Sustainable Pulse

A little-noticed, almost nonchalant, article in the Columbus Dispatch last week portends substantial environmental and economic mischief.


The article notes that Scotts Company is going forward with plans to commercialize GMO Kentucky bluegrass. Mentioned in passing was that this grass, engineered for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (AKA Roundup), is not regulated by USDA, and that company employees will begin planting the grass at their homes.

What was that? Historically, unapproved GMO crops have been grown only in controlled plots, regulated and monitored by USDA (leave aside that these are not adequately regulated either). So why are Scotts employees allowed to grow this grass in an uncontrolled environment?

We have to go back to two little-noted decisions by USDA in July of 2011 to understand this. First, in response to a petition from the Center for Food Safety to regulate the GMO bluegrass as a noxious weed under the Plant Protection Act of 2000 (PPA), the USDA decided that, despite fitting the agency’s criteria of a noxious weed, it would deny the petition.

Second, USDA decided that because the genes used to make the GMO grass did not come from known plant pests (e.g., plant pathogens), and did not use a plant pest to introduce the genes into the grass, the GMO bluegrass would not be regulated as a possible plant pest. To grasp the importance of this, it must be understood that virtually every previous GMO plant or crop has been regulated as a possible plant pest.

These two decisions mean that the GMO bluegrass will not be regulated by USDA, and hence can be grown freely, even though it has not gone through the typical regulatory process. This has implications far beyond the specific case of GMO bluegrass.

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