Editor’s Note: Just as we’re learning a great deal more about the dangers of Roundup, Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide, the U.S. government is bringing us Roundup Ready lawns for our children to play on….
The US Dept of Agriculture just dropped a bomb on GMO regulations in America. Their announcement, released on the Friday afternoon before the July 4th weekend to reduce the media coverage, eviscerated government oversight over a whole new class of GMOs. The USDA announced that Roundup Ready Kentucky bluegrass would be exempt from regulation. That means that a new variety GM grass, produced by Scotts Miracle-Gro, will hit US markets without any government review, not from the USDA, EPA, or FDA. The modified grass, destined for lawns, playgrounds, soccer fields, and golf courses, is designed to survive applications of the weed killer Roundup. This will dramatically increase the use of the toxic herbicide, which is linked to birth defects, cancer, and reproductive problems. Its overuse will also speed up the spread of Roundup-resistant superweeds, requiring a return to other acutely toxic herbicides scrapped decades ago.
The approval also means that biotech companies can now exploit the same loophole used by the GM grass to put their crops on the market without anyone in government paying attention. The significance of this cannot be overstated. The USDA’s loophole is based on the fact that they regulate GMOs using two "regulatory hooks;" the GM crops must pose the threat of a "plant pest" or a "noxious weed." In the bluegrass decision, the USDA signalled that it won’t apply those hooks to any GM crops that are not created with pest material (e.g. bacteria or viruses). The GM bluegrass was created with a gene gun, and not from bacterial infection; the inserted gene was not from bacteria; and it did not have the normal "promoter" taken from a virus — which is used as the "on-switch" for most other GM crops on the market. Even without these materials, the GM grass still carries huge risks.
In a letter to Scotts, for example, agriculture secretary Vilsack acknowledged concerns that GM bluegrass will contaminate non-GM bluegrass, destroying markets in the process. Vilsack’s suggestion? Scotts should talk to "stakeholders" and work out ways of minimizing cross-contamination. In other words, industry can regulate itself — but only if it wants to. See Mother Jones’ excellent two articles here and here, Wired, or the New York Times.