Federal Approval of Ge Grass Raises Concerns About Contamination in Oregon's Billion-Dollar Grass Seed Industry

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Federal Approval of GM Grass Seed Sparks Outcry
By Cassandra Profita
OPB | January 19th, 2017

A decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to deregulate a genetically modified grass seed has raised concerns about contamination in Oregon’s billion-dollar grass seed industry.

Genetically modified creeping bentgrass was created by Scotts Miracle-Gro as a product for golf courses. But the grass escaped from its test plots, and has continued to spread across Southeast and Central Oregon – despite eradication efforts.

The USDA published its final decision on Wednesday, approving a request from Scotts to deregulate the company’s bentgrass seed after determining that the plant is “unlikely to pose a plant pest risk.”

Jerry Erstrom chairs the weed board in Malheur County, where the grass has taken root after crossing the Snake River from Idaho. He’s seen firsthand how fast the grass can spread and how hard it is to wipe out because it’s resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in most herbicides.

“There are only one or two herbicides labeled to be used upon it,” he said. “The caveat is they can only be used in dry areas. Anything on a shoreline, in wetlands or along riparian, there’s nothing that can remove it. The only way is by hand or shovel.”

Erstrom expects the grass will prevent him from exporting the hay he grows because overseas buyers shun genetically modified plants, and he’s worried about how much damage it could do if it spreads to the grass seed industry in the Willamette Valley.

“Not only economically but environmentally – the devastation it can cause – people don’t appreciate how bad it can be,” he said. “If this should happen to get across into the Willamette Valley I think it would at least destroy the export market for the grass growers there.”

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