Spread of Invasive GE Bentgrass Sign of Things to Come for GE Trees?

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Scott’s creeping bentgrass is genetically engineered to withstand applications of Monsanto’s Roundup. GE bentgrass escaped from test trials in Oregon in 2003 and are still uncontained after years of eradication efforts. The USDA is considering deregulating creeping bentgrass, which Scott claims is no longer planned for commercial release.

Growers in Oregon are deeply concerned that their GE free market could be irreversibly contaminated and are taking actions to pressure the USDA to deny approval for deregulation. Fears that we have emphasized regarding GE trees are reflected in the GE creeping bentgrass as it’s a perennial, not an annual, and can live longer than soy or corn.

From an article published by The Oregonian:

The battle pits farmer against farmer, regulator against regulator, seller against buyer. Scotts spokesman Jim King insists the company has done its part and significantly reduced the modified grass’s territory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which for 14 years had refused to deregulate the controversial grass on environmental concerns, suddenly reversed course last fall and signaled it could grant the company’s request as early as this week.

Many find the prospect alarming. The Oregon and Idaho departments of agriculture oppose deregulation, as does U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which predicted commercialization of the grass could drive endangered species to extinction.

“We don’t understand the ecological or the economic impact of this,” said Katy Coba, former director of the Oregon Agriculture Department. “We need to figure out the extent of the contamination.”

Some growers and dealers fear it’s only a matter of time before the altered seed reaches the Willamette Valley, the heart of Oregon’s grass business.

“That would be a catastrophic event for Oregon’s grass seed industry,” said Don Herb, a Linn County seed dealer. “We don’t need Scotts or others to put our industry at risk.”

The creeping bentgrass has released seed and crossed with similar species, passing on the Roundup resistant trait, an unknown and unexpected consequence of open-air field trials. As tree species can live for long periods of time and spread their pollen by wind, the issues of cross-contamination are serious and demonstrated in the contamination levels of creeping bentgrass.

Now, Scott is trying to move the burden off itself onto the people and areas impacted by its creeping bentgrass in an unjust yet familiar fashion. We can expect to see a similar lack of responsibility from scientists and corporations working with GE tree companies. Once GE trees get out, it might already be too late.

Read the full Oregonian article here.

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