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Agencies Refused to Publicize Spread of Biotech Bentgrass

For related articles and more information please visit OCA's Resource Center on Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and our Millions Against Monsanto Campaign page.

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- The Oregon Department of Agriculture and the USDA refused to alert the public that genetically modified bentgrass had spread from a test plot in Western Idaho to irrigation ditches in Eastern Oregon.

Carol Mallory-Smith, an Oregon State University weed scientist, made the discovery last month after she received samples from farmers in Malhuer County. The Roundup-resistant creeping bentgrass, under development by The Scott's Co., isn't approved for unrestricted commercial production.

She asked ODA and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agency responsible for regulating the crop, to make the discovery public. Both declined.

Mallory-Smith believed it was important for farmers to be on the watch for the genetically modified bentgrass.

And she believed the information was potentially relevant to a lawsuit being waged in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. In the suit, federal Judge Jeffrey White is deciding whether to allow the restricted production of genetically engineered sugar beet stecklings.

White earlier this year halted production of Roundup Ready beets, pending a new environmental study.

"The issue for me was, I thought it should be disclosed to both sides of the sugar beet lawsuit," Mallory-Smith said. "It may not have any legal implications, but in fairness to both sides, I thought it should be disclosed."

Mallory-Smith decided to act on her own.

"I notified Scotts, I notified the Oregon Department of Agriculture, and I notified the people involved in the sugar beet lawsuit," she said.

On Nov. 4, an Earthjustice attorney introduced the information in testimony in the steckling case, bringing the information public.

ODA Director Katy Coba said the department didn't feel it was its place to publicize the discovery.

"It's not an Oregon Department of Agriculture issue," Coba said. "Our role has been trying to find alternative pesticides for folks to use in irrigation ditches. This is strictly a federal issue, and it is an APHIS issue." 
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