Keeping Tabs on Monsanto

Seed buying and seed starting season is upon us. It won’t be long now (let’s pretend, even though the snow outside says otherwise) before we’re happily knee-deep into the growing season.

Yesterday, I put out a call on Twitter for an online list or chart of garden companies (as well as makers of garden products) affiliated with Monsanto. Several people replied, hoping to find something similar that they can refer to when making seed and product purchases for their own gardens.

It’s time to have this talk, and even though I have brought it up here and there, I am remiss in having neglected to post about this until now. It seems like many of us are flailing around, trying to make heads or tails of who, what, and where is profiting on our excitement to grow our own food and flowers. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a more definitive list that covers affiliate companies in the garden product spectrum beyond seeds, but considering the way things are going, seeds are a great place to start and one in which our spending dollars can make an impact.

The following link goes to the Council for Responsible Genetics Safe Seed Resource List that includes all of the US and Canadian seed sellers that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge affirming their commitment to non-genetically modified seed. While you’re there, I would also urge you to read through the CRG’s FAQ that makes an argument for why we should care about genetically modified seed and buying GM-free in the first place.

I was also pointed to another page put together by a concerned gardener that includes a list of some known GM seed sellers to avoid, as well as links to additional articles around the issues with Monsanto.

I’d love to turn this page into a resource that we can all refer back to and am happy to add to it over time. If you know of any interesting articles, companies or products to be avoided, or have anything to add, please comment below.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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33 thoughts on “Keeping Tabs on Monsanto

  1. Thanks for the info. I usually buy from John Scheepers, Seed Savers, Baker Creek and Southern Exposure (didn’t see them on the list, I’ll have to investigate).

    Good job.

  2. I get emails from Food Democracy NOW!.org that are all about everything and anything about protecting the small farmer the seeds and animals they produce. Right now they running a campaign to keep GMO Alfalfa from being fed to food animals. We really don’t want this stuff planted in anyhow because it takes over regular alfalfa gene pool very quickly. I added my voice! I hope you guys will too :-)

  3. I’m pro-lists like this that help people make good choices when buying seeds, but at the same time I’m against the making of lists. It sounds crazy, I know. Mostly, it’s a trust issue- just because they’ve signed the pledge doesn’t mean much to me. Is there a way for us, the consumer, to track that the pledge is being enforced?

    Also, the lists can be out of date or wildly inaccurate, and there usually isn’t much critical thinking applied by the people who make them and post these online at places like forums and Facebook. I came across this issue last year when I blogged on the subject of how to avoid Monsanto when ordering seeds. Take the GoE list. It lists Seeds of Change as someone who hasn’t take the Safe Seed Pledge. But the SoC website has the SSP on it. Does this mean that SoC has taken the pledge? The SoC page about the SSP doesn’t state anything about where they stand on the pledge or whether they’ve signed onto it.

    You’ll also see that SoC is added to a lot of lists of seeds that are safe to buy. But, SoC is owned by Mars and they’re behind the mapping of the cocoa genome. In last year’s post on the subject I said that if I were the kind of gardener that wanted to avoid Monsanto, I’d probably want to avoid SoC too considering where Mars is going.

    Seed Savers Exchange brings up another dilemma. Is Kent Whealy right about Amy Goldman? Are the seeds deposited by her and SSE at Svalbard now in danger of falling into the hands of the likes of Monsanto? The official SSE position is that they aren’t. Maybe Kent getting ousted made him lose it, but what if he’s right? Again, if you’re the kind of gardener who is trying to avoid Monsanto, would buying from an organization who is being accused of making it easier for Monsato to get their hands on heirlooms, be the best choice?

    There’s one popular seed company that is listed as being “safe” on just about every list out there, they’ve even taken the SSP. Last year one of my friends Emailed to ask about the provenance of their heirloom tomatoes and the buyer emailed back saying he couldn’t answer the questions because the seeds come from wholesale brokers. Does that sound safe to anyone else?

    I don’t want to sound like an extremist, really I don’t, but there isn’t any real way to avoid this company unless you’ve grown and harvested the seed yourself. That being said, I’ll buy seeds from anyone who sells something I’m interested in growing. People should call up the seed company they’re interested in buying from an ask to speak to the owner and get answers straight from him/her. If the owners can’t make themselves available to answer a question or two about where their seeds come from, find another seed company.

