28 June 2012
Hybridized Grass Produces Cyanide, Kills 15 of 18 Cows
Has human induced hybridization caused deadly consequences?
A KEYE TV (Austin, TX) report on Tuesday, June 26, stated fifteen head of cattle dropped dead after grazing for a short period in the recently drought-ridden pasture of a "conventionally cross-bred" version of Bermuda grass. Owner Jerry Abel, in Elgin, Texas just east of Austin, says "he's been using the fields for cattle grazing and hay for 15 years." Tifton 85, the lush grass planted in this pasture, is very high in protein and designed to better feed livestock and supposedly withstand weather fluctuations. However, the grass caused all fifteen head of cattle to mysteriously die. An autopsy later showed that the grass spontaneously began releasing cyanide when ingested. It is speculated that a severe drought in Texas during 2011 is what caused the grass to become "stressed" and release prussic acid.
It was first believed to be a genetic mutation within the grass, but since then, this theory has been debunked. Although, the releasing of cyanide is not uncommon in plants when stressed, everything from cherry leaves to sudangrass may release it while "any stress condition that retards plant growth may increase prussic acid levels," it is very uncommon for the Tifton 85 to become stressed at all. Meaning, the production of prussic acid in the grass was caused by an unexpected and unknown factor.
With more farmers in the same region as the Abel ranch finding traces of cyanide in their grass, the question arises: What is causing these plants to become stressed to a point they produce such toxins if they have been contained for over a decade? If Tifton 85 is one of the most weather-resistant hybridized grasses available, what has made it unstable today? Some believe human interference with the breeding of the grasses is to blame, what do you believe?