Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tomato Hybrids and Monsanto

 Heirloom Tomatoes Photo from Crysti

The Wall Street Journal recently carried a story about a number of plant breeders who are offering hybrids they claim have the distinct flavors and funky looks of heirlooms but are more disease-resistant and abundantly productive.

"In addition to creating more disease-resistant varieties, hybridizers have been working on giving tomatoes a longer shelf life and making shapes more uniform for ease of packing, and creating more compact plants that are easier to maneuver."  DUH, our grocery stores already have uniform shaped tomatoes, complete with ease of packing, but tasteless, with a long shelf life.

At first, the 'new' tomatoes sounded interesting. Then I had to remember why I grow heirlooms... not just taste, but the enormous variety, and the ability to save seed, and have them reproduce the same tomato year after year.

So I looked into the 6 companies named in the article (Burpee, Park, Territorial, Jung, Cook's Catalog owned by Burpee, and Seeds by Design). Four of the 6 named companies buy seeds from Seminis, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Monsanto. (Of course, that doesn't mean they buy all of their seed from Seminis.) I didn't find any data either way on the other 2 companies.

Seminis owns over 20% of the global vegetable seed market. Here's data from their website:

Sales in 155 countries                          
    Revenue: $569 million (2006)                          
    20+% of the global vegetable seed market
    Leading positions in nearly every major vegetable crop                          
    3,000+ commercial products                          
    21 seed quality labs                          
    46 distribution and operations centers
    51 R&D stations in 17 countries
    1.5 million breeding lines                          
    Seed production locations in 25 countries
    3,000 employees            

"Seminis does not sell directly to home gardeners; however, many of our products are available to consumers from U.S. and Canadian mail order and packet seed companies. The vendors below carry our newest products:Burpee
E&R Seed
Earl May Seed
Gardens Alive
Jung Seed Co
Mountain Valley
Park Seed
Johnny’s Selected Seed
See for full list."

One of the several companies I buy heirloom seeds from is Seeds of Change. One of their seed suppliers is Podoll's, a 50 year old family farm in North Dakota, farming 480 acres whose "diversity of grains, vegetables, and seed crops stand in stark contrast to the vast monocultures of corn and soybeans that surround them."

Makes me wonder how long until the Podolls' 480 acres of heirloom crops are cross-pollinated by Roundup-ready, genetically engineered crap from Monsanto et al. And then Monsanto gets to sue for patent infringement, adding insult to injury.

Only the efforts of each of us supporting heirloom seed companies will assure Monsanto doesn't take over our gardens along with the rest of the world. Here's a link to Merchants and Purverors of Heirloom Seeds and a link to Seed Savers, Seed Exchanges and Seed Societies.


  1. My name is Kristin Grilli and I work with Burpee. I came across your post and wanted to make sure that it is clearly noted that Burpee does not sell GMO seed. I also wanted to note that Burpee offers both hybrid and heirloom varieties. Please see a formal statement from Burpee below.

    Kind Regards,
    Kristin Grilli

    Burpee is the nation's leading purveyor of both heirloom and hybrid vegetable and flower seeds and mail order transplants. Burpee produces and sources seeds from a select list of growers and suppliers throughout the world including Seminis. None of the seeds produced or sourced from any grower or supplier are GMO. Burpee has never bred or sold GMO seeds and does not intend to do so in the future.

    Burpee was founded in 1876 by seed pioneer W. Atlee Burpee. The company remains privately owned by George Ball, a third generation seedsman, who serves as Chairman and CEO of W. Atlee Burpee & Co. and is past president of The American Horticultural Society. For more information, please visit our company history page:

  2. Thanks, Kristin. Good to know, since it's getting harder to really know about seeds in today's market!

  3. You are welcome. Good luck with the garden this year. K:)


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