THE GMO BENTGRASS PROBLEM GROWING OUT OF CONTROL

Warren Chamberlain, who chairs the irrigation district west of Ontario, thinks the birds will bring bentgrass to him. The day after our lunch in Nyssa, Erstrom and I visit Chamberlain’s dairy farm near the two-stop-sign community of Willowcreek. “We’re going to be stuck fighting this for the rest of our lives,” he laments. “All so somebody could have green grass on a golf course.”

That quotation sums up the whole GMO conundrum in this country in a nutshell, and it also sums up the regulatory agencies' own complicity in a growing problem, one that could indeed become a crisis. It also sums up the "we could care less" attitude of the big GMO agribusiness giants, like Mon(ster)santo, now recently merged with Germany's big chemical conglomerate Bayer, to form what I've called I.G. Farbensanto.

This article, shared by Ms. K.M., is pure gold, in terms of its summary of the problems that GMOs pose to farmers who simply do not want the stuff, and are trying to sell their products to countries with strict GMO controls, for their crops are being contaminated, in this case, by a special genetically engineered grass - common grass - that is Roundup resistant. The grass was designed to be sold to golf courses, but, predictably, got out of its test fields and is now creeping and crawling its way throughout western Idaho and eastern Oregon, and there's no stopping it. Here's the article:

GMO grass is creeping across Oregon

The grass arrived here uninvited, after crossing the Snake River from old seed fields in Idaho. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which vets most new genetically engineered products, had not approved the plant’s release. But in 2010, landowners discovered it growing in great mats throughout the irrigation system that stretches like a spider web across Malheur County.

Creeping bentgrass has not created a catastrophe, as some anti-GMO groups warned it would. But it thrives in canals and ditches, where it collects sediment and impedes water flow, and it has proved difficult to control. That makes it a headache for Frahm and other growers — like the heavy snows that crushed their onion sheds last year, and the host of other weeds they already battle.

No one believes the bentgrass can be fully eradicated, either. And as long as it’s around, some fear it could contaminate non-GMO crops and invade natural areas. “It just scares the bejeezus out of me,” says Erstrom, a retired Bureau of Land Management natural resource specialist who chairs the Malheur County Weed Advisory Board.

The upshot of the government's decision - effectively absolving Scotts of responsibility for the problem - has been to make the local farmers and irrigation districts responsible for the problem. But how did the genetically modified grass get out of control in the first place?

Things went well at first. Scotts conducted dozens of field trials, marshaling evidence that its bentgrass was safe and differed from regular bentgrass only in its Roundup resistance. The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, considers these questions when deciding whether to release new genetically engineered organisms from regulatory oversight — a necessary step for wide commercial sale. In 2003, with results in hand, Scotts and Monsanto petitioned the agency to deregulate the grass.

At the same time, Scotts got permission from the USDA to plant larger fields for seed production. Farmers sowed 80 acres of bentgrass in Canyon County, Idaho, and 420 acres in Jefferson County, Oregon, north of Bend. The Oregon Department of Agriculture picked the site — an irrigated island in the sagebrush sea — to keep the plant far from the Willamette Valley. There, on the western side of the mountains, farmers grow forage and turf grass for a $1 billion-a-year seed industry.

Then two windstorms swept through the eastern Oregon fields in August of 2013, scattering flea-sized seeds well beyond the designated control area. Roundup-resistant pollen fertilized conventional bentgrass plants as far as 13 miles away. There was no calling it back.

The escape didn’t surprise anyone, says Carol Mallory-Smith, a weed scientist at Oregon State University. She says she warned APHIS that permitting the seed fields was tantamount to deregulation; even without the storms, the grass’ biology practically guaranteed its spread. The decision to move ahead anyway reflected the agency’s somewhat cavalier approach to field trials at the time. A 2005 USDA audit found that it did not, for instance, keep track of field locations or review companies’ plans for containing their products. The audit warned that APHIS’ procedures did “not go far enough to ensure the safe introduction of agricultural biotechnology.”

