With so many issues surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be aware of, it can be easy to let a few of them slip to the back burner from time-to-time.
But the issue of genetically modified grass has done just that, and now it’s back to the forefront at a time when the fight for freedom from GMOs has become bigger and more multifaceted than ever before.
According to a Jan. 31 report from the Columbus Dispatch, the mega corporation Scotts announced at its shareholder meeting that it is currently testing genetically modified grass seed in the lawns of a small number of its employees during this growing season despite controversy surrounding the announcement. The grass seed has been engineered to withstand large doses of Roundup weed killer.
In response, the organization GMO Free USA has created a petition against the grass that can be signed by clicking here.
Scotts-Miracle Gro is currently allied with Monsanto (the two corporate giants signed an agreement in 1998), as a major user of its highly controversial (and likely carcinogenic) Roundup products, which are applied to lawns of customers in large doses.
Despite droves of independent studies confirming the harmful effects of Roundup on the environment and human health, Scotts adamantly defends the use of Roundup on its website’s frequently asked questions section:
Q: Since Roundup brand kill weeds so effectively, are they harmful to me, my kids, pets or the environment?
A: Roundup brand products have a long and trusted history of safe use and do not pose an unreasonable risk to humans or the environment when used according to label directions.
GMO Grass and the Cross Contamination Issue
The Scotts employees will begin this growing season by testing Kentucky bluegrass that has been genetically modified to protect it from being killed by Roundup, the best-selling weedkiller created by Monsanto.
Scotts CEO Jim Hagedorn told shareholders that the GMO grass is on schedule to be sold commercially in a limited fashion in 2015, and then “much more” activity will be seen in 2016.
In the meantime, activists are being rallied by the Facebook page GMO Free USA to boycott Scotts and to let the company know they will refuse to accept the GMO grass should it come to market.
Scotts has run into opposition over its GMO grass before, and it was especially self-inflicted the last time around. They essentially shut down their GMO/Biotech operations after it was discovered that their genetically modified bentgrass, a grass with lightweight pollen that is easily windblown, had escaped from a test plot in Oregon in 2003 according to the Dispatch article.
The GMO bentgrass had been found growing several miles away in irrigation ditches in the numbers of hundreds if not thousands of plants according to Carol Mallory-Smith, an Oregon State University weed scientist.
Scotts was eventually fined $500,000 for the escape by the USDA in 2007 and has been working to eradicate the escaped GMO grass; however it’s anyone’s guess as to whether further cross contamination was prevented (likely not) because of bentgrass’ especially mobile nature.
The lawn company believes that the new GMO Kentucky bluegrass will not escape so easily this time around because of its heavier seeds that are not windblown as easily.
However, there’s no telling what will really occur since cross-contamination of GMOs is so hard to track and other GMO plants have been virtually impossible to contain.
According to Mallory-Smith, gene contamination from GMOs is virtually impossible to prevent, meaning that Roundup-ready GMO lawns could become the norm in America at some point along with fields full of the GMO grass that could eventually create a major headache and threat to organic farmers.
“I don’t think it is possible to prevent gene movement with the technology the way it is, and I don’t think that is unique to bentgrass,” Mallory-Smith said, while also noting that the bentgrass is particularly vulnerable to it.
But the Roundup traits could potentially also pass on to weeds, leading to a larger use of the likely carcinogenic Roundup chemicals on lawns and in the environment in general.
Not only that, but the GMO grass could place another strain on organic farmers whose operations and export businesses are already being devastated by trying to keep contamination in check, especially when it comes to animal feed since the hotly-contested introduction of GMO alfalfa.
There is a strong concern that the GMO grass could spread into many fields that are currently grazed by livestock.
Will Scotts Reconsider Using GMO Grass Before it Hits the Market?
Despite all of the risks to our health and the environment and all of the controversy, Scotts seems committed to releasing GMO grass into the environment unchecked, and the U.S. government agencies don’t seem too concerned (per usual), perhaps because of Monsanto’s influence within their ranks.
Hagedorn, the CEO of Scotts, seems ready to move forward at all costs.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” “This is original work that Scotts people have done on a short budget. I’m really proud of it.”
And with nearly two decades of research behind GMO grass (and a ton of money), it will be hard to convince the headstrong Scotts CEO otherwise.
It seems that only a massive and consistent grassroots boycott on social media, through email, and eventually in the media itself will be able to topple the Scotts/Monsanto giant.
But with so much at stake, activists across the country are ready to give it their best shot.
(Scotts Facebook page can be found by clicking on this link)
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