Genetically Modified Kentucky Bluegrass Sets New Precedent for Biotech Industry

Just before the July 4th holiday, the USDA announced that it is not the duty of the regulatory agency to determine whether or not genetically modified glyphosate resistant Kentucky bluegrass is safe to approve for planting in the U.S.

Genetically modified seeds, which are regulated by the USDA and must first satisfy the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS), can wait years before entering the market for the studies to be conducted and reviewed. But, that’s not so with the bluegrass from the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. According to a statement issued by the USDA, “Because no plant pests, unclassified organisms or organisms whose classification is unknown were used to genetically engineer Scotts’ Kentucky bluegrass,” the agency said, “APHIS has no reason to believe it is a plant pest and therefore does not consider the Kentucky bluegrass described in the Scotts letter to be regulated.”

The modified bluegrass contains no microbial materials in the genetic modification. Instead, the pesticide tolerance stems from the introduction of other plant genes including corn and rice. The agency stated that, “If a [GM] organism is not a plant pest, is not made using plant pests, and APHIS has no reason to believe that it is a plant pest, then the [GM] organism would not fall under APHIS’ regulatory authority.” This loophole, by way of the implementation of genes from unrelated plants, could lead to other bioengineered seeds steering clear of the APHIS hurdle and allowing biotech companies like Monsanto, to push new crops into the marketplace before proven safe.

Kentucky bluegrass is an extremely popular grass, grown all across the U.S. in parks, lawns and yards, and now has the potential to become the most commonly grown genetically modified crop in the country, posing contamination risks to nearby crops, and unknown health risks to humans.

Consumer advocacy group, the Center for Food Safety, petitioned the USDA in 2002 to regulate GM bluegrass as a “noxious weed,” based on its resistance to Roundup, the glyphosate pesticide. The USDA coincidentally also issued its ruling on that case last week, stating that the modified bluegrass would not cause impacts to the environment or humans “significant enough to warrant regulation at the federal level.”

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