  4. Mr. Brown Thumb: I’m glad you’ve added to this conversation because you make a lot of really important points. I know a seed company that is not on the Safe Pledge List yet I trust them unequivocally because I know them personally, know their ethics, and know where and how they produce their seed.

    And the stuff about Seed Savers is a huge question. I’ve followed that a tiny bit and I have to admit that while I used to buy their seeds more readily, I’ve pulled back and hesitated since.

    This is another reason why I love local events like the Seedy Saturday events we have across Canada. They give you the chance to talk face-to-face with local seed companies and growers.

    AND YES, grow and save your own!!!

  5. Gayla – thanks for posting this. Echoing what MBT said, there’s another seed company on the safe seed list that gets one of their tomato seeds from Seminis/Monsanto. This accidently came up during a conversation with them about where hybrids come from. Apparently this particular variety is popular with the home gardener and that’s the only place you can get it because they have some sort of patent on it. I guess it kind of means that, although they may not sell GM seeds, they may still get them (or some of them) from sources we wouldn’t approve of. When it comes right down to it, I think many seed companies today oursource the seed production, especially for hybrids, to countries that don’t pay the growers fair wages. It’s all a big mess.

  6. Gayla,

    Yup. The only way to avoid them completely is to grow and save your own. If that’s not an option for a newbie gardener, they may be better off getting seeds from a seed library or a local organization and building up their own collection.

    Gina brings up another good point. People who want to avoid Monsanto are probably doing so for ideological reasons. They probably believe in things like fair trade and human rights. I started to think about these issues, as they relate to seeds last year when I met Barbara Melera, owner of the D. Landreth Seed company. She mentioned that zinnias were once grown in Colorado, but production has now moved to the Middle East because of water rights issues.

    So, if you buy seeds produced in countries with shoddy human rights records, or where the growers may have ties to extremists groups and organizations, are we contributing to the problems of people who are worse off than we are by just buying a packet of seeds?

  7. Gina, I think you may be referring to Territorial Seed Co – there was a big flap about selling tomato seeds that they got from Seminis. Tom Johns, the owner of Territorial, is committed to seed diversity and non-GMO products, and has been finding replacements for the few seed strains that were from Seminis. I am HUGELY against Monsanto, but I felt good enough about Territorial’s policies and history of integrity that I use them as a resource and suggest them.
    I think Mr. Brown Thumb has an important point – we don’t know. I have accepted a certain level of ambiguity in this arena… it is unrealistic to think a company can be completely un-compromised, but we can do our best to find good sources for our seeds that match our ethics. Thanks for the post and the list – I will use it!
    And don’t leave the secret group- it’s more fun with you there!

  8. Great post and discussion. Of course, newbie gardeners have to start somewhere before saving their seeds. Let’s hope individual research shows that there are a few trustworthy companies out there.

  9. Thanks for this! I try my best to only by sustainable seeds, and by that I mean non-GMO, small production, and usually heirloom seeds. I also buy from Baker Creek, Bountiful Gardens, and Tomato Bob (who I especially like since his is a home-grown business and he donates seeds to me for the school garden). I just learned about Comstock, Ferre & Co via the Baker Creek catalog…..thanks so much for the list!

  10. Ivette – I’m not referring to Territorial. Although I did take a look at their website and they do sell Celebrity tomato seeds which, from my understanding, you can ONLY get from Seminis. I am not trying to say they are not a good company because I think they are. I’m just making the point that any seed company who sells that variety has to get it from Seminis, unless something has changed since last year. I believe in and support these small seed companies. I think they are simply providing what their customers want. I think if they could get the same variety from another source, they probably would. But unfortunately, a lot of these popular varieties are under plant patents. The thing that is so evil to me about Monsanto is that even though they are no longer producing some of the seed they hold the patent for (because us home gardeners won’t make them enough money), they won’t allow anybody else to produce them, either. I wrote about this last year when I heard they were no longer selling the spinach variety Correnta which is popular with home gardeners. They won’t produce it and they won’t allow anybody else to. That’s just mean!

  11. The Safe Seeds list is great except for one thing. It’s organized by state. I have no idea what state my various favorite seed catalogs are in, so I either have to read through the entire list or go to each site and see if I can figure out where they are. I’m highly motivated to do this, because I’m crazy. Your average seed-buyer probably isn’t going to take the time, if they even know about the list. What is needed is a prominent badge or logo that the safe sellers can put on their home pages, catalogs and seed packets.

