Scotts Miracle-Gro Mows Down GMO Opponents

For most homeowners in cool, northern climes, a rich green lawn of Kentucky bluegrass, manicured to golf course-like specifications, is the standard against which success or failure is measured. Whole industries have spread like kudzu in catering to that often unattainable goal, from grass seed, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to weekly lawn care and maintenance.

Source: The Scotts Company.

Towering over the industry like a mighty oak is Scotts Miracle-Gro (NYSE: SMG  ) , spreading over virtually every aspect of a lawn and plant's lifecycle, producing both chemical and organic solutions to meet the needs of homeowners. And now it's ready to introduce genetically modified organisms into its product mix that may make it every bit as controversial as Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) .

Although it's had GMO grass seed under development for years, sales of grass seed fell in 2013 and were down another 1% in the last quarter. It needs something to revitalize sales, so the news that Scotts will be testing in the wild a variety of Kentucky bluegrass resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide is setting off alarm bells, as it threatens to accelerate the spread of superweeds and even enter the food chain.

At the company's annual shareholder meeting last week, Scotts announced that employees will be testing a Roundup Ready grass seed at their homes with an eye toward commercial production next year and introduction into the consumer market by 2016. Like farmers who grow Roundup Ready food crops, homeowners will be able to plant GMO Kentucky bluegrass, spray their lawns with the herbicide, and not worry about harming the grass.

However, the introduction of a GMO strain into lawns across the country would be even more insidious than the crop variants, because the Agriculture Department is leaving this seed unregulated. It exempted the strain in 2011 because its creation avoided the use of plant pathogens, so Scotts will be left to self-regulate its proliferation.

As a libertarian-minded person, I prefer a laissez-faire approach to regulation, but only when there are consequences for actions taken. By abdicating responsibility and permitting consequence-free outcomes, the potential for harm grows exponentially. Monsanto has a long record of suing farmers who've found their non-GMO crops cross-contaminated by its GMO seeds, and organic farmers had their lawsuit tossed last year after the chemicals giant pinky-swore it wouldn't sue more farmers if its seeds only contaminated their crops a little.

We're already seeing the proliferation of superweeds caused by the overapplication of Roundup herbicide, and the USDA's response to that was to approve a new herbicide-resistant seed by Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW  ) to combat the problem, ensuring that down the road a new resistance will develop. A GMO Kentucky bluegrass strain will likely multiply that effect as it spreads around the country.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Not many people are aware that in many parts of the country, Kentucky bluegrass is considered a problem plant that competes with and crowds out native grassland species. The nation's prairies are particularly under siege as the grass blankets the ground and smothers almost every other plant beneath it. The USDA even acknowledges that the GM version of Kentucky bluegrass (and the non-altered version, too) is such a seriously invasive plant that it could be considered a noxious weed, a designation given only to a handful of harmful plants. However, it decided not to regulate it because not enough harm was found to have been caused by the non-GMO type.

With a GMO variety released into the wild, as Scotts is proposing, the potential for having it escape -- not only onto neighbors' lawns but into grasslands where cattle and other animals can graze on it -- is substantial. Organic dairy farmers and beef cattle ranchers face the threat of losing their organic status after their animals chew through a field full of GM bluegrass.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told Scotts that concern over cross-contamination with non-GMO varieties was such that it "strongly encourages" the chemicals company to do all in its power to minimize the occurrence. It's worth noting that Scotts actually tried to get a GMO version of golf-course turf introduced, but the USDA rejected it after the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management feared that its spread to some two dozen bentgrasses would wreak havoc on the environment. There are some 500 species of the bluegrass genus.

With Scotts Miracle-Gro mowing down worries about the release of genetically modified organisms into the wild, those who seek a more organic solution will be left feeling blue.

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Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (3)

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  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 11:08 AM, dockofthebay wrote:

    It is hard to believe that any company with responsible management would even consider this. Provided that Scott's goes ahead with this and is successful, it would no doubt inspire other lawn seed companies to follow in doing the same thing. We can't do much other than to avoid buying their products. I doubt that would matter, because most people probably wouldn't really care.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 12:10 PM, tkladar wrote:

    Dear Rich Duprey, the next time you do a story on this topic you might want to consult with a weed scientist, like myself, to get your facts straight. 1. Glyphosate application on crops does not create "super weeds". We just go back to what we were doing before glyphosate was used on crops, and that is struggle to control weeds like palmer amaranth and lambsquarter with conventional herbicides. 2. There are at least 10 different herbicides, with a different mode of action to glyphosate, than can be used to kill any glyphosate tolerant bluegrass that escapes it's planting area. 3. Monsanto only sues farmers who steal their technology and plant it in violation of the technology agreement. Show me a documented case where Monsanto sued a farmer and it was proven that the genes were present due to the spread of pollen. These stories abound but are not true. It is pretty easy to tell if it was planted or pollen spread. If the whole field is Roundup Ready, it was planted! Why didn't you mention that the use of Roundup on turf is much better for the environment than the current products used to kill turf weeds like pendimethalin, 2,4-D, dithiopyr? Do you even know that these are used on nearly every lawn in the country? Every acre of crops sprayed with Roundup (or glyphosate) is displacing a larger quantity of some other herbicide that would be used instead.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 6:39 PM, photochick wrote:

    Monsanto actually sues farmers whose farms have been overwhelmed w/ crosspollination by GMO plants. They continually stomp on the little, local farmer. Superweeds & pests occur because of overuse & poor use of (10 or more) pesticides, much as antibiotic-resistant bacteria occur due to overuse/improper use of antibiotics.

