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US Opens Canada to GM Grass Contamination

US Department of Agriculture will not regulate genetically modified bluegrass, decision could be applied to future GM crops

Ottawa. July 13, 2011. Canadian environmental groups today expressed new concerns about a serious threat of contamination from genetically modified (GM) plants across the U.S. boarder after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided last week not to regulate a GM herbicide-tolerant grass, potentially opening the door to similar decisions on future GM crops.

U.S. company Scotts Miracle Gro is now free to sell its herbicide-tolerant “Roundup Ready” Kentucky bluegrass in the U.S., without regulatory oversight. In an exchange of letters with Scotts, the USDA declared that it lacked authority over the new GM bluegrass because Scotts did not use a certain “plant pest” in the process of genetically engineering.

“GM grass is a nightmare scenario for contamination into Canada,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “GM plants do not stop at our border. To make matters worse, the grass is engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, so the GM grass will add to the spread of superweeds. Herbicide tolerant weeds are already a major problem for U.S. farmers.”

“This is a transparent effort to avoid any government oversight,” said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, a U.S. sustainable agriculture non-profit. “USDA’s rubberstamp here illustrates a larger regulatory disfunction: the placing of biotech profit above protection of the environment and public.”

“Its unacceptable that corporations are being given the green light to contaminate our environment with genetically modified plants, and for what? Weed-free lawns and golf courses?” said Sharon Labchuk of EarthAction PEI.

“Genetically modified alfalfa plantings in the US are already a profound contamination concern for Canadian farmers, although we know GM alfalfa is under legal challenge,” stated Maureen Bostock of the Ecological Farmers of Ontario, “Because grasses and alfalfa are perennial, their contamination will just keep spreading year after year.”

“In the case of this GM grass, US regulation has gone from weak to nonexistent,” said Eric Darier of Greenpeace, “The stage is now set for the testing and commercial release of GM crops in the U.S. without any oversight whatsoever.”

Scotts licensed the “Roundup Ready” GM herbicide-tolerant technology from Monsanto which markets the brand-name Roundup herbicide. The GM Kentucky bluegrass is intended for lawns while Scotts also has a GM creeping bentgrass, intended for use on golf courses, that has been on the list for commercialization since 2002. Scotts was fined $500,000 in 2007 after its GM bentgrass spread from from field tests in Oregon.

For more information: Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext 25; George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety, 415 826 2770; Sharon Labchuk, EarthAction PEI, 902 621 0719; Maureen Bostock, Ecological Farmers of Ontario, 613 259 5757; Eric Darier, Greenpeace, cell 514 605 6497.

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