A new technology used to create a genetically modified (GM) version of Kentucky bluegrass prompted the USDA to announce on July 1 that it has no authority over the plant’s regulation, reports Nature.
Rules currently in place that give the US Department of Agriculture regulatory authority over GM plants are based on the Federal Plant Pest Act, passed in 1957, which was actually designed to protect agricultural crops from foreign disease infestations. But the Act was adopted for GM plant regulation because the techniques used in their modification involve the use of viruses and tumor-causing bacteria, such as the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which transports genes that confer disease resistance into plant genomes. Genetic elements derived from plant viruses are then used to turn these genes on.
In the case of a GM Kentucky bluegrass, however, which is designed by the lawn-care company Scotts Miracle-Gro to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, selected genes were attached to metal particles and shot into plant cells by a relatively new method. The genes are then turned on by the plant’s own genetic elements. Because no bacteria or viruses are used, the Federal Plant Pest Act no longer dictates how the crop should be regulated.
By stepping around current regulations, Scotts hopes to expedite the process of bringing their product to market, according to a Nature editorial.
"The Plant Pest Act was completely inappropriate for regulating biotech crops," Bill Freese, science-policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety in Washington DC, told Nature. "Now we can foresee this loophole getting wider and wider as companies turn more to plants and away from bacteria and other plant-pest organisms."