Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Alas, the World Draws Ever Nearer to Its Verdant, Well-Manicured End

Oh what cursed blight has Corporate America and its willing accomplices in this corrupt administration visited upon us now? What diabolical force is being employed to hasten the Rapture? How much longer can we survive?

Oh woe! Fie! Fie! Wormwood!

What shall we call this plague of the Apocalypse descending upon us?

It's, er, grass:

You don't have to be a grass-seed producer in central Oregon to be alarmed by last week's news that genetically modified bentgrass has escaped its test area and taken root among wild plants miles away.

Um...

Yes you do.

Once again, companies controlling the transgenic revolution have proved themselves unable to safely sequester their creations while the risks are under study. Those risks remain murky, though certainly real, and even if this first documented escape of engineered plants from a U.S. test plot falls short of catastrophe, rest assured there will be others. Industry practices and lagging government oversight virtually guarantee it.

Oh Lord, if it is thy will, please deliver us from this murkily risky chlorophyll-soaked grassy doom!

In some ways, the downwind migration of creeping bentgrass into an area including the Crooked River National Grassland, northeast of Eugene, is more alarming than the earlier case of transgenic canola popping up in Canada.

Ah yes, the Great Canola Popup Crisis of Aught Three. Many hosers died in their tracks from fright that day. Although, the ones that survived went on to enjoy heart-healthy popcorn for the rest of their lives.

The issue is the same: accidental transfer, especially to wild and weedy plants, of a gene specially inserted to make the engineered variety resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). But unlike canola, which has few wild cousins to pollinate and must be replanted each year, bentgrass is a perennial with at least a dozen close relatives susceptible to cross-pollination.

Like the Kentucky Bluegrass and the California sensomea. You can play 18 holes on that stuff and then get stoned to the bejeezus on it afterwards!

While the goal in both cases was also the same -- lowering herbicide use -- it's not irrelevant to consider that canola contributes lots of vegetable oil to the world's food supply, while the high-tech bentgrass was destined for golf courses (and perhaps, down the road, some lawns in affluent suburbs).

And herein lies the real horror for the Portland Avenue Poopheads: golf courses and rich people with nice lawns.

Because old-fangled grass seed is a $370-million-a-year industry in Oregon, officials of Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto offered safety guarantees against seed or pollen escaping from their experimental bentgrass plantings, including a wide buffer zone around the test plots. But by the time the test crop's seed was harvested two years ago and the modified plants destroyed, scientists had found its pollen well beyond the buffer.

OK. So pollen from a genetically modified grass seed is a MAJOR (murky) RISK!!!! but yet ragweed is allowed to pollinate willy-nilly without so much as a letter to the Strib - let alone an above the fold institutional editorial?

Excuse me for a moment while I go blow my nose 47 times.

Now bentgrass sampling in wild fields has turned up nine plants with the gene that provides Roundup resistance, as far as three miles outside the zone. It's unclear how many of these grew from escaped seed or are essentially wild plants that picked up the resistance gene from drifting pollen.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!!

Either way, it's a nightmare scenario for Oregon's seed producers. If the resistance gene shows up in their grasses, it could kill exports to the many countries that ban genetically modified plants.

And while I sympathize with the grass seed people, it sounds like the real problem lies with the laws of those other countries.

Why do liberals and foreigners hate genetically modified turfgrass?

If it shows up in noxious grasses, their weed-control problems will multiply -- while the usefulness of glyphosate, rather earth-friendly as herbicides go, will correspondingly contract.

Three words: gas-o-line.

Scotts and Monsanto are pressing for federal approval to bring their talented new bentgrass to market.

"Talented" grass?

Ohhhhhhh! Like the Strib editorial board!

But you've no need to worry that its Roundup resistance will drift into your manicured grass, or your neighbor's weedy yard, or that vacant lot down the street. The Scotts people say the golf courses will surely keep the bentgrass stuff cut so short it won't have a chance to produce pollen or go to seed. Rest assured.

How can I "rest assured" when you just spent the last 9 column inches scaring the bejeebers out of us?!!! I'm in a full-on frothy panic here!

Oh. You were being sarcastic. I get it.

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