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Keep Off the Grass (If You Want to Live): Toxic Hybrid Bermudagrass Kills Cows


Hybridized African Bermudagrass is being blamed as the culprit in the mysterious sudden death of a herd of cows in central Texas. The cattle, owned by rancher Jerry Abel, reportedly began bellowing and convulsing after being let out to feed on the fresh grass. Fifteen of the 18 cattle died within several hours.

The Bermudagrass, marketed as Tifton 85, had been on Abel's property for years, but suddenly began to produce hydrogen cyanide gas, which killed the cattle. Tests of other Tifton 85 grass in the area also revealed cyanide levels, which may have resulted from a combination of factors including the recent prolonged droughts plaguing Texas. But scientists need to conduct further testing to figure out why the grass started producing the toxin. The USDA also has scientists looking into the situation, particularly whether or not a mutation has occurred.

Tifton 85 is a hybridized grass developed by the ARS Forage and Turf Research Unit at Tifton, Georgia, that differs from the contentious genetically modified foods such as corn, soy, canola and cotton. It was approved in 1992 and is a highly hybridized version of African Bermudagrass and another hybrid, Tifton 68. Some hybrids require the excessive use of pesticides and the seeds can also be coated with chemicals by the manufacturer before distribution.

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From the Organic Authority Files

Last year, the USDA announced a controversial ruling on the deregulation of genetically modified Kentucky bluegrass manufactured by Scotts Miracle-Gro. The agency declined to issue a safety ruling, “Because no plant pests, unclassified organisms or organisms whose classification is unknown were used to genetically engineer Scotts’ Kentucky bluegrass.” The grass has the potential to become the most commonly grown genetically modified crop in the U.S. as it is the most popular choice for use in parks and lawns.

Last week we reported on another situation involving the sudden death of cattle related to GMOs. A German rancher claims he lost 65 cows to toxic Bt corn manufactured by the Swiss biotech company, Syngenta.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Marcy Reiford

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