Unlike traditional plant breeding methods, genetic engineering involves high-tech manipulation of the tree's genome to achieve traits that could never occur in nature, designed solely to meet the needs of industry. Some of these techniques are transgenic, meaning they take totally unrelated species and combine their genes in the lab.
GE trees are relatively new, and are not yet planted on a large scale anywhere except China, where approximately 450 hectares of insect resistant black poplars were developed, though no records were kept.
GE trees pose a huge risk of contaminating forests, damaging ecosystems and harming communities because:
- Trees have a very long life-cycle. They can live for decades to centuries, so the risks they pose to forests and communities are impossible to assess over the long term. Because these risks are both potentially very dangerous and unknowable, GE trees must be prohibited.
- Trees produce seeds and pollen that can travel up to hundreds of miles. If those seeds carry genetically-engineered material, they can irreversibly contaminate native forests. In the case of the GE American chestnut, it is being developed with the explicit intention of releasing it into forests to contaminate wild American chestnuts. Experts admit that in 100 years there could be no non-GE American chestnuts remaining in the wild.
- People living near the GE tree plantations face health risks from the toxic agrochemicals used on the plantations (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers). Additionally, if the trees are insect resistant, the pollen will contain insecticidal properties and could be dangerous to inhale.
- Every year forests are destroyed to expand faster growing and more economically valuable industrial GE tree plantations. This worsens climate change, devastates biodiversity and harms human communities that depend on those forests.
- Genetically engineered tree plantations, especially eucalyptus and pine, would be extremely flammable and could contribute to deadly firestorms. In 2017, eucalyptus and pine plantations in Chile, Portugal and Spain contributed to deadly firestorms that killed dozens and leveled whole towns.
- Developing huge plantations of GE eucalyptus trees would destroy natural habitat for birds, and mammals, including threatened and endangered species.
- Fast growing eucalyptus trees deplete groundwater and soils. In Chile, Indigenous Mapuche communities near tree plantations have no access to water due to eucalyptus plantations.
There is no way to accurately assess all of the risks posed by trees that live so long and have such intricate interactions with so many other species, including humans. Such risk assessment isn’t even required for regulatory approval. These factors make GE trees a much greater threat than GMO food crops.
For all of these reasons, commercial plantations of GE trees pose an enormous threat to forests internationally. The timber industry has requested permission to develop large-scale commercial plantations of GE trees for timber, pulp, bioenergy and chemicals in the US and Brazil. BUT, THIS IS ONE THREAT WE CAN STILL STOP.
What is the Campaign to STOP GE Trees?
The Campaign to STOP GE Trees is an international effort to protect native forests from the uncontrollable and irreversible threats posed by the release of genetically engineered trees (GE trees or GM trees). The Campaign includes Biofuelwatch, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Global Justice Ecology Project, Indigenous Environmental Network, World Rainforest Movement, and EcoNexus, along with the passion and dedication of thousands of individuals across the globe.
ArborGen: More Clones, Less Forests.
In 1999 International Paper, Fletcher Forests, WestVaco and Monsanto partnered to create a pioneering tree biotechnology venture. Monsanto quickly backed out and in 2000, and then the GE tree joint venture ArborGen was formed. Two years later, ArborGen named Barbara Wells as its first CEO. Wells worked for Monsanto for eighteen years, overseeing its RoundUp Ready GE soy division in Brazil.
ArborGen is now the world’s leading tree seedling provider. Current and former employees serve on various government advisory boards. Several executives came from Monsanto.
The company attempted to go public on the NASDAQ in 2011, but rescinded their Initial Public Offering after a lawsuit against GE eucalyptus field trials increased investor wariness. ArborGen’s official parent companies are New Zealand-based Rubicon, and US-based International Paper and MeadWestVaco.
Under the guise of conservation, tree engineers are trying to sell their risky science experiments to the public. Tree geneticists at SUNY ESF in Syracuse are working to develop blight-resistant GE American chestnut trees. Their goal is to release these unproven GE trees directly into forests to contaminate wild American chestnut trees with the engineered traits.
- Encouraging forest owners to continue using chemicals in their plantations, and to cash in on emerging domestic carbon and bioenergy markets.
- Posturing as “sustainable” forestry, but is, in reality, little more than economic opportunism, soon to be enabled by faster growing GE eucalyptus trees.
GE eucalyptus is seen as a key species for emerging bioenergy markets. Demand for wood pellets has already been linked to increased clear-cutting of southern hardwood forests.
Replacing fossil fuels with equally polluting biomass energy has grave consequences for southern forests and the global climate.
The GE eucalyptus are being developed by GE tree company ArborGen. According to ArborGen parent company Rubicon, ArborGen could sell half a billion GE eucalyptus seedlings every year for bioenergy plantations in the US South.
Using fast growing GE trees to supply pellet mills and biomass incinerators will release dangerous amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere because:
- Science suggests that burning wood to create energy will have a similar impact on the climate as burning coal.
- Fast growing plantations will deplete soil nutrients, increasing the need for chemical fertilizers.
While ArborGen might think the solution to saving the world’s forests is to grow “more wood on less land,” plantations of fast growing GE trees will only lead to increased deforestation—just as natural forests have been replaced by other industrial tree plantations.
In fact, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that between 1990 and 2010, the area of land covered by industrial tree plantations (including eucalyptus) in the Global South increased more than 50%, even though the plantations doubled the yield of wood per hectare.
While plantations might produce timber more efficiently, they DO NOT provide other important ecological benefits.
- They DO NOT provide medicinal plants, food and shelter for forest dependent communities.
- They DO NOT provide natural processes like water filtration.
- They DO NOT provide wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration.
Created with images by Orin Langelle • Anne Petermann • ekaterinvor - "eucalyptus tree flora" • Nickbar - "plant leaf nature" • Sebastian Engler - "untitled image" • Nietjuh - "chestnut autumn picks" • abeldomi - "eucalyptus leaf leaves" • American Public Power Association - "untitled image" • Filip Zrnzević - "Fade ↟"