Genetically modified seeds, or GM seeds, are a type of genetically modified organism, or GMO. GMO's are created by modifying the DNA in a plant's genome. GM seeds are also known as transgenic seeds. As of 2010, you can purchase GM seeds for corn, soybeans, rapeseed/canola, cotton, potatoes, papayas and sugar beets. GM seeds for wheat, apples, rice, bananas and wine grapes are in production and currently are neither harvested nor available for purchase. Genetically modified tomatoes are no longer available.
Buying and pricing
Seeds are available for all the currently harvested GM plants through seed dealers. You may buy seeds online, by phone or in person at the seed dealership. Seed dealerships may focus on certain crops, varieties or brands. GM seeds are sold in bulk lots of at least 900 kg (2000 lb) or by the bag. As of 2010, GM corn seeds cost £129 to £177 for an 80,000 kernel bag, and GM soybean seeds cost £30 to £41 for a 23 kg (50 lb) bag. GM papaya seeds cost £6 to £13 for 100 seeds.
There are multiple GM seed varieties available for each GM crop currently on the market. Corn, or maize, is genetically modified to express one or both of the following traits: insect resistance and herbicide tolerance. If corn has the former trait, it was implanted with a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis, and is thus called "Bt corn." Other Bt crops include Bt potatoes and Bt sweetcorn. GM soybean seeds are available as pesticide-resistant. GM papayas are resistant to the Papaya Ring Spot virus.
Genetically modified plants may be beneficial to the farmer and consumer. If the seed is resistant to pesticides, this allows the farmer to spray pesticides without harming the crop. If the seed creates its own pesticide, as is the case in Bt crops, less pesticide is required. These both increase yield for farmers because the plants are protected from weed growth and/or insect infestation. Higher yields provide more food for consumers, and usually at a lower price.
A relevant concern for the farmer is if GM seeds are cost effective. GM seeds usually cost more than non-GMO seeds. If the farmer does not recoup these costs by achieving a higher yield, he may lose money. Concerns exist over the environmental safety of GM plants. Because GM foods are planted in large monocultures, GM plants may compromise biodiversity on the farm. If a plant has been genetically modified to defend itself against harmful pests, as in the GM papaya or Bt corn, the effects of that modification could harm other harmless bystanders, like insects or spiders. Another concern is that the pests themselves may adapt to overcome the GM plant's new defence, and thus become harder to eradicate and require more pesticide use.
Different countries have different laws regarding the use of GM seeds and crops, and these laws change regularly. You would be wise to check the law in your area. Also, the companies that produce GM seeds have strict policies regarding the intellectual property rights related to the seeds. The practice of saving seeds is banned by at least one of these major seed manufacturing companies. For GM corn and soybeans, a contract with the seed manufacturer is generally required.
- GMO-Compass: Fruits and vegetables -- no GMOs in the EU
- GMO-Compass: GM Crops -- the big four -- soybean, maize, rapeseed and cotton
- National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service: Transgenic crops
- AgBio Forum: Overview -- herbicide resistant crops
- GMO Compass: Genetically modified plants and the environment