It’s happened, just like the hippies said it would.
A genetically modified grass has drifted off an Oregon golf course and hybridized with some closely related local grasses more than two miles away, New Scientist reports. The grass, called creeping bentgrass, is a kind popular with greenskeepers for its ability to form short, dense mats that look a lot like Astroturf.
But as we learned in Caddyshack, maintaining the perfect green is a nonstop headache. The solution: genetically modify the grass so it’s resistant to Roundup, a popular pesticide. That way, you can dispense with any actual weeding and just soak the place in Roundup. Voila: creeping bentgrass everywhere.
But did they stop to think that grass is wind-pollinated and grass species hybridize more frequently than genres of music? Uh, no. They just told the FDA everything would be fine and kept planting.
Now the FDA is asking for an environmental impact statement, presumably so they can take swift action. Beginning after the drafting, review, comment, decision, and appeals processes have concluded.
Anti-GMO rallies produce lots of news footage involving people who dress up as ailing monarch butterflies or Frankenfood and dance like Deadheads. These protestors draw the derision of coolly efficient molecular biologists who say, rightly, that there is a third world out there starving and it doesn’t have time for our organically grown middle-class fears.
But of all the objections to GMOs, this is the one that has always bothered me:
When we make GMOs we make something new, and then we lose the ability to stop making it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a full-day’s vitamin A in your rice (although allowing the gene-tinkerer to “own” the new breed ought to be abhorrent to pretty much anyone with a genome). There needs to be a compelling reason to tinker: Feeding the hungry, yes. Creating a designer golf course that loves pesticides, not so great.
It took us 30 years to realize that DDT was a mistake (our enthusiasm for it was so great that DDT chemist Paul Muller won the Nobel prize in 1948). At least DDT doesn’t have the ability to draw energy from the sun coupled with a single-minded drive to replicate itself.
This story isn’t exactly ocean or bird related, but it makes me mad as hell. Personally, I’d rather just have Astroturf golf courses.