written by: MDSomerfield•edited by: Tania Cowling•updated: 8/1/2010
Genetically modified grasses have a number of advantages but have the potential to cause ecological problems. All natural grass seed is free from GM varieties and may be more environmentally friendly.
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What is All Natural Grass Seed?
There are hundreds of different species of grass available commercially and many hundreds more present in the wild. Naturally occurring grassland is usually a complex mixture of different species that survive in a natural balance as part of a wider ecosystem. Grass seed purchased from your local garden center is no different – rather than a single species of grass it will contain a range of different seeds, with the mix of species designed to give you the best results depending on usage and personal taste.
Many grass seeds, however, are genetically modified. Some are designed to be more disease resistant, some are designed to be immune to a particular herbicides – making weed-killing easier – and still more are designed to be 'slow-grow' so that gardeners spend less time mowing the lawn. Then again, you may have horses, so fast-growing grass would provide them with more to eat; there are so many uses for grass that the list of potential modifications is endless.
Quite simply, then, all natural grass seed is grass seed comprising of varieties that haven't been genetically modified in any way. Often they will emulate naturally occurring mixes, though this isn't always the case; what is guaranteed is that the species all occur in the wild.
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Pros and Cons of Natural vs Genetically Modified Seed
From a logistical point of view there are many advantages to genetically modified grass. If you maintain a golf course, for example, then slow growing lawns are likely to save you a lot of time and money. There may also be health benefits; some varieties have been modified so as not to trigger hayfever.
But there are a number of potential ecological problems and many of the questions marks over such breeds have yet to be satisfactorily answered. Creeping bentgrass, a species engineered to be to be herbicide resistant and popular on golf courses, has already been found in the wild and it is possible that the pollen could contaminate other species and spread that resistance. GM grasses may also affect biodiversity by squeezing out other naturally occurring species.
Because grasses take so easily to a variety of habitats and grass pollen can travel many hundreds of meters on the breeze it is far more likely that GM grasses will escape gardens and farms than other GM crops, making them potentially a greater ecological threat.
All natural grass seed, then, may cost more in the long term and require more time and effort to maintain, but using strictly natural species reduces the potential ecological impact of new GM strains. Many of the issues surrounding GM crops have yet to be fully answered and many fears may prove unfounded; however, it is possible that GM grass seeds could cause a range of environmental problems where deployed.
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BBC Health, “GM grass 'stops hayfever', http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3003066.stm
East Malling Research, "Woodland Creation for Wildlife", http://www.emr.ac.uk/Guide%20to%20Woodland%20Creation%20for%20Wildlife/chapter4%5B1%5D.4.pdf