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Connecticut wanted to ban GM grass? Idiocy dodges a bullet!

Dandelion seeds
Dandelion seeds

Taking time from whatever their busy schedule normally entails, Connecticut Senate President Donald Williams was determined to amend an existing bill to ban Roundup resistant bluegrass from Connecticut. Citing no actual science nor consulting any actual scientists, Williams seemed to be taking his cues from Tara Cook-Littman, Connecticut’s answer to Jenny McCarthy, who has been spreading mendacious anti-science nonsense about biotechnology as chairman of the GMO Free CT lobbying group since last year. (Worse yet, Cook-Littman is planning to run for state representative, taking her single issue idiocy to a new level.)

Of course, no such product yet exists, although an article in the Columbus Dispatch indicated that Scott’s-Miracle Gro has developed Roundup resistant bluegrass and is testing it at a few employees’ homes in Central Ohio. The advantage of this grass would probably be primarily for golf courses and other large lawn expanses where other forms of weed treatment are too expensive or difficult.

By using glyphosate (Roundup) resistant grass, Roundup can be used to kill the weeds rather than resorting to more poisonous and expensive weed killers. Roundup can be applied whenever weeds appear, but breaks down fairly rapidly, and since it binds to the soil, it is not a danger to waterways. Roundup is of exceptionally low animal toxicity, being comparable to salt or aspirin. It is considered a "once in a century herbicide" by scientists.

Senate President Williams states in his press release that Roundup would contaminate the “air, streams and rivers of Connecticut,” assertion that the above studies show is utterly untrue. Worse yet, Williams goes on to link Roundup to “DNA damage, premature births and miscarriages, birth defects, multiple types of cancer, and disruption of neurological development in children.” There is simply no evidence for these extravagant, made-up claims in the scientific literature. The only paper that came close was a ridiculous and discredited one by Samsel and Seneff, which has been thoroughly discredited, as it contained no experimental data.

The good news is that Connecticut’s foolishness dodged a bullet, when the House defeated this bill 103-37, with the House representative Dan Carter from Bethel noting that the GMO seed isn’t yet available and thus "We're banning something that doesn't exist."

Of course, there is no science indicating that grass could be harmful, whether Roundup resistant or not. Some senators noted that some weeds had become resistant, but this can happen with any herbicide, and can be avoided with occasional rotation of herbicides.

One of the silliest quotes in the Hartford Courant article came from Rep Jonathan Steinberg of Westport, who said that “the industry is already working on a derivative of the infamous Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange to deal with herbicide-resistant weeds. "I'm not so sure we want Connecticut to become known as the Agent Orange State," Steinberg said.

It is uninformed statements like these that show why legislatures need scientific consultants before they formulate policies. This particular piece of nonsense is a favorite of the anti-GMO crowd because of its shock value, In fact, Agent Orange was a combination of the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. The relatively innocuous herbicide 2,4-D has been in use in farming for over 60 years, and is not particularly toxic, with an LD50 of about 350 mg/kg. It was the other herbicide, 2,4,5-T that became contaminated with dioxins because of a serious error in the manufacturing process defined by the Defense Department.

We spoke with Professor John Finer of the Department of Horticulture and Crop Science at the Ohio State University about these issues. Finer was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch’s original article on the Scott’s product and we reached out to him for a follow-up. While he agreed that the glyphosate-resistant trait could spread to adjacent grass by pollination, he pointed out that such grass was still easily killed with other herbicides. He concluded by saying:

The fear of spread of other transgenics is very much overdone. People are more concerned with plants being “natural” whatever that is. “Natural” certainly does not describe many of the plants that are in the field or in our yards. I have seen this discussion over the course of my career and cannot predict the outcome. This is perception and politics – not science. The science is very solid and the clear conclusion is the safety and tremendous benefit of these products.

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