A new genetically engineered grass variant won't be subject to federal regulation, because it was modified with a gene gun rather than bacteria, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The new strain of Kentucky bluegrass will likely be growing on American lawns very soon, where it will withstand prodigious amounts of the herbicide Roundup. The decision has provoked concern about a new generation of suburban superweeds.
As regular readers are aware, many American food crops are already genetically modified to resist Roundup, a broad-spectrum herbicide developed by the chemical and seed company Monsanto Co. The insertion of a special gene confers resistance to glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, which allows the chosen plants to proliferate while the weeds die.
But like bacteria evolving to fight antibiotics, weeds that are genetically predisposed to withstand it have been growing in increasingly large numbers. Now populations of Roundup-resistant "superweeds" have become such a problem that Monsanto gives farmers subsidies to spray other weed-killers along with Roundup. Several advocacy groups have cried foul over this recent USDA decision — announced late on a Friday before the holiday weekend — and claim it could yield new superweeds.
"It's a blatant end-run around regulatory oversight," George Kimbrell, senior lawyer at the Center for Food Safety, told the New York Times.
And it could lead to Roundup-resistant bluegrass growing where it's not wanted, Norman Ellstrand, a plant geneticist at the University of California-Riverside, told Wired.com.
"If this plant grows and flowers at the same time as other bluegrass, they'll flourish. You'll have a new incidence of herbicide resistance getting into the wild."
A government review would normally address questions like these, but there won't be one.
This comes on the heels of another controversial USDA decision that said biotech companies could perform their own safety evaluations.
And it comes along with a report that Roundup, designed to interrupt plants' growth cycle, is probably killing more than just weeds. Roundup is killing vast swaths of milkweed, an essential food source for the monarch butterfly, the New York Times reports.
Entomologists have been reporting for a few years that monarch numbers are on the decline, and a new study argues Roundup may be partly to blame. There is no data to support this allegation directly, however, but it's another argument in the GM debate.
Typically, a new glyphosate-resistant plant has to go through a lengthy and costly review process. Seed companies say this prevents good products from getting to market. Opponents of genetically modified plants say the government should provide even more oversight. This argument has prompted lawsuits in the past and even sparked a tug-of-war between farmers and the federal judiciary that briefly imperiled the country's sugar supply.
But in this case, the makers of the GM bluegrass, Scotts Miracle-Gro, used a different method to produce the desired new trait, and this means the grass doesn't need the same review. (Scotts Miracle-Gro and many other seed suppliers license the Roundup-resistant gene from Monsanto.)
When a company wants to introduce that gene, or any other, there are a few ways to do it. Click here to read our full-length description of the process. But essentially, you either have to infect the plant with a bacteria carrying the new gene, or smash it into the plant's DNA with another, more violent method. The bacterial-insertion process is the step that elicits the federal review. The other kind, using a gene gun, doesn't.
Scotts Miracle-Gro used a gene gun in this case, and then sent a letter to the USDA saying that means their new grass doesn't need to be tested in the traditional way.
The USDA agreed, and now Scotts is free to sell the grass without a federal permit. Until the inevitable first lawsuit is filed, anyway.
I think this is a mistake. GM crops can be justified under controlled conditions because they are able to provide vegetables at a decreased cost. However, grass is just for looks and serves no purpose but urban waste. Just like antibacterial hand soap, this is going to introduce a delicate technology into a totally unnecessary area.
Fuck GMO. No proof of benefits. No proof of safety over long periods of time at all.
Aaaaand 28 Weeks Later...
Seriously, what part of this sounds like a good idea? Screw the loophole, this is a really bad idea!
*applauds Monsanto* Congratulations on carring only about profits and not thinking about anything else. Honestly, what `scientist` at Monsanto thought that this was a good idea....idiots with no street smarts, and by street smarts I mean common sense.
It would appear that that the USDA has got it wrong. Whether a foreign gene is fracked into the genome of this grass by means of a gun or other means is irrelevant. The question to be asked is whether the grass into which this "patented gene" has been adulterated is either indigenous or so closely related to indigenous grass that it will breed and create herbicide resistant indigenous grass. From an ecological point of view the adulterated new species would probably become highly prolific due to the promoter genes which are fracked into the cell when the patented gene is inserted. This is to promote a click of the inserted gene with the original genes in the genome.This will increase the sexual prowess on the new species as the promoter gene will be present in every living cell of the new plant.
From a full cost accounting point of view the chances of widespread contamination of this herbicide resistant pest on road verges ripping up the tar and in private gardens and paving cracks will be passed on to the American taxpayer.
This is a really bad idea and serves no purpose. Any plant that is growing where it is unwanted is classed as a weed. When this stuff gets blown by the wind and spread by nature, which it will, it will spread and get into the fields and be called a superweed.
I also don't appreciate giving my @hole neighbors free rein to dump mass quantities of roundup and other toxic chemicals into the soil around me.
Patenting and Licensing lifeforms and elements of life is wrong and should never have been allowed. You can feed the world and coexist with nature without these tactics.
"Patenting and Licensing lifeforms and elements of life is wrong and should never have been allowed."
But it is obviously allowed and backed up by the US courts.
If your neighbor bought this grass, with intellectual property owned by Monsanto, and it spread and infected YOUR grass... you have not stolen intellectual property and are a criminal.
Monsanto could sue you for damages, and the Gov't could prosecute you as if you'd downloaded a pirated copy of software from the internet.
*facepalm* Do not use roundup it is toxic for our land.
I detest GM without in depth research like the usda has obviously skipped. No wonder so many species are slowly dying. This stuff with throw biodiversity for a crazy loop, especially when it gets loose and starts crossbreeding with native species.
I'm sorry, but whats so bad about weeds? Some of them have nice flowers, some of them are edible, some of them are even used for... therapeutic reasons :)