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Monsanto and Scotts have begun testing the first genetically engineered (GE) grass, intended for both consumer and commercial use.
Scotts Roundup-Ready Kentucky Bluegrass, genetically engineered to withstand massive amounts of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, is unregulated, will not be labeled “GMO” (genetically modified organisms), and because of the ease with which grass spreads, could in short order contaminate lawns, parks, golf courses and pastures everywhere.
Because Roundup will kill everything except the grass engineered to stand up to it, lawns all over the country will be green, lush—and toxic.
And you won’t know it.
“As these seeds spread and more and more grass takes up that genetic trait, we’ll find organic farmers who want to grass feed their beef, can’t do it because their grass is genetically modified, which is prohibited in organic standards,” said Bill Duesing of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, in an article in CT News Junkie. “GMOs are pollution with a life of its own.”
How did they circumvent the system? GE crops are regulated by the USDA under rules pertaining to plant pests. These rules were created in the 1950s to give the USDA some muscle to constrain the introduction of organisms that would inflict harm to plants. Because genetically modified crops use DNA material derived from natural plant pathogens, they technically qualify as "plant pests."
Scotts got around this level of restriction because they avoided using plant pests in the development of the Kentucky Bluegrass. Instead, the glyphosate-resistant gene originated from other plants that were not considered pathogens. Furthermore, the gene was fired in with a gene gun, instead of being carried by a plant pest bacterium. By avoiding the use of plant pests in the engineering process, Scotts has also avoided that regulation trigger.
The second mechanism the USDA could have used to regulate GMO grass is the noxious weed provision under the Plant Protection Act of 2000. It’s well known that bluegrass spreads easily, because its light pollen can be carried for miles on the wind. Inevitably, genetically modified bluegrass will transfer its genes to established conventional bluegrass.
That’s one reason Scotts Roundup-Ready grass is so dangerous—it threatens to contaminate every lawn, park, roadside and field in sight, including the pastures used by organic farmers to graze their cattle. This not only puts organic farmers at risk of losing their certification, but it puts the animals at risk of eating GMO grass. Research shows that GMO grain has a devastating impact on the health of animals raised for slaughter. Will GMO grass also be hazardous to animal health, including cattle raised for meat—and people’s prized horses?
Beyond its ability to spread quickly, beyond its potential impact on organic farmers, even more troubling is the fact that once Scotts Roundup Ready grass hits the market, it will lead to a dramatic increase in the use of Roundup, already the most widely used—and potentially harmful—herbicide in the world.
And much of that Roundup will be lurking in places where kids play.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide has recently been described by researchers as, "the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment." It’s been linked to a litany of health disorders and diseases including Parkinson's, cancer and autism.
Studies have revealed a connection between the use of glyphosate and birth defects in frog and chicken embryos. A more recent study shows that the toxic herbicide was found in the breast milk of American women.
This month, employees of Scotts begin testing the new product at their homes. Scotts’ CEO told shareholders his goal is to have the GMO ready for commercial applications in 2015, and on the consumer market in 2016.
Scotts, which is Monsanto's exclusive agent for the marketing and distribution of consumer Roundup, has much to gain by releasing its frankengrass into the marketplace. According to The Columbus Dispatch, CEO Hagedorn in January told shareholders the market opportunity for Roundup-Ready Bluegrass is substantial. “If you look at the grass-seed category, it’s probably significantly north of $500 million and probably less than $1 billion.”
The company is determined to protect its projected revenue. When Connecticut came close to passing a statewide ban on GMO grass, Hagedorn reportedly sent a letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-CT) stating that any renewed effort to ban or place a moratorium on the new seed could result in Hagedorn questioning “whether continuing to invest in Connecticut is in the best long-term interests of my company and its stockholders.”
Monsanto and Scotts are both members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has spent millions to defeat GMO labeling laws and bans, and plans to sue Vermont to overturn its recently passed law requiring mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs. The Organic Consumers Association has called for a boycott of all products marketed by members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
We also urge consumers everywhere to contact Hagedorn and other executives at Scotts to inform them that they will boycott all Scotts products unless the company drops plans to market its Roundup-Ready Kentucky Bluegrass. You can take action here.
Charlotte Warren is a media and communications consultant to the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is the national director for the Organic Consumers Association.
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A central player in the fight against the novel coronavirus is our immune system. It protects us against the invader and can even be helpful for its therapy. But sometimes it can turn against us.
