Re: Glowing Grass

Date: Sun Jul 09 2000 - 10:23:00 MDT

In a message dated 7/9/00 9:27:13 AM Central Daylight Time, writes:

> Nevertheless my hope is that when people start to bring
> beautiful plants into their home genetic engineering will shed its
> image.

Think again, John. I hate to be the one who consistently sounds what amounts
to an "un-optimistic" note here, but I frankly think the time has come for
proponents of technological and scientific progress to wake up and smell the
roses -- pun intended. We are consistently losing the battle for public
opinion. Genetic engineering technologies are advancing WAY faster than its
proponents are realizing, in an important sense -- and that sense is the
public at large's acceptance of the technology. Read the following article
that is representative of the coverage this specific development is getting.
The luddites are well organized, have a simple, consistent theme and are
getting better and better at getting themselves insserted into every single
news item announcing any progress. I'm sorry to say it, but as someone who
works in the arena of public persuasion, I have to say we're losing -- and

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

>From The Kansas City Star,,local/377497c3.708,.html
Genetically altered grass that would always be green has foes red-hot

By DAVID BARBOZA - The New York Times
Date: 07/08/00 22:15

MARYSVILLE, Ohio -- Standing in long rows in Greenhouse No. 3 at the Scotts
Co.'s research laboratory are pots of grass that could be a suburbanite's
dream come true.

The grass, which Scotts hopes will eventually carpet every lawn and golf
course around the world, is genetically altered to withstand applications of
the most potent weedkillers and remain healthy and green.

Scotts, the world's largest maker of lawn and turf products, has other
varieties in the works as well. One, nicknamed "low mow" by company
scientists, has been designed to grow at a slower pace, thereby reducing the
need for a lawn mower. Other strains could be drought-resistant, or bred to
flourish in the winter.

The company is also working on genetically modified roses and other flowers
that will bloom longer than the ones found in nature. And some scientists at
Scotts are even talking about someday developing grasses in different

Critics are horrified.

Environmental activists -- already concerned about the genetically modified
crops growing on more than 70 million acres of American farmland -- have
criticized research laboratories experimenting with genetically altered
grass and trees out of fear that the plants will fundamentally alter the
environment. Others are speaking out against this latest form of genetic

"This is going to put biotech in everyone's back yard," said Jeremy Rifkin,
a longtime opponent of biotechnology. "It's going to open up a national
debate, because everyone has a lawn. You're going to see a `not in my back
yard' phenomenon."

The American Society of Landscape Architects, with more than 14,000 members,
joined Rifkin on Friday in petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
calling for the agency to suspend all field tests of the new grasses that
Scotts and Monsanto, a biotech partner, are conducting.

"We are highly concerned with the use of genetically modified plants because
they could potentially affect the whole ecosystem of native plants," said
Janice Cervelli Schach, president of the society. "We want bodies outside of
Monsanto and Scotts to assess these risks."

Many consumers are also wary.

"This whole genetic thing has gotten out of hand," said Nancy Childs, 29,
who was loading her cart with black-eyed Susans at a Home Depot store in
Chicago. Genetically altered grass would be "convenient, but it's not
normal," she said.

Scotts says it is moving cautiously. It says it is conducting intensive
research under the oversight of federal regulators to ensure that the new
products are safe, and to avoid the maelstrom that has erupted, at least in
Europe, over genetically altered crops.

The Agriculture Department regulates where Scotts can plant the experimental
grass, and Scotts must obtain the department's permission before it can
transport the grass anywhere.

"These products will give you more beautiful lawns and gardens," said Mark
R. Schwartz, head of the branded plants group at Scotts, which is based in
Columbus, Ohio. "And if there are problems with the technology, then it
won't come out. But we're following all the rules, taking all the

Scotts is far ahead of its competitors in the race to create the raw
material for perfect lawns.

"That's how we make money, beautifying the world, trying to generate more
beauty with less maintenance," said Charles M. Berger, the company's chief
executive. "And we'll use every tool in the toolbox. Biotech -- that's just
another tool in the toolbox."

A company in Australia has been trying to create a blue rose through the use
of biotechnology, but scientists at Scotts have already developed
genetically altered petunias and geraniums in laboratories in St. Louis.

Scotts said it will develop an even larger arsenal of "smart" plants with
longer-lasting blooms, different colors and, in some cases, built-in

Genetically altered grass, however, may be the first bioengineered lawn
product to reach the market. Scientists at Monsanto and Rutgers University
have been working with Scotts for several years to develop the new grass

Activists are sabotaging test plots in protest. Last month, a group calling
itself the Anarchist Golfing Association caused more than $300,000 worth of
damage at an Oregon research center that was testing genetically altered
grass for golf courses.

Scotts' products are not expected to reach the market for at least three
years. But executives hope the company will reap enormous profits in a
market they think could reach $10 billion.

However, the company will not use the word "biotech" on the labels. The word
is generating negative feedback in consumer surveys. Instead, the company
will call them "superior plants," Berger said.

All content 2000 The Kansas City Star

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