Opponents of genetically modified organisms and pesticides are pushing to enact the first ever ban on GMO grass to prevent the development of pesticide-resistant “super weeds.”
“This is nothing less than an arms race of toxic chemicals aimed directly at the health of our people and the health of our environment,” Senate President Donald Williams said at a Friday press conference. “Once you start going down this road of relying more and more on toxic herbicides, you’re guaranteed to have to use stronger and stronger poisons as time goes on.”
Williams and other advocates are hoping to add language banning genetically modified grass seeds and genetically modified landscape plants to an existing bill, which would expand restrictions on using pesticides on school grounds and other public land.
This new effort represents a collaboration between people critical of pesticide usage and opponents of genetically modified organisms. The anti-GMO crowd mobilized last year and saw a legislative victory when Connecticut became the first state to take steps toward requiring labels on foods that contain GMOs.
Advocates are now concerned that agricultural companies are developing grass seeds to be “Roundup Ready.” That means the grass will be genetically designed to withstand more application of the popular weed-killing herbicide, which contains the chemical glyphosate.
“These are new products that are being field-tested right now. So they’re not on the market, which is why it’s so important for us to take action now,” Williams said. “Once they’re out there and they’re being sold and planted, and grass seeds are perennial, it will be very hard to reel that back.”
And if glyphosate resistant grass becomes prevalent, GMO Free Connecticut founder Tara Cook-Littman said people will dramatically increase their usage of the product, which will have negative impact on the environment and their health.
“Currently, people spot-treat on grass for weeds with Roundup. Can you imagine if GMO grass that’s resistant to glyphosate is sold directly to the consumer and now rather than spot treating for weeds, you can literally just paint the entire lawn?” she said.
Scotts Miracle-Gro is one of the lawn care companies developing genetically modified grass. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that the company’s strain of Kentucky bluegrass, which was designed to resist glyphosate, did not require federal regulation.
In a Tuesday phone interview, Scotts spokesman Lance Latham stressed that his company does not currently have a genetically modified grass seed on the market. But he said their development are part of the company’s longstanding efforts to create more resilient types of grass.
Latham said Scotts has been working for years to develop grass which requires less fertilizers and pesticides, is more resistant to drought, and does not need to be mowed as often. He said GMO grass seeds are an extension of that program.
“A ban on these products before they are developed seems a bit counter productive,” he said.
Advocates of the ban disagree. Bill Duesing of the Northeast Organic Farming Association said the genetically modified plants will return each year after they are planted and will spread over time. He said the grass will eventually impact organic farmers.
“As these seeds spread and more and more grass takes up that genetic trait, we’ll find organic farmers who want to grass feed their beef, can’t do it because their grass is genetically modified, which is prohibited in organic standards. GMOs are pollution with a life of its own,” he said.