How does our immune system react to the coronavirus?<p>The coronavirus is — like any other virus — not much more than a shell around genetic material and a few proteins. To replicate, it needs a host in the form of a living cell. Once infected, this cell does what the virus commands it to do: copy information, assemble it, release it.</p><p>But this does not go unnoticed. Within a few minutes, the body's immune defense system intervenes with its innate response: Granulocytes, scavenger cells and killer cells from the blood and lymphatic system stream in to fight the virus. They are supported by numerous plasma proteins that either act as messengers or help to destroy the virus.</p><p>For many viruses and bacteria, this initial activity of the immune system is already sufficient to fight an intruder. It often happens very quickly and efficiently. We often notice only small signs that the system is working: We have a cold, a fever. </p>
Is there an immunity? How long does it last?<p>The good news is that it is very likely there is an immunity. This is suggested by the proximity to other viruses, epidemiological data and animal experiments. Researchers <a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.13.990226v1" target="_blank">infected four rhesus monkeys,</a> a species close to humans, with SARS-CoV-2. The monkeys showed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, developed neutralizing antibodies and recovered after a few days. When the recovered animals were reinfected with the virus, they no longer developed any symptoms: They were immune. </p><p>The bad news: It is not (yet) known how long the immunity will last. It depends on whether a patient has successfully developed neutralizing antibodies. Achim Hörauf estimates that the immunity should last at least one year. Within this year, every new contact with the virus acts as a kind of booster vaccination, which in turn might prolong the immunity.</p><p>"The virus is so new that nobody has a reasonable immune response," says the immunologist. He believes that lifelong immunity is unlikely. This "privilege" is reserved for viruses that remain in the body for a long time and give our immune system a virtually permanent opportunity to get to know it. Since the coronavirus is an RNA (and not a DNA) virus, it cannot permanently settle in the body, says Hörauf.</p><p>The Heidelberg immunologist <a href="https://www.klinikum.uni-heidelberg.de/immunologie/immunologie" target="_blank">Stefan Meuer</a> predicts that the novel coronavirus will also mutate like all viruses. He assumes that this could be the case in 10 to 15 years: "At some point, the acquired immunity will no longer be of any use to us because then another coronavirus will return, against which the protection that has now been formed will not help us because the virus has changed in such a way that the antibodies are no longer responsible. And then no vaccination will help either."</p>
How can we take advantage of the antibody response of the immune system?<p>Researchers are already collecting plasma from people who have successfully survived an infection with SARS-CoV-2 and are using it to treat a limited number of patients suffering from COVID-19. The underlying principle: <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-drugs-can-antibodies-from-survivors-help/a-52806428" target="_blank">passive immunization.</a> The studies carried out to date have shown positive results, but they have usually been carried out on only a few people.</p><p>At best, passive immunization is used only when the patient's own immune system has already started to work against the virus, says Achim Hörauf: "The longer you can leave the patients alone with the infection before you protect them with passive immunization, the better." Only through active immunization can one be protected in the long term. At the same time, it is difficult to recognize the right point in time.</p><p>PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are currently used to find out whether a person is infected with the coronavirus. With the help of PCR, it is not possible to tell whether or not there is reproducible viral RNA; it is just a proof of whether the virus is still present, dead or alive. A PCR test cannot tell us whether our immune system has already intervened, i.e. whether we have had contact with the virus in the past, have formed antibodies and are now protected. Researchers are therefore working on tests that check our blood for the presence of antibodies. They are already in use in Singapore, for example, and are nearing completion in the USA. With the help of these tests, it would finally be possible to gain an overview <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/corona-confusion-how-to-make-sense-of-the-numbers-and-terminology/a-52825433" target="_blank">of the unclear case numbers.</a> In addition, people who have developed antibodies against the virus could be used at the forefront of health care, for example. An "immunity passport" is even under discussion.</p>
Is it possible to become infected and/or ill several times with the coronavirus?<p>"According to all we know, it is not possible with the same pathogen," says Achim Hörauf. It is possible to become infected with other coronaviruses or viruses from the SARS or MERS group if their spike proteins look different. "As far as the current epidemic is concerned, it can be assumed that people who have been through COVID-19 will not become ill from it for the time being and will not transmit the virus any further," he says.</p>
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Why do people react differently to the virus?<p>While some people get off with a mild cold, others are put on ventilators or even die of SARS-Cov-2. Especially people with <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-who-is-particularly-at-risk-and-why/a-52710881" target="_blank">pre-existing conditions</a> and older people seem to be worst-affected by the virus. Why? This is the hottest question at the moment.</p><p>It will still take a very, very long time to understand the mechanistic, biological basis for why some people are so much more severely affected than others, virologist Angela Rasmussen told <em>The Scientist</em>. "The virus is important, but the host response is at least as important, if not more important," her colleague Stanley Perlman told the magazine.</p><p>Stefan Meuer sees a fundamental survival principle of nature in the different equipment and activity of our immune systems: "If we were all the same, one and the same virus could wipe out the entire human species at once. Due to the genetic range, it is quite normal that some people die from a viral disease while others do not even notice it. "</p><p>Achim Hörauf also suspects immunological variants that could be genetically determined. Since interstitial pneumonia is observed with the coronavirus, the focus is probably on an overreaction of the immune system. However, it is also possible that each person affected may have been loaded with a different dose of the virus, which in turn leads to different outcomes. And finally, it makes a difference how robust the body and lungs are: Competitive athletes simply have more lung volume than long-time smokers. </p>
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