  12. Thank you! I was planning on going to the Petaluma Seed Bank (part of Baker Creek) for our seeds for our 2nd-ever garden this year, and now I’m even more motivated to go there instead of just picking up whatever I find anywhere. Good to have some resources.

  13. I know I will be wildly unpopular on this site after this, but projects such as mapping the cocoa genome are not bad. They are good. They add to our knowledge and understanding of the world and particularly plants, FOOD plants. GM seeds have the potential to end a lot of the hunger that exists around the world. Some of these seeds can grow where nothing else would, with little or no impact on the consumer. On the other hand I am very interested in preserving heirloom varieties of vegetables. It is crucial to keep a wide gene pool available for future use since you never know what may happen, plus they are delicious and fun to grow. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a geneticist who is new to gardening, but I think there has been a lot of fear-mongering regarding this issue.

  14. I have been buying seeds from this little BC seed bank on Saltspring Island:
    I also have their seed saving booklet and have been trying to save my own seeds as much as possible. I think this is a really important aspect of gardening because seeds carry within their genetics the history of each season and when you save seeds you are also saving all of these past experiences in a plant’s life – evolution in the garden.

  15. While I support the return to more traditional farming practices in the US and buy organic produce when I can afford it, such practices cannot possibly feed the future world population of 9 billion people in 2050. Even current mass agricultural practices are not up to the task without a serious expansion in farmland–and corresponding destruction of wildlife. This challenge will pose some serious trade-offs, but I think it is solvable and GM crops are likely a necessary part of the solution.

  16. The “We need GM crops to subvert world hunger” argument is used over and over like a mantra, even though it’s been demonstrated that we are currently producing more than enough food — much more — and that there are other more complex reasons for why many are without. I’m not buying this argument.

  17. Amanda says: “GM seeds have the potential to end a lot of the hunger that exists around the world. On the other hand I am very interested in preserving heirloom varieties of vegetables.”
    Unfortunately, as has been shown with the diminishing variety of corn in Mexico and soybeans in China, GMO seed crops and the farming practices that accompany their use, have the ability to essentially narrow genetic diversity. Life on earth has been sustained through genetic diversity – we cannot do without it.

  18. An even larger problem with GM seeds is that Monsanto has managed to create a seed that times out and soon farmers will not be able to use the seeds from previous plants to continue crops. These plants tend to cross pollinate with the non modified seeds. Monsanto wants to corner the market so that we have no more options. Pretty scary to have one company in control of our food.

  19. When the President of Monsanto is listed as one of the most powerful people in food that is disturbing. No one entity should have control over the food supply. Grow your own my friends! Save your seed.

  20. I think that this is an extremely important issue and i want to thank you for posting this article, its got me to wondering if the company’s that i buy from buy Monsanto. I swear Monsanto is owning more and more each day, till ‘poof’ no one can grow anything without permission from a company and its all genetically modified. ugh makes me sick

    i buy from OSC,and Veseys has anyone heard anything about either of them?

  21. Thank you so much for compiling this information, Gayla. Helpful & necessary.

    Although it’s not specifically about seeds, I find the
    Ram’s Horn helpful for “keeping tabs” on Monsanto: .

    The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has evidence-based arguments for countering the myths and misconceptions about organic agriculture, including that it cannot feed the world (#29):

  22. Another good (although completely biased) website which details the links in GMO technology (and its evils) is The Institute for Responsible Technology ( It’s based in the US but the information is pretty eye-opening.
    I buy seeds from Terra Edibles (on the list) but also Urban Harvest, and The Cottage Gardener. Urban Harvest and The Cottage Gardener both sell locally and sustainably grown (and mostly organic) seeds – primarily from their own gardens. All three have a really great selection of heirloom and/or rare seeds.

  23. Alot of good information I have put a small greenhouse and all the help I can get the better. Love ya you grow girl

  24. I had considered joining SSE. The 40.00 price seemed steep to me. Then I read about SSE’s involvement with Monsanto, etc. It’s pretty clear Amy Goldman used her vast family wealth to influence and ultimately destroy SSE original mission. Money talks and every thing else just gets by. Saving seed should be about genetic diversity, poor farmers access to and ability to save seed and the general well being of the planet. After the damage that Monsanto has done and continues to do to our planet, any entity that involves itself with them is off my list of deserving support. What a tragic waste! I don’t think Percy Schmeiser would agree with Amy Goldman’s treacly nonsense.

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