Ever expanding miracle grass

April 2017

... the sorcerer's apprentice recited the magic words, and the golf course grew bigger and bigger, engulfing the world with its ever-expanding miracle grass that never dies ... 

Unfortunately, this isn't a fairy-tale. The 'ever-expanding grass' for golf courses is Scotts Miracle-Gro creeping bentgrass genetically transformed never to die when sprayed with glyphosate herbicide; the 'magic words' were what Scotts and its partner, Monsanto, said to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow the GM grass to be field-tested without any environmental impact assessment; and it is, indeed, growing 'bigger and bigger', because although the novel grass never made it to any golf course turf-managers, it is nevertheless rampaging across the Oregon landscape and beyond.
In fact, the 2003 GM grass experiment has turned into a spectacular nightmare for the USDA, Monsanto and Scotts.

After complaints from farmers and environmental organisations, plus the rapid appearance of the GM creeping bentgrass a dozen miles away from the test site, plus a USDA investigation leading to a half-million dollar penalty, the field trials and approval process were halted.

A couple of years passed, and Monsanto and Scotts gave assurances that they had cleansed the environment of their GM grass.

In 2011, feral GM creeping bentgrass was found thriving in the wild in Oregon, and it became clear that cleaning up gene pollution isn't easy.

Subsequent years of failing eradication at a cost of $250,000 a year only served to prove that cleaning up gene pollution isn't possible.

The problem with this GMO from a farmer's point of view is that creeping bentgrass can cross-pollinate with related species, and its seeds are tiny, light and easily blown around. Oregon is the grass seed capital of the world, and its grass seed is a $300 million-a-year industry. Oregon hay is a major export product. There's no market for gene-polluted grass seed or hay.

From an environmental point of view, creeping bentgrass thrives in areas where there's plenty of fresh water. Glyphosate is the only herbicide that's legal to use near water: glyphosate-resistant grass can only be removed by hand or shovel. Uncontrolled pest grass could cause the extinction of at least two endangered species of plant and one butterfly.

This tale certainly isn't going to have a fairy-tale ending: there's no sorcerer going to wave a wand and make the GM golf course grass disappear. Instead, the USDA rapidly completed a suspicious (according to one farmer/ex-government official) environmental risk assessment which determined that the plant is "unlikely to pose a plant pest risk". This allowed the USDA to approve, the GM grass for commercialisation in return for a promise from Scotts not to commercialise it and to continue to help to clean it up. In other words, the gene pollution is now legal, Scotts and Monsanto aren't liable for any damages, the companies are free to market the GM creeping bentgrass any time they choose and can turn their backs on the eradication efforts any time they choose. Local landowners and communities, and the State, will bear the cost of controlling the invader.


It's a neat trick, first practised when 'LL601' experimental GM rice popped up in markets all over the world five years after field tests were halted [1]. To deal with gene pollution, you just legalise it. That way, it's no longer pollution. That way there's no need to launch a bank-breaking prosecution against a biotech goliath. That way, the biotech industry and GM-friendly scientists don't get scared to experiment with GMOs, or to take out patents on genes. That way, it's the farmers, seed dealers, exporters and communities who have to shoulder all the financial burden. 

Are US regulators delusional in declaring GM creeping bentgrass unlikely to pose a plant pest risk when it seems to have already proved to be one? 

If you don't want the products of lax and wishful US food and feed regulations flooding in post-Brexit, tell the Scottish Government this NOW. 

[1] Bayer CropScience contaminates our rice - Greenpeace International, October 2007

  • George Kimbrell, Meet Monsanto's Dangerous Bioengineered Plant That Never Dies, AlterNet 17.12.16
  • Cassandra Profita, Federal Approval of GM Grass Seed sparks Outcry, Oregon Public
    Broadcasting,, 18.01.17
  • International News, USA, Thin Ice, GM Freeze Campaign Newsletter issue 43, March 2017
  • Root out GM bias demands Friends of the Earth,, Press Release 28.11.07
  • GM Rice Contamination Remains a Mystery, GM Freeze Press Release 8.10.07

    Photo: Creative Commons

No comments:

Post a comment

Thanks for your comment. All comments are moderated before they are published.