In 2007, APHIS fined Scotts $500,000 — the largest amount allowable — for losing control of the bentgrass. “There was no doubt they violated the agreement,” says Meier, who had left Scotts to work for the agency by then. But he didn’t think the bentgrass’ escape in Oregon, or from future plantings, was cause for concern. It has never been a weed in crops like corn, soy or wheat, he says.

However, APHIS soon discovered that not everyone shared Meier’s view. In particular, federal land management agencies already struggled to manage creeping bentgrass and its relatives in natural areas, and objected to the prospect of losing one of their best tools: Roundup. “The deregulation of this organism,” the U.S. Forest Service wrote bluntly, “has the potential to adversely impact all 175 national forests and grasslands.”

So, in addition to potential threats to forests, one of the companies responsible - Scotts - was fined a mere $500,000, and there's no mention of any fine to the other partner in the engineered gold grass scheme, Mon(ster)santo. The result of there field trials was that the wind and birds carried the grass beyond the test field, and now there's no stopping it.

But this highlights the whole problem that I've blogged about time and again on this site: the agribusiness companies are very quick to sue farmers when their fields are found to contain their genetically engineered plants, even if they didn't plant their fields with them but the seeds were carried by storms or birds, but somehow they never seem to suffer from the same problem in reverse when their engineered products threaten the produce of farmers who do not want their products.  It is precisely this sort of environmental impact that caused Russia to turn against GMOs and to institute very long-term intergenerational studies of environmental and health impact of GMOs. (One can only hope that the Trump-Putin effort will address the issue, and allow non-GMO Russian crops, produce, and seeds to be sold here).

But wait, there's more looming problems:

Of course, Scotts did pay a fine. But then Malheur County landowners noticed that Roundup no longer worked on what they thought were regular bentgrass plants in their ditches. They brought samples to OSU’s local experiment station, which sent them to Mallory-Smith in Corvallis. She soon confirmed the fugitive plant’s identity.

Scotts hired contractors to help the irrigation district fight the grass, but it kept getting ahead of them, says Gary Page, the Malheur County weed inspector. Workers sprayed other herbicides every spring and fall. But they struggled to keep up in summer, when the grass grew long and flowered. The ditches were full and the only herbicide approved for use near water was Roundup. (Emphasis added)

In other words, Roundup would not work on the grass, because the grass is engineered to be resistant to it, and other herbicides don't work either, so the grass grows and grows in irrigation ditches.

I don't know about you, but I call that a problem.

The rest of the article is a classic case of competing agencies, with competing jurisdictions, through which the agribusiness companies march and push their products, and all along, the old warning from F. William Engdahl and other early researchers into the looming GMO mess remains true: there was little to no long-term inter-generational environmental or health impact studies. And as the article also points out, some of this grass has now naturally merged with other grasses to produce natural hybrids that are also Roundup resistant. Additionally, the article also points out yet another problem, and this one is not a looming problem, it's already happened:

Erstrom watched with increasing worry. He feared that bentgrass might creep into alfalfa or carrot seed bound for anti-GE export markets like Japan, causing crops to get rejected. It could also hitch a ride to the Willamette Valley in the hay Malheur County supplies to many dairies, he says, and infiltrate the grass seed industry.

Contamination is a frequent source of friction over GE crops. A 2014 survey by Food and Water Watch, an opponent of biotechnology, reported that a third of all organic grain producers had found unwanted GE products on their farms. The majority had taken preventive measures to reduce the risk — which cost individual farmers thousands of dollars. A USDA survey, published the same year, found that economic losses due to contaminated organic crops were relatively small — $6 million in total since 2011. But it did not track impacts on non-organic, non-GE growers, who make up a much larger share of the agricultural industry.

