Business case against Scotts releasing GM grass seed

If you haven’t heard, Scotts is in the scientific research and development phase of its genetically modified (GM) grass seed (Kentucky bluegrass). They are currently exploring markets. The GM seed is roundup resistant.I hope the Scotts risk assessment, branding, market research teams and lawyers are being brought in on this one, because it really doesn’t make sense in the long run from a business perspective. Short term financial gains might be attractive, but I suggest Scotts consider long term potential impacts, problems, expenditures and damage to their brand.

My intent in this write-up is to provide some business rationale to Scotts for not pursuing the GM grass seed. I have come up with a few examples of potential issues (PR, brand, legal and competitor advantage) that could arise if Scotts decides to bring their GM grass seed to market. One theme you will see is that the GM grass will get into our food system:

  • What if I am a rancher or dairy farmer and this GM grass seed gets into my fields. What do I do? If I claim my beef or dairy is organic, but I know my cattle eat this GM grass that made its way onto my field, then I am not sure if I can still claim organic even though I did not plant it or want it in my fields. What if my competitive advantage is that my beef/dairy is 100% grass fed, all natural, non-GMO, but now that my cattle may have eaten some GM grass seed I cannot claim that and my business may suffer.
  • What if my neighbor or the elementary school next door uses the Scotts GM grass seed and the seed makes its way over to my lawn and vegetable garden? A lot of potential legal issues with this one. And, yes it will move around via wind, water runoff, birds and other animals eating and excreting the seed in other areas. We might see some lawsuits and neighborhood associations banning the use of GM grass seed.
  • “Scotts Superweeds:” As we have seen with other GM crops and roundup, they create superweeds that are resistant to the roundup. These superweeds are inevitable when using roundup, so more herbicides would have to be used on top of roundup. What homeowner, turf manager or groundskeeper wants to deal with superweeds on their lawns?
  • Scotts’ grass seed in general may be known as GM grass seed. Consumers (and competitors) may lump other Scotts’ grass seed into the GM category. Consumers that want to avoid GM seed might just move on to a competitor’s grass seed to avoid the chance of buying GM seed altogether.
  • Competitors will have advantage once they can claim that “Some of Scotts grass seed is GMO, our brand is 100% GMO free”
  • Cross contamination of non-GM seed: Unless the GM seed was produced in a facility all by itself there would be cause for concern that other Scotts grass seeds could be cross contaminated with the GM seed.
  • What if I have a kid that goes to a school that uses the GM grass seed and I do not want my kid playing on it. Do I have to spend my free time lobbying the school to switch to a non-GM grass seed?
With the increase in state ballots regarding GMO labeling and increase of awareness of GMOs it seems like associating your brand with GMOs is a questionable and risky move. It may pay off financially in the short term, but not the long term. Long term implications and include possible negative PR, damage to the Scott brand, hours and hours of legal time and money spent on these potential issues.If Scotts continues to consider the GM grass seed, I would suggest they ask consumers for their input and feedback via an online public comment forum and in-person open houses to avoid backlash. It would be better to get the reaction from consumers now as opposed to releasing into the market and then finding out what the problems are later on when the damage is already done.

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