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Creeping grass with creeping toxins

August 2018

Pure creeping bentgrass and nothing but creeping bentgrass is a must-have for golf-courses.

Its fine texture and ability to 'creep', forming a dense, even cover, are prized by groundskeepers. For professional tournaments with big money at stake, weeds are a no-no. Anything other than 100% bentgrass makes any kind of putt on a green unreliable.

Back in 2003, when agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto trialed RoundupReady bentgrass which needed nothing more than a squirt of Roundup herbicide to keep it pristine, they thought they were onto a winner. In fact, it turned into a giant headache which continues to this day [1].

Bentgrass continues to creep around uncontrollably in Oregon and beyond. It thrives in irrigation canals and ditches where it collects sediment and impedes water flow.

Fears that the escape would contaminate other grass varieties grown for seed export haven't happened (yet), but the GM bentgrass has crossed with at least two other grass species to create Roundup-resistant hybrids.

The underlying problem is that US legal oversight of crops hasn't changed since 1987. Despite two attempts to re-think and update GM regulations, proposals have never been finalised due to changes in presidential administrations.

GM creeping bentgrass is clearly a pest, but the US authorities have repeatedly refused to designate it as such (because then they would need to put controls in place).

At present, GM bentgrass is seen as a pain for growers and land managers, but relatively benign in the wild because it's considered a problem only when you want to kill it with a glyphosate-base herbicide such as Roundup. So far, the concerns raised are that something else GM and more noxious than bentgrass could creep through that same regulatory gap, for example, a drought- or salt-tolerant GM species which would then become a major problem.

However, it seems no one's factoring in the possibility that RoundupReady bentgrass and its hybrids could grow bigger and produce more seeds with enhanced germination like some other RoundupReady weeds have been found to do (see SUPER-FIT GM SEEDS - June 2018).

For land managers, the only light at the end of the creeping tunnel is that an alternative herbicide, 'Reckon', has now been approved for use on bentgrass all summer long.

'Reckon' is a glufosinate-based herbicide made by biotech giant Bayer (now owners of Monsanto). Glufosinate continues to be controversial in the EU due to uncertainties about health effects and is due to be banned from 2022 with immediate restrictions. The formula comes with a 'Caution' statement, an allergy warning and extreme hazard classification for acute oral, dermal and inhalation toxicity (this latter property is probably due to the presence of a propanol derivative in the mix which effects the nervous system).

Note that glyphosate, the herbicidal component of Roundup which started this whole fiasco doesn't come with any severe hazard warnings, although some of the added ingredients in the various Roundup formulations do.


OUR COMMENT

This seems to be a lesson in how GM leads to contamination which won't ever go away and the toxin-creep which inevitably follows it.

Background

[1] EVER EXPANDING MIRACLE GRASS - April 2017


SOURCES:
  • Julia Rosen, GMO grass is creeping across Oregon, High Country News, 25.06.18
  • France Withdraws License for Bayer's Glufosinate Herbicide after Health Review, Sustainable Pulse, 27.10.17
  • Reckon 280 SL Herbicide Safety Data Sheet, Solera
  • 1-Methoxy-2-propanol Safety Data Sheet, Sigma
  • Roundup PowerMax and Roundup Flex Safety Data Sheets, Monsanto Europe
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