A form of genetically modified grass is being cited as the likely culprit in the sudden death of a herd of cattle in Central Texas, according to CBS News.
Preliminary tests revealed that the grass, an altered form of Bermuda grass known as Tifton 85, had mysteriously begun producing cyanide gas. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are conducting further tests to determine if some sort of mutation caused the grass to suddenly begin giving off the deadly gas.
The cattle died roughly three weeks ago while grazing on a ranch in Elgin, Texas, about 20 miles east of Austin. According to the ranch's owner, Jerry Abel, the cattle began howling shortly after being let out to graze one day. Fifteen of his eighteen cattle died, all of them in a matter of hours.
Abel told CBS that he'd been using the modified grass for about fifteen years with no problems, until now. And he's not the only one with a suddenly toxic pasture. Other farmers in the area who use the same modified grass have also found cyanide on their properties, though as yet no other cattle have died.
Genetically modified crops have long been used to feed both humans and farm-raised animals. In recent years, however, activists concerned about potentially detrimental health impacts from GMOs have begun pushing for increased regulation and labeling of food products that contain modified crops.
In California, voters will decide in November on a ballot measure that would require companies to label all foods containing GMOs. Such a law would be the first of its kind in the nation.
The grass suspected of killing the cattle is not a GMO in the sense that food activists typically use, though it is a scientifically modified hybrid of African bermudagrass and an earlier hybrid grass, Tifton 68. The USDA and the University of Georgia jointly developed Tifton 85 and released it for commercial use in 1992. While it was not developed through some of the more controversial gene splicing methods used in GMOs —such as, say injecting fish genes into tomatoes — it is technically considered a genetically modified plant.
Cattle image via Ellmist on Wikimedia, Creative Commons licensed.