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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Poisonous Grass

A recent web article caught my attention. At first glance the purveyor of the story tagged it with the assertion that GMO Bermuda grass killed cows. Never being one to repeat gossip without checking its veracity, I followed the links to the report. The nomenclature of "GMO" did not apply and the claim seemed to be debunked. That story appears at GMO food: Hybrid poison grass that kills Texas cattle not genetically modified by Linda Gentile at

At second glance, I was concerned about the use and spread of the Tifton 85 hybrid Bermuda grass primarily because it was "just a cross-breed" amongst two or more well known strains of Bermuda grass. The creators of this hybrid saw the benefits of an easily digestible grass that would grow cows bigger and faster. For that they should be commended. But for every good intention there is a road to hell paved with it.

The unanticipated consequences of this grass was not manifest for the 15 years that it has been deployed in pasture land in Texas. The recent drought conditions that are widespread across the state revealed a dark secret of the hybrid. The secret was not completely unknown, though. Quoting from Ms. Gentile's article that paraphrased the following "According to the Animal Health Library, Bermuda grass is high in hydrocyanic acid, which may be concentrated during times of drought." the possibilities of cyanide exposure was well known. I am not accusing the farmers or the developers of Tifton 85 hybrid for any negligence, since ordinary Bermuda grass might do the same thing. The problem is there are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) being unleashed into the food chain with just as much non-existent research and care.

If a hybrid seed can do what Tifton 85 has done, then a GMO variety may have even more deleterious effects on the environment and our food chain. We indeed may need to have GMO and further hybrid organisms in order to avoid starvation of the 8, 9 and 10 billion person populations that are certainly going to become a reality some day. However, we must also be very diligent in our endeavors and not poison our world in the name of making food. The fields of grass in Texas might become off-limits to grazing if the present drought conditions persist. The Cyanide may indeed off-gas as well and create sickening winds that waft across the plains. A wildfire will create cyanide laced smoke that everyone will breathe, not just the cows. Then what will we do with all that poisonous grass?