There are a number of ways that seed can be treated to help fight disease or increase yields. Some of these are just fine from an organic perspective, such as inoculation of legume seed with Rhizobium bacteria, or partial sterilization of the seed coat by soaking it in hot water to kill disease spores. Other methods of seed treatment, however, are known to be hazardous to the health of the people who use and manufacture them.
- One unacceptable method of treating seeds, from an organic gardening perspective, coats the seed with a synthetic fungicides, such as with the chemical Captan. Captan is a pesticide found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Although banned in 1990, an exception was made for some specific crops, and for its use as a seed treatment.
- You can recognize chemically treated seed because, by law, the seed must be dyed; not just an occasional seed, but every one. If just a few seeds are dyed, that is for identification: in cucumbers, for example, to identify the pollinator; and in highly refined, proprietary strains, to mark the origin of the seed lot.
- Speaking for a moment as a seedsman, let me say that I’d like to see all of agriculture and horticulture return to organic methods. To not buy treated seed—and to demand alternatives—helps build a more sustainable horticultural infrastructure for the future. Researchers at Cornell University and other research institutions are hard at work on biological alternatives to chemical seed treatment. Why? Because gardeners have asked for alternatives.