Treated Seeds

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.

    Adapted from Straight-Ahead Organic, by Shepherd Ogden. Copyright (c)1992, 1999 by Shepherd Ogden. Reprinted by permission of Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
    Adapted from Straight-Ahead Organic, by Shepherd Ogden

6 comments

Robert O.
Robert O.4 years ago

Thanks Annie!

KARLOLINA G.
KARLOLINA G.4 years ago

Thanks for the info. I hope it will help many people to find the correct seeds.

DobieMax Wojcik
DobieMax WoBib4 years ago

Noted

John S.
Past Member 4 years ago

I always get heirloom seeds, never saw a died seed and would have thought something was wrong with it if I had.

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James Dunn
James Dunn7 years ago

I didn't know it was the law they had to dye them.