In most cases, the offending plant is a commercial crop. But there are exceptions, as when an eastern Oregon farmer found Roundup Ready wheat growing in a field in 2013. Mallory-Smith identified it as a variety Monsanto had field-tested in the state before it abandoned its bid for deregulation. In the wake of the discovery, Japan and South Korea temporarily stopped buying wheat from the Pacific Northwest.

But what happens when American agricultural products are so tainted with GMO contaminated crops of plants that countries with stricter regulations quit buying from the USA altogether? Agricultural products continue to be one of the USA's major exports, and it would be, needless to say, a blow, especially in an atmosphere of increasing talk of "trade wars" and tariffs. A dramatic fall of exports would have a large and adverse effect on the US economy. There's a flip side to that problem too: for those countries would have to buy agricultural products from somewhere.  And guess which country doesn't allow GMOs?

Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, Mr. Putin is smiling...

See you on the flip side...

16 thoughts on “THE GMO BENTGRASS PROBLEM GROWING OUT OF CONTROL”

  1. Sheep might eat this grass: they “nibble” closer to the ground than cattle. The question is, would they touch it?

  2. ’ve read Stephanie Dalley’s Myths from Mesopotamia more than once since I purchased it a few years ago. I, too, noticed that the rendering of the text and the textual criticism are incongruent—the text implies a very different scenario than the official narrative. From the texts one does get the idea that genetic engineering (GE) was a very real factor in the creation of homo sapiens sapiens—and other organisms as well. These texts even suggest some GE diseases were used to reduce the population at least once—which opens up a whole new vein of speculation about what these organisms were and their long-term effects on the environment. Similar observations were made by others through the study of grain seeds. At some point, the peoples responsible for this open laboratory experiment did the most unconscionable, and irresponsible, thing possible for a civilized species—they left the experiment alone to run its course. One wonders if they were somehow changed via unintended consequences, became earth-bound and died, or whether they escaped and took the contamination with them. Or, perhaps they went deep underground and changed as a result of their own experiments. Who knows?

    After their disappearance, the legacy they left is the world we inherited. The lessons learned by those who survived were set down in Sumerian texts as a warning! These texts are ignored by an academic slight of hand so that “forward progress” can be made to the “betterment” of all “man-kind” as an “ascending, enlightened race of peoples in a scientific age”. Whatever these phrases mean to progressive thinkers, I don’t think many of us share their general optimism. Because this ancient race seems no longer with us, was afraid enough to quarantine us, and because we’ve been cautious in space to try to express a peaceful intent just in case we bump into them, their absence, coupled with so rapid an exit, suggests they were afraid of something they produced that was dangerous to their existence. Biology has a way of turning the intent to which it is used into a weapon against the “engineers” by formal genetic processes that are beyond intellectual control. Whether they can or cannot gain control of these forces is not the point. The point is proper respect to the biological processes that produce life as we know it. By not demonstrating proper respect and restraint, we’re fouling our nest—and we may pay a seriously heavy price for doing it. Whether we do have the technology to get us off planet as an escape hatch is not the point either—because whatever damage we do here, we are certain to carry its consequences with us through contamination within our own modified genome at the expense of another world’s ecosystem. If history has taught us anything after gleaning from the Sumerian texts, the lesson is related to the responsible use of science. Those who engineered us are gone—and their absence is directly related to the science they used while here. The lesson is there, but we’re not listening!

  3. This is why I don’t eat meat, never drink milk but make my own almond milk from alive almonds. I don’t even trust organic produce entirely, due to the fact, the grass & soil can be contaminated without the local farmer aware of it.

    1. I certainly don’t want to appear “snarky” but why eat at all if you are so paranoid about your food? At least live some place where you can grow your own food if you absolutely feel that way. We process our own game, venison and feral hog, raise organic chickens and have a garden. I gave up being insane about my food a long time ago – if it is going to kill me, it will. Meanwhile, I focus on purchasing organic and grass fed when it is necessary… and try to live my life the rest of the time.

