First, read this:
Over the past two decades, New Zealand scientists have been working on designer strains of grass that could one day be used to keep birds away from golf courses and airports. Apparently the right combinations of grass and endophytes fungi would produce turf with unique properties.Next, read this:
Insects can't eat these grasses, which deprives some birds of their food source. They are also toxic and can give grass-eating birds an illness the researchers call "post-ingestion malaise".
A genetically modified grass designed to improve golf courses and lawns has caused alarm in the US after escaping into the wild. Creeping bentgrass, Agrostis stolonifera, has spread up to three miles outside a test site in Oregon with nine different plants being identified.It seems to me that the risk of contaminating our fields, farms, and wilderness with a grass that insects can’t eat, and that sickens birds, outweighs the societal benefits of cleaner golf courses. I’ll go a step further and suggest that if al-Qaeda were experimenting with plants like this one, we’d consider it grounds for concern or worse.
In related news, a judge has ruled that the USDA broke the law by planting a pharmaceutical-producing plant across Hawai’i:
Citing possible harm to Hawai’i's 329 endangered and threatened species, a federal district judge has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in permitting the cultivation of drug-producing, genetically engineered crops throughout Hawai’i. The court found that USDA acted in "utter disregard" of the ESA, and also violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), by failing to conduct even preliminary investigations prior to its approval of the plantings.At Grist, David Roberts makes an essential point about the political economy of risk assessment:
Consider Dick Cheney's celebrated One Percent Doctrine, which says that even a 1% chance of catastrophic terrorist attack should prompt us to respond as though it were a certainty.Indeed. Would anyone care to speculate on the odds that conventional crops or native plants will be contaminated with a medicinal, hyperallergenic, or otherwise deleterious GE strain?
Well, the chances of catastrophic damage from global warming are a hell of a lot higher than 1%. So ...
Bearing in mind, of course, that it’s already happened.