Lawn Reform

Coming soon – Roundup-Ready Turfgrass

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Photo via Shutterstock

News from the garden-product company we love to hate – Scotts-MiracleGro, of course.  As reported here (via a Rant tipster) CEO Jim Hagedorn announced at the company’s annual meeting that it’s testing genetically modified grass seed (Kentucky bluegrass) that will withstand the large-scale spraying of the herbicide Roundup on our lawns, calling it a “major step forward” and predicting its arrival on the market as soon as next year.


A little history is worth telling here.  Scotts previously tested a GMO bentgrass that turned out to escape from the Oregon test fields.  Oops!  So now they’re trying another species, but with a big difference – this time they don’t have to get USDA approval for the product, thanks to a loophole in the USDA regs.  Curiously, only genetic modifications involving plant “pests” (like bacteria) are required to be approved by the USDA, and the new Kentucky bluegrass product doesn’t use bacteria – so it has a free ride to market!

In addition to the chance that this product will also, just like bent grass, eventually escape, there’s well-founded concern that the large quantities of Roundup that will be used on lawns planted with this Roundup-resistant seed will eventually create herbicide-resistant weeds, leading to greater use of Roundup or more toxic herbicides.  Concerns have been reported widely – in the NYT, Wired, Safelawns, etc.

On the bright side (I guess), this “enhanced turf grass” is also designed to grow slower, so need less mowing, and also be more drought-tolerant.  Scotts is actually calling this a “sustainable grass.”

But the bright side for Scotts, which has shown repeatedly that it doesn’t give a damn about the environment (e.g., knowingly selling bird-killing bird food), is in the green stuff they really care about – a market opportunity for this product “probably significantly north of $500 million and probably less than $1 billion,” according to Hagedorn.  Plus increased sales of Roundup, which is made by Monsanto and marketed by – wouldn’t you know?  Scotts-MiracleGro.

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Photo via Shutterstock

As I’ve written here before, I’m not necessarily anti-GMO myself, but I think it should be used sparingly and only for good purposes, like feeding people.  We already know there are better ways to produce slow-growing, drought-tolerant lawns, and also that there are better ways to control weeds than using herbicides.  But what’s most infuriating of all about this product is that it’s totally unnecessary.  An honestly sustainable approach, which we’ll never see this company take, would be to stop telling  Americans they have to have perfect-looking monocultures without a single “weed.”  The totally unnatural lawns pictured above need to become reminders of the bad old days of American gardening.

And whatever happened to that boycott?Capture

When GMO research by Scotts was first announced, there were calls for a boycott (also here) against the company, which somehow didn’t gain traction.  Though the many expressions of outrage do make for fun reading.  From Natural News:

If Scotts Miracle-Gro pursues this genetically modified lawn seed, it will instantly place itself on the list of the top 10 most evil companies in North America, earning it widespread criticism, condemnation and boycotts from consumers (who, for the most part, have a positive image of Scott’s right now). Many gardeners who currently use Scotts Miracle-Gro products will boycott them instead. Gardeners love the natural world, remember. And they do not like to see companies unleashing GMOs across that natural world.

Memo to Natural News:  there was plenty of outrage against the company before this latest move that you’ve just noticed.  But hey, welcome to our world!  And stay tuned.

Posted by on February 7, 2014 at 11:35 am, in the category Lawn Reform.
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9 Responses to “Coming soon – Roundup-Ready Turfgrass”

  1. Well said, Susan. GM plants, I think, have a place in our world, especially the world we’ve already modified so radically, but there’s always some risk, and GM grass represent a completely unnecessary risk.

  2. Stella B says:

    I agree with Ruth. GM is just another method of breeding new plants. However, Roundup is my chief defense against Bermuda grass.

  3. VG says:

    While I agree that perfect, weed free lawns are unnecessary, the alternative for people who want that look is to use the broadleaf weed killers already ubiqutous on the market. These are incredibly toxic and long lasting in the environment. Perhaps Roundup ready turfgrass is the lesser of two evils.

    • Ivette Soler says:

      Actually, the alternative to people who want that look is to educate themselves on why maintaining that “look” is devastating to our ecosystem!
      I install lawns (back yard only, as small as clients will allow), but the maintenance of them is strictly organic, non-toxic and labor intensive. THAT is the trade-off. If you NEED a lawn, you are going to be paying for it with an excess of time and effort from either you, or a maintenance company of your employ. If you live in a drought zone, your water bills SHOULD be astronomical – it is only fair. Lawn like this is NOT a right, and a weed free, poison laden lawn is NOT the American dream.
      To say that the only option other than Round up is a broadleaf (or broad spectrum) weed killer seriously blows my mind. What about – I don’t know – WEEDING?

  4. Roy says:

    As ‘traditional’ turf farmers, this story has particular resonance for us.

    As written, these genetic modifications are unnecessary, but then everyone likes a shortcut. Whether it’s artificial grass or GMO, we’ll follow developments closely.

  5. Ivette Soler says:

    SERIOUSLY???? Is anyone SERIOUSLY thinking that this is a good idea? Thank you Susan, for this post – I needed my head to explode!

  6. Sandra Knauf says:

    Sustainable turfgrass . . . my ass!

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