    Basic, normal farming practices that don't involve spraying everything in site with toxic chemicals actually work much better because you don't kill off all the beneficial bugs & critters with overuse of pesticides. If you keep killing off the bees w/ excessive pesticides then how exactly do you expect to be able to grow most of our food, which requires insect pollination. When you don't kill off all the beneficial creatures, you also keep the soil healthier. And frankly, all this obsession w/ water-intensive lawns, that in GMO form will be even more of a pest than before is just ridiculous.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 8:47 PM, Beanjo2525 wrote:

    In response to the "weed specialist" tklader, I believe you should open your eyes. The weeds do exhibit more resistance to round up and it is highly over used by commercial farmers. A revaluation you should try people in general..... Bend over mulch the beds and hand pull weeds. It's easy and burns a whole calorie. By planting GMO grass seed your showing that a green lawn is more important than spending some time outside and in general trying to work with and not against nature. Scott's was already a shameful seller of chemical fertilizers. They should not proceed with this seed or allowed to be "responsible" for the safety of their products. Their profit is their only concern and our environment is the price.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 11:02 PM, tkladar wrote:

    My eyes are wide open. I live and breath real weed and insect control with real farmers every day trying to produce food to feed the billions of people on this planet. What do you think was being done before glyphosate was used in crop? Like it or not, glyphosate is one of the most environmentally friendly herbicide and when companies develop crop/plants tolerant to glyphosate, it is replacing a more toxic, less environmentally friendly herbicide in nearly every circumstance. Further, with it's post emergence activity often replaces a preventative preemergence herbicide, so you only spray when you need to. There is no reliable post emergent herbicide for annual grasses like crabgrass in turf, so guess what, most lawns get a preemergence application.

  • Report this Comment On February 11, 2014, at 11:08 PM, tkladar wrote:

    Photo chick, please site me one case, please. Stop with this lie. The defense that farmers use when caught stealing technology is " it was cross pollination" yet no jury has ever bought this excuse. Stop believing what you read that is not backed with facts. If you spent money patenting a product, I doubt you would let someone steal it. Monsanto is no different.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 8:17 AM, ornerycuss wrote:

    This roundup ready grass may be just what us farmers are looking for. In my opinion, this grass will be perfect for use in grassed waterways for erosion control and will help reduce sediment in the rivers and streams. It will enable the sprayer to cross the grassed waterway in the fields without killing off and ruining the vegetation in the grass strip. I will need to check out the details before use, but I sure feel this will be an answer to our needs to reduce runoff and help clean up rivers and streams.

    It would be even better if we could use this grass as a cover crop, but I suspect the seed will cost too much for that application. This grass is easy to kill off with other grass control products, or with tillage. beanjo2525 is passing off his prejudices as fact, which he is way short of

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2014, at 4:20 PM, Mguess wrote:

    As a farmer, I have been unable to understand how myths, legends, and untruths have been able to drown out real science when it comes to issues like GMO crops. There is a very real danger that this anti-science attitude will prevent continued progress in making farming more productive, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. It will prevent improvement of the human condition (witness the opposition to Golden Rice which will save millions of children from blindness in their world countries) as well as the development of new pharmaceuticals. To my urban friends, when you claim that Monsanto sues people when their crops are cross pollinated by GMO crops, you may as well argue that the world is flat and the sun circles the earth. The internet, while usually being a wonderful resource, is a terrible purveyor of false and discredited information as well as tons of junk science. And thanks, tkladar for trying to set the record straight with your factual information.

  • Report this Comment On February 13, 2014, at 11:31 PM, tkladar wrote:

    I am tired of reading the false garbage about gmo crops, pesticides and companies trying to develop new technologies to feed the world. Especially from people who clearly have spent no time on real farms or have risked their own money to raise a crop. I am going to take the people to task every chance I get. Thanks for your support.

  • Report this Comment On February 27, 2014, at 12:59 PM, dockofthebay wrote:

    There is something else worth mentioning here and that is the fact that Roundup is very damaging to fish and amphibians if it gets into the water. So, how many lawn services and individual homeowners will wind up improperly applying Roundup to the gmo grass and thereby cause fish and amphibian deaths or malformations? Even if Roundup is not applied directly into the water upon application, runoff will carry it into streams and ponds.

  • Report this Comment On April 24, 2014, at 1:25 PM, ikkyu2 wrote:

    So this is a bunch of nonsense. If Kentucky bluegrass is a noxious, invasive weed, pass laws against planting Kentucky bluegrass.

    Making bluegrass Roundup-ready just makes it easier to manage a lawn. And I am going to have a lawn until a law is passed against it, because I want a lawn and I live in the United States of America where certain freedoms are available to me.

    In this case, the main problem with the argument is the failure to consider the alternative. Currently bluegrass lawns are managed with mass application of broadleaf poisons like 2,4-D and dicamba, which get deep under the lawn and into tree roots; the trees weaken and die. These poisons also harm non-broadleaf grasses, though to a lesser extent, and can yellow lawns for up to 6 weeks.

    Where is your outrage at this catastrophic state of affairs, Rich? Did you even know about 2,4-D, which often is contaminated with dioxins during its manufacture and which went under the name Agent Orange in the Vietnam war, when you wrote this article?

    I have been wanting a Roundup-ready, herbicide-minimizing lawn for over a decade. It's stupidity like this that keeps me dumping pounds of toxins on my lawn every year while I wait for mass ignorance to catch up.

  • Report this Comment On May 24, 2014, at 11:51 PM, expungebob wrote:

    Rip out the lawn and plant organic vegatables in the front yard instead.

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