!

  25. I’m featuring your post on The HomeAcre Hop! Thanks for sharing!

  26. Rebecca @ Natural Mothers Network

    Until now my knowledge on the subject has lacked sufficient clarity. After reading this illuminating post I’m now aware of just what ‘s at stake. Thank you Dawn, thank you!

  27. Things definitely get messed up when people try to play God. I wish people wouldn’t have messed things up so much for everyone in such areas as those you listed…
    Thanks for sharing this information at A Humble Bumble!

  28. A very thorough explanation! Love it! Thanks so much for sharing on The HomeAcre Hop! Hope to see you next time at:

  29. This was wonderfully written! I think a lot of people don’t understand the differences between seeds, and don’t realize how harmful GMO seeds actually are. Thank you for sharing this! I will definitely be pinning it!

  30. kristy @ Gastronomical Sovereignty

    Well said!

    thank you for sharing with us at the wednesday fresh foods link up! i hope to see you again this week with more seasonal & real/whole food posts! xo, kristy.

  31. Thank you SO much for this! I started working at a dairy about a year ago. I’ve had a couple conversations with my boss about GMO corn and what-not and he’s always told me that it was just like they’ve been doing for years! I knew that wasn’t true but I didn’t know the differences enough to tell him what they were. Thank you again, now I can tell him the differences!

  32. Thank you so much. I have been trying to understand all this for quite sometime but needless to say, it can get a bit convoluted out there. This was so concise, clear, and well-written, that I finally get it now! I will be sharing this.

  33. I was so glad to see this post on your green resource this morning because I’ve been wanting a concise article to direct others to that explains OP, Hybrid, & GMO seeds in a brief understand able way. And that covers the dangers of GMO seeds and foods. Thanks so much, I will definitely be sharing!

    1. Benji
      Its a great info Dawn. As an aspiring seed technologist i wonder how the world would grant the use of gmos without testing and certification, one of the basic quality assurance procedures in the seed sector. Is ISTA aware?



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