State Senate votes to ban pesticide-resistant turf

Hartford - The state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would ban the sale, use and marketing of lawn or turf seeds that are genetically engineered to be resistant to pesticides.

The bill passed with bipartisan support, 25-11. The actual product is not on the market yet, but proponents of the bill said they are concerned people who used these seeds would use increasing amounts of pesticides on their lawn because the grass would remain unharmed.

"So you will spread this pesticide all across your lawn, back and forth, on your lawn," said state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford. "The more you pour it onto the land, the more it is going to affect the water supply, the Long Island Sound and our well water."

Opponents of the bill said that many farmers were opposed to the ban and that more research needed to be done to determine the effects of the genetically engineered seeds before banning it.

"I am still not convinced that this would lead to a greater use of chemicals," said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton. "I would be more concerned about the actual genetically modified grass seed and the type of grass that produces and if some animal or others were eating that grass and what it would do to them."

Meyer said that currently a person might use a small amount of herbicides on one patch of weeds because the herbicides currently kill grass, but if the person had herbicide-resistant grass they would use the chemicals all over their lawn.

These chemicals could affect animals, young children and older people, Meyer said.

"My own Labrador retriever died from excessive pesticides," he said.

State Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Riverside, said that the state shouldn't ban something it knows little about that could be a product "that could be good for us." It might cut down on how many times a person has to water or mow his or her lawn, he said.

Several business associations and the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association the Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association send out a statement on Wednesday opposing the bill.

They said that genetically engineered grass seeds would lead to increased sustainability, reduce the amount of mowing and pesticides needed and that the seed was still two to four years away from production.

"Continued research should not be shut down," they said.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who supported a bipartisan bill last year that required foods that contained genetically modified organisms to be labeled as GMO-foods if other states passed similar legislation, proposed an amendment to the bill. The amendment failed but would have required a study about the public health impacts of genetically engineered seeds to be completed by the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering with the University of Connecticut's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"This is not about whether pesticides are good or bad, this is about whether genetically engineered seeds lead to an increase in pesticides or not," McKinney said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said he had spoken with many farmers, especially organic farmers, who were in favor of the bill. If the pollen from the genetically engineered grass were to blow onto organic farmers' properties, their organic farming business could be undermined, he said.

To those who believe pesticide-resistant grass would not encourage people to increase the amount of pesticides or herbicides on their lawn, Williams said that herbicide use has increased by 527 million pounds from 1996 to 2011.

Herbicides have created herbicide-resistant weeds and thus driven up the use of herbicides by 25 to 50 percent, he said. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in weed killers such as Roundup, have been linked to killing monarch butterflies and deforming amphibians, Williams said.

"If we are going to err on the side of caution in protecting health and environment, then the ban absolutely makes sense," Williams said.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a possible vote.

j.somers@theday.com

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