Genetically Engineered (GE) Seeds
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Harrop
Posted on: September 18, 2000

I find your "Safe Seed Pledge" to be EXTREMELY hollow, since Conrad Richter himself declared at a herb gowers conference (three years ago) that "GE is here to stay and we intend to embrace it!" I subsequently stopped ordering product from you. My question is, "Why should I trust you now?"

The first part of your quote is correct. But I never said that we intend to embrace genetically engineered herbs.

I can tell you, categorically, that Richters does not sell GE seeds, and is not involved in any research or developmental work on GE varieties. ALL of our seeds and plants are either wild varieties or varieties developed using classical breeding by selection – the same technique used for thousands of years. In fact, in the area of hybrids, we sell less than five seed varieties (out of more than 400 in our selection) that were developed via hybridization. (Hybrids are also a source of contention among those who worry about plant genetic diversity because they cannot be preserved by saving seeds from your crop; you must buy new seeds every year if you want the hybrid varieties.)

My presentation was about what is happening in the area of new varietal development. I chose to tell the full story, not a sanitized version that won’t upset my audience. If Richters has lost you as a customer then that is the price of describing the situation as honestly and fully as I can.

The bottom line is that genetic engineering is happening whether we like it or not. The technology is so cheap and easy now that many Third World countries are doing it. Of course, we know well that GE soybeans, canola and corn are now dominating the North American marketplace. When I said that "GE is here to stay" I was referring to the fact that they are everywhere now, and I was implying that it will be virtually impossible to stop them, even if we try, because big business and the Third World are doing GE work on a huge scale.

Since then, of course, the European Community made a bold move to challenge North American GE products. That was unexpected when I gave my presentation. In addition, North American consumers have voted with their dollars and said no to GE products, and now the North American agricultural industry is now trying to deal with that. So, there is hope. But I remain skeptical that the Third World, and even the First World, will stop GE research and commercialization.

In the area of herbs, which was my topic at the International Herb Association conference in Kentucky (1997), I described GE research that I was aware of. One part was from university work on scented geranium (Pelargonium) and the other was on commercial work done by a large seed company in the United States. The commercial work yielded six dwarf versions of traditional scented geranium varieties. Richters is not selling any of them – Richters never even looked at them as potential new varieties. As far as I know these six varieties were never offered commercially, and I guess that the seed company that developed them has mothballed or cancelled the project because of potential public backlash.

To conclude, I want to make it clear that we have never grown, sold or considered selling, a GE product. If that sounds hollow, I don’t know how else I can prove it to you.

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