      Meanwhile, a good “active” boycott on all GMO products and places where Monsanto products are sold would be a better start. Make it known what they are doing to our planet.

  4. marcos toledo

    What do these irresponsibles care the probably have a hideout somewhere on Earth or off-world. So when the disaster occurs they won’t be around to face the consequences at least a immediately. But then these wiseguys don’t really think things out long-term never have living in their personal bubbles fantasies. Or they are just vicious murdering maniacs and get off on all the misery and destruction they sowing.

  5. . . . The proverbial genie is out of the bottle upon land, air, and sea where chemical compounds and constructed bio-forms are concerned. . . Some say it’s been an arrogant blunder for some time by those who think they know all that there is to know except their own profound ignorance. . . ‘Doubt Mr Putin has been smiling since his comrades and he have ionizing radiation and concentrated chemical problems to deal with as that lot is also out of the bottle. . . How the dynamics of spread and further change plays out is likely to be a matter of wiser management of land, air, and sea. . .

    . . . For now, it’s the expert ignoramus leading the expert ignoramus – Get your diploma mill degrees now – Specially made out of clandestinely crafted Hemp plant made into paper for scrollable diplomas. . . (just kidding of course)

    1. Robert Barricklow

      The political animal hasn’t changed much since Jonathan Swift lampooned them left & right & center.

  6. It comes down to consumer awareness, and even in areas of increased consciousness of these types of things, people find it insulting that they should have to pay more for non-GMO products, so they don’t. Yet, they are often times the most vocal whiners concerning environmental damage.

    I think if more countries banned GE products from the US, we would see a price drop in these products here at home, while other products would skyrocket. Yet still, the sleeping masses won’t blame their own purchasing decisions. I don’t think anything will wake this society up to these food crimes. Lest GMO grass starts growing in their arses.

  7. It’s one big, uncontained outdoor experiment, with humans as the lab rats. I can’t fathom how so many people in so many companies and agencies could have been so cavalier about letting this stuff out of the lab without long-term intergenerational testing. I think the Sorcerer’s Apprentice has gone stark, raving mad!

    Apparently, there’s a “landmark case” going on in California against Mon(ster)santo:

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jul/09/monsanto-trial-roundup-weedkiller-cancer-dewayne-johnson

    It’s good to see this kind of pushback against the GMO juggernaut, but I’m not holding my breath.

  8. Robert Barricklow

    Frankenstein Unbound{book, movie, & now the real one…]
    It Works! For those that it’s designed for: the less than 1%; – at the expense of everyone else, living
    When they’re fined? It’s a clerical printing fix[fiat money from nothing computer keystrokes. They probably have an AI fix-it app from their contracted AI lawyer, from an AI law firm.]. No worries. The Supreme Denial Court of the USA is strictly business – bought, vetted, and rubber-stamped USA Corporatized Grade AAA Supremes] .
    The proverbial and quite literally symbolic “gene ee” is out of the bottle; …in this case, grasslands.

    Now we’re pulling away the silver screened curtain to see what’s been going on covertly for sometime: Gene Wars.
    Putin is well aware of sabotage. I wonder what countermeasures they have under wraps to kill the Frankenstein Unbound monsters?

    Deregulation = lawless.
    Bansksters and their Frankenstein brethren offshoots.

  9. There was this kind of problem in Southern Oregon. Organic farmers (mostly small farms) were in danger of losing their Certified status because of wind/bird-borne contamination from adjacent GMO fields. So, there was a County-wide effort to introduce a law to ban GMO plantings to protect these farmers. It made it to the ballot, but then – surprise, surprise – multi-millions in advertising dollars showed up to beat-down the effort (via fear-mongering)…

        1. Robert Barricklow

          Sell the above debts and more dents to pension funds. Don’t worry about rising inflation[aka wages]. Central banks is manipulating of stock prices. Keep stock prices and assets up while deflating the economy.

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