High Mowing has long been a leader in the organic and sustainable seed movement. As such, we are honored to announce that we are about to become the first Non-GMO Project Verified vegetable seed company! High Mowing has been 100% organic since our founding in 1996 and we have never sold genetically modified (GM) seeds. We are looking forward to further demonstrating our commitment to the organic food movement through Non-GMO Project Verification.

A Little Background

High Mowing has been certified organic since 1996, one year after the first GM crops were approved for commercial use in the United States. GM crops are created by adding genetic material from one species into the DNA sequence of another species. The result of genetic modification by laboratory methods is a combination of genetic materials that could not occur naturally. Traditional breeding is different, wherein pollen is moved between members of the same species. Plant breeders carry pollen from one plant to another by hand or with the help of insects to produce controlled crosses of two individual plants.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are not allowed in certified organic production and we have never sold GM seeds. As new GM crops are released to the general public, however, there is an increased risk of GM crops cross-pollinating organic crops. High Mowing is committed to Non-GMO Project Verification to help reduce these risks. It has always been our goal to provide seeds that are safe and healthy for people and the planet. For us, that means helping to protect the many traits that have been isolated through selective breeding so that they can be utilized by future generations.

The Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project is a third-party voluntary labeling system that is part of the “Right to Know” movement. This movement is driven by the principle that consumers have the right to be able to make informed choices about their food through full disclosure of GM ingredients (or the lack therof) on product packaging. Since mandatory labeling of GM ingredients has not yet been adopted in the United States, many companies are having their products verified through the Non-GMO Project, thereby allowing consumers to make an educated choice.

The Non-GMO Project helps companies develop procedures to avoid GMOs in their products and facilitates testing for the presence of genetically modified DNA. Non-GMO Project standards are aligned with those adopted by the European Union. High Mowing has been providing support and advice to the Non-GMO Project since 2008, helping to expand their understanding of the seed industry and the need for rigorous testing standards.

Why Verify?

We believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in their food and should be able to make informed decisions based on accurate labeling of food and the seeds used to produce food. GM contamination is a potential hazard whose long-term effects are largely unstudied, since safety assessments (which are not required by the FDA) have almost exclusively been conducted by the same companies who market GMOs. For this reason, more than 60 countries around the world now require labeling of GMOs. In the absence of a national labeling policy in the US, we are dedicated to ensuring consumer safety by verifying our seeds.

When is it happening?

Now! High Mowing is in the process of completing Non-GMO Project Verification and is currently 90% verified. We will be 100% Non-GMO Project Verified in late summer of 2014. High Mowing Organic sprouting seed packets already bear the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. Look for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal appearing on High Mowing vegetable, herb, and flower seed packets this summer! We are currently in transition with our packaging and will be adopting the Non-GMO Project Verified seal on all package sizes in the future.

How does it work?

As a farm-based seed company, High Mowing is in a unique position to determine how seeds on our farm and those of our contract growers are produced. This means that we can help put in place standards that make it very unlikely that contamination would occur. In addition, we provide safeguards to ensure that if it did happen, we would be able to catch the problem and prevent sale of the seed. As new GM crops become commercially available, we are committed to re-assessing our standards to encompass the new crops at risk.

The Non-GMO Project Verification process is made up of three key components. These are segregation, testing, and traceability.

  • Segregation is the concept that organic crops must be kept separate from GMO crops, starting in the farm fields where they’re grown and ending in the facilities where they’re packaged. All farm and processing equipment must be dedicated for non-GMO crops only. For us that means ensuring that the fields where our organic seed crops are grown are isolated adequately from any GMO fields that could cross-pollinate them.
  • Testing is essential to ensure that organic crops were adequately segregated from GM ones. “High Risk” varieties that can be cross-pollinated by GM varieties are tested before they leave our facility. Currently we test samples of our seed for qualitative assessment from the laboratory (detect/non-detect).  If a test detects GMOs then we will not sell the seed.
  • Traceability helps ensure that if contamination occurs, its source can be identified. Through the use of a comprehensive batch and lot system, we are able to identify not only the farm that a particular seed lot came from, but also the field where it was grown. In this way we can ensure that any problem that occurs can quickly be resolved.

A note about CMS seed

Lately people have been asking us about artificial CMS or cell fusion hybrid seed. The term CMS refers to Cytoplasmic Male Sterility, a trait now widely used in commercial hybridization to produce female parent lines for hybrid varieties. Traditionally male pollen has been eradicated through emasculation, or the physical removal of the plant’s pollen-producing organs. Artificial CMS eliminates the need to emasculate—by combining the cells of two members of the same plant family, such as radish and broccoli, one can cause male sterility in the broccoli parent. CMS can occur naturally as a result of mutations in a single species and has been observed in over 150 plant species; however CMS induced for the purpose of hybridization is artificial and the two varieties would not normally interbreed. Despite this, the USDA National Organic Standards Board has ruled that artificial CMS is allowable in organic production.

However, High Mowing feels that artificial CMS still constitutes genetic engineering and does not sell any varieties derived from the artificial CMS technique. The hybrids we sell and those we develop in our organic breeding program are produced either through naturally-occurring CMS or through a completely different method called self-incompatibility or SI, which is also a natural method and does not require any laboratory steps. We choose to work with companies that specialize in organic seed breeding and use methods of breeding that are more consistent with our own breeding efforts and the tenets of organic agriculture. Bejo Seeds, Vitalis Organic Seeds, and Rijk Zwaan stand out in this regard and we are proud to work with them in developing hybrid brassicas and more. Check out this recent article by High Mowing customer Donald Sutherland to learn more about CMS seed.

A Roadmap for the Future

As one of the founding companies and primary supporters of the organic seed industry, we feel it is our responsibility to raise the bar for all seed. At a time when GM crops are entering our food supply and wild ecosystems, it is more important than ever to preserve the purity of our seed resources. We are not willing to take any chances with our seeds—and we know you aren’t either. Providing our customers with an additional layer of safeguards against GMO-contaminated seeds will help ensure the future we want to see. A non-GMO food supply should, after all, begin with non-GMO seeds.

We are continuing to develop standards that will shape the future of segregation, testing, and traceability practices for seeds. As always, we welcome your thoughts as we move forward.