In a press statement conveniently released just before the busy holiday weekend, the USDA stated that Scotts Miracle Gro's introduction of a new GM Kentucky bluegrass seed did not require any regulation. Despite ongoing protests and legal challenges from environmental groups, land managers, federal agencies and other organizations, the USDA's decision paves the way for the unregulated use of GM lawn seed in U.S. neighborhoods - and a potentially dramatic increase in the use of a toxic herbicide that is increasingly being linked to adverse impacts on human health and the wider environment. The introduction of GM glyphosate-resistant Kentucky bluegrass will force us all to become subjects of an experiment that should have happened in the USDA’s laboratories - not in our lawns, backyards, in our local neighborhoods, and in parks where our kids play. This experiment will further increase the use of this toxic herbicide, and will inevitably lead to the cross-pollination with wild relatives and the many environmental problems this will entail. The potential human health impacts have yet to be discovered, but I know I would plow my lawn up if I thought this seed was in it. For the sake of a few weeds, are the potential risks of GM lawns really worth it?
Mere coincidence or the tip of an iceberg? Following my blog last week on the unintended consequences of GMOs, you may forgive me for a being little smug as I follow the news that eminent scientists are bailing from a steering group formed to allay fears in Britain about GM food. You see, my blog stepped on a few toes and raised a few hackles among those who think people like me should just shut up and let agri-business decide what’s good for us. But I balk at a whitewashing of the truth and I’m glad to see that others do, too. Since the food fight about GMOs is being fought on a global scale, I pay attention to what’s going on in other countries as well as my adopted homeland of the U.S. So I was happy to see that an agri-business effort in the U.K. to promote GM food under the guise of the public good is falling to pieces, thanks to scientists unwilling to be corporate pawns.
Professor Bryan Wynne, vice-chairman of a U.K. steering group set up to gauge public opinion of GM food in Britain, has stepped down from the committee in protest, telling the London Telegraph that the committee was rigged in favor of GM food. Professor Wynne’s resignation comes on the heels of the resignation of Dr. Helen Wallace, another member of the committee, who stepped down a week or so earlier because of the cozy relationship between GM manufacturers and the agency overseeing the group.
The U.K. steering group was ostensibly set up to address public concerns about GM food in an open, science-based manner. Instead, according to Professor Wynne in the Telegraph interview, “It is as much about pushing the public into a particular perspective as it is about listening to the public and finding the right kinds of information.” He further commented, “I am not prepared by default to aid and abet this kind of systematic failure of institutional integrity in what is a crucial public arena, involving deep questions of science and public good.”
Things are just as murky on this side of the pond. In the United States, a recent congressional sign-on letter written by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4) asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) not to deregulate GM alfafa is making the rounds on Capitol Hill. In their letter to the USDA, Sen. Leahy and Rep. DeFazio state, “We believe that the broad regulatory authority available to you has been ignored, in order to justify deregulation of a biotech crop that has limited utility to anyone except the manufacturer.”
Try as they might, it appears that big ag isn’t going to be able to dismiss us pesky truth-seekers with a wave of their well-funded corporate hand. Spinning the situation to cast agri-business as a benevolent, paternalistic institution up against deluded, neo-Luddite zealots doesn’t appear to be working either. Big ag is trying its best to control our food, but it has been unable to control our resolve to make sure public policy serves the public. The truth will out.