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UCS concerned with APHIS decisions on GE bluegrass

A 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 said today.

“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 news 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 Company, the agency confirmed that the Scotts GE Kentucky bluegrass variety does not fall under APHIS biotechnology authority for regulation.

In a second decision, directed at the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) and the Center for Food Safety (CFS), APHIS determined it would 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 the 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.