Turf sector wants softer rules on genetically-modified grass seed

The prohibition of the development and release of genetically-modified grass seed is "an impasse that should be broken", Lindum Turf managing director Stephen Fell told the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) show.

He said that fluctuations in rainfall and temperature combined with political and economic pressures meant future varieties would require greater durability and disease resistance and lower maintenance requirements than those currently available.

"The cost of mowing is rising steadily," he said. "Oil is up to $98 (£61) a barrel and fertiliser prices track that. As population increases, water use is becoming a serious issue and amenity use will be at the bottom. Already the Environmental Agency is making it harder to renew abstraction licences."

He added that traditional breeding "is getting there, but slowly" and said concerns over "Frankenstein crops" should be overcome. "Politicians are still terrified of the backlash. We need to send a message to them about the potential benefits - but we won't know what those are until we try."

Barenbrug breeds new amenity seed varieties in France and the Netherlands, but tests extensively in the UK. UK research and development manager Jayne Leyland said: "We are very much a traditional breeder and have made remarkable progress on disease tolerance and cold temperature germination. But we would keep an open mind to GM and to other developments."

A representative of another seed supplier declined to comment, saying it was "such an emotive issue".

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