CAST Releases Special Publication on Biotechnology-derived, Perennial Turf and Forage Grasses

May 4, 2004

Biotechnology-derived, Perennial Turf and Forage Grasses: Criteria for Evaluation
For Immediate Release                    
CAST Releases Special Publication on
Biotechnology-derived, Perennial Turf and Forage Grasses
            May 4, 2004...Washington, D.C.  The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) today is releasing Biotechnology-derived, Perennial Turf and Forage Grasses: Criteria for Evaluation, a detailed report of a workshop sponsored jointly by CAST and the U.S. Department of Agriculture–Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The workshop, which involved more than 100 U.S. scientists, regulators, and representatives of industry and nonprofit organizations, focused on the state-of-the-science of biotechnology-derived (BD), perennial turf and forage grasses and initiated a dialogue on potential criteria for determining the environmental safety and potential risks and benefits of these grasses relative to those derived using traditional breeding methods.
CAST Special Publication 25, written by an 11-member task force and evaluated by 9 reviewers, distills the results of the 2-day workshop into a concise evaluation of the existing diversity of opinion as well as a prototype for future evaluation and implementation. Major sections include
  • Principles supporting ecological risk assessment and regulatory decision making,
  • Background information on perennial grasses,
  • Gene migration and weed management of BD perennial grasses,
  • Criteria for evaluating BD perennial grasses, and
  • Questions and answers: A summary of workshop responses and public comments.
            According to Task Force Cochair Mike Kenna of the U.S. Golf Association, “A few of the goals of those using biotechnology to breed perennial grasses have included development of plants that
  • Possess vegetative spreading ability, seed yield, and traffic tolerance;
  • Grow well in extreme conditions and resist pests and diseases;
  • Provide better nutrition for animals;
  • Require less water, fertilizers, and pesticides;
  • Help protect scarce natural resources and wildlife habitat; and
  • Facilitate more economical management practices for turf and forage grasses.
       Breeders increasingly are turning to biotechnology to achieve these goals because of the speed of breeding that allows specific traits to be genetically modified,” adds Kenna. “Conventional methods often fall short.”
            Because biotechnology is used to create these hybrids, however, U.S. government approval is required during development and before the product is sold to consumers. And this slows down production significantly. “Deregulation would permit the unconfined released of a BD grass species and allow it to be cultivated widely with few or no restrictions,” says Task Force Cochair William Hallman of Rutgers University.  “So we need to use good judgment, carefully evaluating the potential ecological consequences of growing BD grasses around the country. We need to pay particular attention to new varieties of grasses that are more adaptable than their cultivated or wild relatives, conceivably enhancing the potential of these new varieties to become invasive weeds.”
            Because most turfgrasses and certain forage grasses commonly grown in the United States originated on other continents, a group of genetically and physically diverse plant species have evolved. Differences such as physiology, rates and mechanisms of growth and reproduction, tolerance and adaptability to extreme conditions, current and potential geographical distributions, and intended uses make a single set of criteria for deregulation for all perennial and turf grasses impractical. Workshop participants identified three important concepts that should support regulatory decision making concerning ecological risk assessments:
·         The “Principle of Familiarity” should be used to understand potential risks;
·         Credible, transparent scientific information is needed to support decision making; and
·         Evaluations of BD grasses should occur on a case-by-case basis using science-based assessment criteria with a “tiered” approach.     
            “On behalf of CAST, we thank the steering committee members and the cochairs, authors, and invited reviewers who gave of their time and expertise to conduct the workshop and prepare the Special Publication as a contribution by the scientific community for public understanding of the issues,” concludes Teresa A. Gruber, CAST Executive Vice President.  “CAST is providing electronic access to this document to a broad range of government officials including Members of Congress, the White House, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Congressional Research Service. We feel confident that this report will make a significant contribution to the ongoing debate on the environmental safety and potential risks and benefits of BD perennial grasses.”
            The complete Special Publication 25, Biotechnology-derived, Perennial Turf and Forage Grasses: Criteria for Evaluation, 94 pp., is available online at <> along with many of CAST's other scientific works. CAST is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies. CAST assembles, interprets, and communicates science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally on food, fiber, agricultural, natural resource, and related societal and environmental issues to its stakeholders—legislators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.