Originally published by the Oregonian
January 8th, 2017
by Jeff Manning
After more than a decade of unsuccessful efforts to eradicate the genetically modified grass it created and allowed to escape, lawn and garden giant Scotts Miracle-Gro now wants to step back and shift the burden to Oregonians.
The federal government is poised to allow that to happen by relinquishing its oversight, even as an unlikely coalition of farmers, seed dealers, environmentalists, scientists and regulators cry foul.
The altered grass has taken root in Oregon, of all places, the self-professed grass seed capital of the world with a billion-dollar-a-year industry at stake. The grass has proven hard to kill because it’s been modified to be resistant to Roundup, the ubiquitous, all-purpose herbicide.
The situation is particularly tense in Malheur County, where Scotts’ altered grass has taken root after somehow jumping the Snake River from test beds in Idaho.
“Imagine I had a big, sloppy, nasty Rottweiler, and you lived next door in your perfectly manicured house,” said Bill Buhrig, an Oregon State University extension agent in Malheur County. “Then I dump the dog in your backyard, I take off and now it’s your problem.”
The battle pits farmer against farmer, regulator against regulator, seller against buyer. Scotts spokesman Jim King insists the company has done its part and significantly reduced the modified grass’s territory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which for 14 years had refused to deregulate the controversial grass on environmental concerns, suddenly reversed course last fall and signaled it could grant the company’s request as early as this week.
Many find the prospect alarming. The Oregon and Idaho departments of agriculture oppose deregulation, as does U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which predicted commercialization of the grass could drive endangered species to extinction.
“We don’t understand the ecological or the economic impact of this,” said Katy Coba, former director of the Oregon Agriculture Department. “We need to figure out the extent of the contamination.”