There are days, when I read something in the headlines of the news, and I have to pinch myself. This is one of those times.
"Genetically Modified" Bermuda Grass is blamed for the deaths of 15 head of cattle, after producing Cyanide gas.
Will this be a GIGANTIC, "I TOLD YOU SO!" moment for those against Genetically Modified Foods?
And can this happen with other crops? And under what circumstances?
In addition to scaring the crap out of any normal, thinking person, this scenario generates a whole lot of questions.
In the CBS story, it is conveyed that this particular kind of grass had been grown in that field for years and that the cows had been feeding on that grass for some time. And that this whole new, "With Cyanide On Top" death sundae, was a recent development.
It looks to me as if the major attributes of this particular kind of grass is it's ability to withstand the extreme heat and cold found on the central plains, and it is drought tolerant. It appears to be a popular grass for making hay for livestock and for grazing.
"When our trainer first heard the bellowing, he thought our pregnant heifer may be having a calf or something," said Abel. "But when he got down here, virtually all of the steers and heifers were on the ground. Some were already dead, and the others were already in convulsions."I found other stories: Cattle Gain Faster on Tifton 85; New Bermuda Grass has Enhanced Digestibility.
Within hours, 15 of the 18 cattle were dead. CBS
Why? What makes it more digestible that regular grass?
And when these articles refer to this as a "Hybrid" and then a GMO--I am confused.
When I think of Genetically Modified Organisms, I am thinking recombinant DNA, mysterious microscopic things that happen in a lab, such as a tomato with a fish gene.
When I think of a classic, hybrid plant, I am thinking of Cross Pollination, maybe a graft, but mostly cross pollination.
I get very upset when certain parties try to pass a tomato with a fish gene off as a "Hybrid" when clearly it is a lab bred GMO, after all, Fish cannot mate with Tomatoes and Tomatoes cannot cross pollinate with fish.
So Which is it? Is Tifton 85 a primarily a GMO or a Hybrid? And if it is a GMO, then I want to know what gene sequence lead to it suddenly out-gassing cyanide. How does that happen?
It appears thus far, that Tifton 85 is a F1 Hybrid. I find this ironic, because right now people are up in arms about this being a Genetically Modified issue. Other forums around the web are going on and on about the "Ignorance of the masses" regarding what this grass is or is not, and what constitutes a GMO as opposed to a Hybrid.
Well, thank your *shills folks for that one. There has been a concerted effort to liken GMOs to plants bred from Hybridization, in order to mitigate the negative press and the negative feelings many folks have about mucking around indiscriminately with the genetic building blocks of life.
So perhaps that part of the story is a blessing in disguise, that will force certain corporate interests to be more specific with their language, as in more accurate.
I think of this mechanism as a form of diffusing the anger and mistrust toward GMOs, by mislabeling GMOs as something completely harmless like a hybrid.
Tell that to the people dealing with Super Weeds and Super Bugs.
But back to the story:
Preliminary tests revealed the Tifton 85 grass, which has been here for years, had suddenly started producing cyanide gas, poisoning the cattle.Cyanide issues can arise when storms knock down leaves of trees like cherry ornamental almonds or maple where animals might eat them. So is that where the genes in the grass come from? The Prunus Genus?
"Coming off the drought that we had the last two years ... we're concerned it was a combination of events that led us to this," Dr. Gary Warner, an Elgin veterinarian and cattle specialist who conducted the 15 necropsies, told Kelly.
What is more worrisome: Other farmers have tested their Tifton 85 grass, and several in Bastrop County have found their fields are also toxic with cyanide. However, no other cattle have died.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are dissecting the grass to determine if there might have been some strange, unexpected mutation. CBS
The plants contain no more than trace amounts of hydrogen cyanide, but on decomposition after crushing and exposure to air or on digestion, poisonous amounts may be generated. Wikipedia PrunusOther forage has been known to produce cyanide under certain situations:
See the Merck Vet Manual on Cyanide Poisoning
Though this appears that the poisoning doesn't happen so quickly. The animals in this manual, are eventually starved of oxygen. What the news story described, on the other hand, sounded like it was instantaneous. The cows in the CBS story died within hours of grazing on this Tifton 85 grass.
I will be interested to see how this story develops in the near future.
Tue Jun 26, 2012 at 4:38 AM PT: Sorry I didn't get to it sooner, but last night, CBS updated this story and retracted the statement that this turf was an GMO and confirmed that it is an F1 Hybrid.
I would still like to know how this form of poison on the turf became so potent to so many cows at once, so quickly. To me the whole thing reads like a CSI plot, only with cows instead of people.