One of the most frequently used terms in seed labeling, “organic” refers to how plants and seeds are grown. Seeds labeled as organic must be nurtured and processed in strict accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) standards. These standards foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity while prohibiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, irradiation, genetically engineered seeds and materials, and sewage sludge.
NOP guidelines stipulate that organic seed growers must plant organic seed unless it is not commercially available. (Untreated, conventional seed that does not contain genetically engineered traits is allowed when equivalent organic varieties are unavailable.) Seed produced by a certified organic grower is not exposed to prohibited chemicals throughout its growth in the field, nor during harvesting and processing. The USDA does permit organic seed producers to process seeds in a number of ways, including treating seeds with hot water and using legume inoculants on them to protect against disease.
Organic growers and processors—and the plants and seeds they produce—must be certified as organic by an inspection agency accredited by the USDA. This protocol ensures that products with the USDA organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards. Most of the seeds that Seed Savers Exchange sells are USDA-certified organic and are designated with the USDA organic label. View our organic certificate.