Escape of genetically modified grass and rice upsets industry

Published 1 September 2006

Lax regulatory enforcement cited as major problem; USDA often unware of testing programs and location

Green grow the rushes, oh? Traces of unapproved genetically modified (GM) rice have been found among fields of conventional rice in a number of rice-growing states and New Zealand, and GM creeping crabgrass being grown for possible use as golf turf likewise escaped from testing fields in Oregon. Scientists believe that cross-contamination of conventional and GM breeds can harm native species and upset delicate ecological balances. Whether or not GM strains can be contained is a critical issue that threatens to inhibit the technology’s future growth. While an uncertain public may come over time to accept GM products, it remains concerned about environmental costs.

Critics cite lax government oversight as a major contributing factor. Companies that develop or use GM products must obey a series of Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, but serious questions are being raised about the department’s commitment to them. In December the inspector general of USDA issued a scathing report of the department’s practices, urging it “to strengthen its accountability for field tests of [genetically enhanced] crops… Weaknesses in APHIS regulations and internal management controls increase the risk that regulated genetically engineered organisms (GEO) will inadvertently persist in the environment….”

One major problem: USDA lacks “basic information about the field test sites it approves and is responsible for monitoring, including where and how the crops are being grown, and what becomes of them at the end of the field test.”

-read more in Gregory Lamb’s Christian Science Monitor report; read about New Zealand’s GM problem in this press release