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Published July 18, 2011, 09:50 PM

USDA rules on GE bluegrass

WASHINGTON — A little noted July 1 news release from the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regarding the regulation of genetically engineered Kentucky bluegrass “could drastically reduce the number (of) genetically engineered plants subject to regulatory oversight,” the Union of Concerned Scientists has said.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — A little noted July 1 news release from the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regarding the regulation of genetically engineered Kentucky bluegrass “could drastically reduce the number (of) genetically engineered plants subject to regulatory oversight,” the Union of Concerned Scientists has said.

“This is potentially the most serious change in U.S. policy on GE plants in years,” Margaret Mellon, director of the UCS food and environment program, said in a July 11 release. “Taken together, these decisions suggest that in the future, most GE organisms will be given a free regulatory pass.”

In its news release, APHIS said that in a response to Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the agency confirmed that the Scotts GE Kentucky bluegrass variety does not fall under APHIS biotechnology authority for regulation.

Not regulated as a weed

In a second decision, directed at the International Center for Technology Assessment and the Center for Food Safety, APHIS determined it will not regulate Kentucky bluegrass — neither Scotts GE Kentucky bluegrass nor traditional Kentucky bluegrass — as a federal noxious weed under its authority, the agency said.

Mellon said the decisions mean that “unless a plant can be considered to have some potential to become a plant pest, it can escape regulation entirely.”

The GE Kentucky bluegrass decision signals that the regulations USDA have been working on for the last 11 years under the Plant Protection Act of 2000 will exclude virtually all GE plants from a “noxious weed” designation, even though some could cause substantial environmental damage, she added.

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