Apparently, Scotts Miracle-Gro company and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) thinks GMO grass, targeted for sale to golf courses and other turf-like arenas – is brilliant. The government agency just approved the new GM, glyphosate-resistant grass without a single environmental review.
GM tall fescue grass, developed by Scotts, is cleared for cultivation. You can expect to find it not only at your local golf course, but possibly even on your neighbor’s lawn – ripe and green, and ready to infiltrate your non-GMO lawn with a simple breeze to scatter its seeds. Or with a singular weed that reaches through a fence post to plant roots on your turf.
It is being marketed to golf courses especially since it was developed to grow “shorter, thicker and darker green.”
The GM turf grass was developed by Scotts with ‘a variety of genes’ through a process called “biolistics,” in which a “gene gun” essentially shoots DNA-coated metal particles into the plant cell. There is no guarantee that this ‘new’ biotech trick is safe.
Furthermore, the USDA doesn’t even have the authority to approve the GM grass, since the method does not involve the use of a plant pest for gene transfer. Other “Roundup Ready” plants, like alfalfa and sugar beets, were made with a soil pathogen, which required USDA approval before going to market.
This is, in essence, a very conniving way for Scotts to get around regulatory approval, likely motivated after a regulated variety of genetically engineered creeping bentgrass escaped a field trial in Central Oregon in 2003, which eventually resulted in a $500,000 civil penalty from USDA. Since their original petition for approval of the GM bentgrass variety, it has been stuck in limbo, and has not been approved for commercial growth.
In the past four years, Scotts has persuaded the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that several biotech varieties of Kentucky bluegrass and St. Augustinegrass did not come under its regulatory jurisdiction.
Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed science professor at Oregon State University says:
“They’re able to get around APHIS’ authority with their new techniques.”
If this grass responds the way other “glyphosate resistant” crops have, turf-keepers are in for some serious weeding. Northwest hazelnut growers and Midwestern ryegrass cover-crop growers have already had serious problems due to repeated glyphosate spraying.
“There is concern about resistance in general in grass seed production,” Ostlund said.
Furthermore, Kentucky bluegrass, another recently approved GM grass which largely produces seeds asexually, is less of a cross-pollinating threat as tall fescue, which is much more likely to cross-pollinate with other grasses of its variety due to how it regenerates.
One breeder has commented about how tall fescue infiltrates other grasses:
“If it’s anywhere near any other tall fescue, it will outcross. It’s also a perennial crop. It’s not goin g to die out.”
It doesn’t matter what kind of biotechnology was used to create the GM grass, it is still genetically altered, it is still transgenic, and we have no idea what it will do to other plants and grasses once it is wide-spread.
The last time I checked, we didn’t need bio-technological assistance to grow grass. It grows in sidewalk cracks, ditches, and much more. It was even once planted inside a massive church cathedral in England. So why in the heck do we need genetically modified grass?
||Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.