This week a global gathering of 300 scientists, foresters and industry representatives in Brazil – the 2011 Tree Biotechnology Conference – are discussing the future of high tech tree breeding and genetically engineered or GE trees. The production of transgenic trees by paper and lumber companies is a major threat to biodiversity, ecosystems, water, local and indigenous peoples, and our shared bisophere.
Even the industry concedes very little is known about how genes function in trees, or about how GE trees will react in a forest ecosystem. There is the real possibility that new genes spliced into GE trees will irreversibly contaminate forests, or that the trees themselves will invade wild forests. Forests on private land, national forests or national parks, will be changed forever. We have no idea what the interaction with wild trees could be. There will undoubtedly be unforeseen consequences and toxically modifying tree is simply unnecessary and reckless. If industrial pressures were taken off old and regenerating natural forests, natural ecosystems could continue providing timber and pulp resources in moderation within ecosystems' limits.
ArborGen – the leading villain in GE tree development globally and a co-sponsor of the industry event – is requesting permission to sell their GE eucalyptus trees at the rate of half a billion per year, for planting over millions of acres from Texas to Florida. ArborGen has already been given permission by the USDA to plant 260,000 GE eucalyptus trees across seven states in the U.S. South (Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina). Timber companies see an opportunity to develop vast plantations of GE eucalyptus trees which grow faster, contain less lignin, and are more economically valuable. Once again, profit and using technology just because it can be done, are taking precedence over life, ecology, precaution, local landed peoples, and the constraints of the global biosphere.
Eucalyptus trees in particular are widely known for being highly invasive, explosively flammable and for causing or worsening droughts due to their voracious need for water. Because they are non-native, they provide no habitat for wildlife and they produce a chemical that suppresses the growth of other vegetation. Biodiverse forests would be clearcut to make room for GE eucalyptus plantations – perhaps with FSC and other greenwash certification as being “sustainable”. GE cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees are also a threat to forests globally. If ArborGen perfects them here they will export them for use in huge toxic monoculture tree plantations, often on stolen land, in countries across the global south.
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Genetically Engineered Trees are Toxic and Anti-Ecology and People
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