Monsanto Co. and Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. are asking the U.S. to approve a type of golf-course grass that they’ve genetically engineered to tolerate a popular weedkiller. But don’t expect to ever see it growing on your favorite links.
The companies are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remove restrictions on creeping bentgrass that contains a gene allowing it to tolerate glyphosate, the active ingredient in St. Louis-based Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.
Removal of federal restrictions on gene-modified plantings is typically sought by developers so the plants and seeds can be sold. But in a highly unusual twist, Monsanto and Scotts say they "will not commercialize or license to other entities glyphosate-tolerant creeping bentgrass," according to a 281-page petition the USDA released for public comment Wednesday. Jim King, a Scotts spokesman, confirmed the company no longer plans to make it commercially available.
They want the grass deregulated so when it’s found growing wild, it won’t trigger environmental concerns and can be eradicated like any other weed, according to King. Scotts is developing other varieties of grass, he said.
Scotts filed a similar bentgrass petition in 2002 with the intention of selling it to professional golf courses. Soon after, the modified grass was found growing outside approved test plots in eastern Oregon, King said. Scotts, a Marysville, Ohio-based seller of lawn-care products, agreed in 2007 to pay a $500,000 fine to resolve allegations it violated USDA rules for field tests of its grass.
Glyphosate-tolerant creeping bentgrass continues to be found occasionally growing wild in Oregon, and when that happens the company provides herbicides to kill it, King said.
"The deregulation petition closes the loop for us," King said.
Scotts fell 1.3 percent to $62.69 at the close in New York. Monsanto slid 1.7 percent to $93.58.
Creeping bentgrass can be cut very short and has grown on North American putting greens, tees and fairways for more than a century. Making the grass able to withstand Roundup herbicide was intended to help "maintain superior quality turf on golf courses" by controlling weeds, according to the petition.
Monsanto has deployed similar technology for more than two decades, creating Roundup-tolerant corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets. Those so-called Roundup Ready crops have proved popular with farmers because they simplify weed control.
The USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service will take comments on the bentgrass deregulation petition through March 8, according to a statement posted on its website.