skip to content

The Value of Weeds

The Value of Weeds

September 7, 2007 —

Hassle-Free Weed-Free

A beautiful lawn is the setting for the American dream. Thanks to modern chemistry, it's easier and cheaper than ever to obtain the picture-perfect grassy green setting for your humble abode. 10 dollars will buy you a five-pound bag of Miracle Gro Lawn Food, and for another 15 bucks, you can bring home a one-gallon jug of Roundup Weed Killer. A sprinkle of Miracle Gro here, and a quick spray of Roundup there, and you're on your way to suburban Shangri-la.

The perfect lawn may get even easier according to the folks from Scotts—the world's leading marketer of branded consumer lawn and garden products, and the makers of Miracle-Gro. They have teamed up with Monsanto—the producers of Roundup—to create genetically engineered bentgrass which is resistant to Roundup. A dose or two of Roundup on the new high-tech bentgrass would kill all the weeds, but leave the lawn looking pretty.

Mother Nature's Little Helper

The BBC reported that pollen from a genetically modified grass has been shown to travel up to 13 miles away from the site where it was orginally planted.

According to the corporate duo, the genetically modified grass could be engineered to require less water (meaning less runoff) and to grow more slowly (meaning less pollution from gas-powered mowers). That could add up to an environmental gain for America's 50,000 square miles of lawn, which already help the environment by absorbing about 12 billion pounds of climate-changing carbon every year. Glimpses of Scott's utopian vision of healthy Americans tending to their garden can be seen in the company's $120 million Spring 2006 marketing blitz—and their "Give Back to Grow" contest depicting gardeners building communities, feeding the hungry, and inspiring children to care for the environment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, concerned about the environmental consequences of the Roundup-ready grass, has not been quick to approve Scotts's application to sell the product. An article in the New York Times (September 21, 2004), states that scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) found that genetically engineered bentgrass pollinated plants about 13 miles away from a test farm. The study conducted found that the distance genetically engineered grass could spread is much further than previously thought. Environmentalists fear that the grass will cross-pollinate with other species launching a global-ecological conquest and disrupting whole ecosystems. Are these the warnings of paranoid Chicken Littles or noble protectors of our environment from bottom-line corporations?

Convenience or Consequences

Your next purchase of lawn fertilizer and weedkiller is not just about your lawn. That purchase will send a a clear message—and part of the purchase price—to Scotts and Monsanto: "Keep up the good work." Mark R. Schwartz, head of branded plants group at Scotts, assures us that the company is "following all the rules and taking all the precautions."

The ethical shopper might consider a very partial list of past assurances from Scotts and Monsanto:

  • Roundup is used approximately 25 million times a year in the United States. The product's chief ingredient is glyphosphate, marketed as "benign." It has been shown to cause short-term breathing problems and long-term issues including genetic damage to blood cells.
  •  When Scotts was unable to develop a selective herbicide to kill clover, it began an advertising campaign that counted clover as a villainous plant—despite clover's well-known benefits to lawns.
  • Monsanto's BST is genetically engineered hormone designed to make cows produce more milk. BST has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer in humans. The hormone is banned in Europe. Monsanto is trying to overturn the ban.
  • Scotts's claims that carbaryl, an insecticide used in a number of Scotts's products, is safe to use around fruit and vegetables. According to the E.P.A., prolonged low-level exposure to carbaryl causes headaches, memory loss, and muscle cramps.
  • Currently, Roundup is primarily used in spot treatments. If Roundup-ready grass is approved, glyphosphate could be used over entire lawns. Is that a good idea? The answer lies in your willingness to live with weeds.

Comment on this article:

Buy It

Don't Buy It

  • Altria? Formerly known as Philip Morris
  • Weapons-maker. Multiple environmental offender.
  • World's largest oil company--human rights, oil spills and misinformation about climate change
  • Genetic Engineering and Monopolistic behavior = Monsanto
  • Processed meat sold as 'natural' food. Union-buster.