A Resounding NO to GE Trees
We, agronomists, biologists, geneticists, Indigenous Peoples, foresters, activists, attorneys, community organizers, ecologists and others coming together on 22 November 2014 in Asunción, Paraguay from Northern and Southern Asia, South Pacific Islands, Western Africa, Europe, and South, Central and North America, stand together in our rejection of all genetically engineered trees, including field trials.
We face unprecedented social and ecological crises across the planet, including crises in water, food, biodiversity, climate, and human rights. The development of genetically engineered (GE) trees is another step in the wrong direction. We do not need false solutions that create more problems; we need real, just solutions that address the intertwined root causes of the multiple crises we face.
Forests are interwoven with human evolution. Yet they are complex, diverse and interactive systems that we barely understand. Forests are far more than just trees; they regulate and stabilize water flow and weather patterns, enrich soils, prevent erosion and sequester carbon. They provide food, medicine, shelter, fuel, livelihoods, recreation and sanctuary for diverse peoples around the world. Forests have made life on Earth possible.
Yet the very existence of forests and the communities that depend on them is threatened by the corporate and government funded development of genetically engineered tree plantations.
Below we set out some points, each of which alone shows the dangers of GE trees. Taken together they demonstrate the potential for irreversible harm to the forests and other ecosystems that are crucial to maintain life on this planet.
- Industrial Tree Plantations: Plantations are not forests. Monoculture tree plantations consist of vast expanses of trees, all the same age and all of a single species, often alien to the region. They do not support biodiversity and local communities cannot use them. Plantations displace native forests and ecosystems and they displace Indigenous Peoples and local communities. They contaminate air, water and soil from the toxic agrochemicals used on them; and they poison people living nearby. Moreover, tree plantations contribute to climate change as they store less carbon than native forests. The argument of GE tree proponents that the use of GE trees would protect forests by growing more wood on less land is a false argument. GE trees would lead to expansion of plantations because gains in productivity would make them more profitable. They would thus worsen the documented social and ecological impacts of industrial tree plantations.
- Bioenergy, Synthetic Biology and the Bioeconomy: GE trees are a critical part of the ongoing, dangerous push to promote bioenergy and the bioeconomy. Poplars and pines are being genetically engineered to facilitate the production of jet fuel and chemicals compounds. Oil palms are being genetically engineered to increase biodiesel production. GE eucalyptus and pine trees are being engineered to feed pulp mills and to supply the rapidly increasing demand for wood pellets to co-fire in coal power plants.
The monopolization of land and water to grow GE tree plantations to replace a small percentage of fossil fuels will come at high costs, including worsening human rights abuses, accelerating the loss of terrestrial biodiversity, and intensifying the global water, food and climate crises.
- Invasive Alien Species: Not only can genetically engineered trees spread into natural forests, it is virtually impossible to prevent them from doing so. Often GE trees are developed from non-native, invasive species or engineered with traits that give them advantages over their wild relatives, making them likely to become invasive and displace native biodiversity. Unpredictable changes – common to genetic engineering – may equally contribute to new or increased invasiveness.
- Contamination and Unknowable Risks: Trees can live for centuries and have evolved to spread their seeds and pollen over great distances. This means that genetic contamination of forests by GE trees, would be virtually guaranteed. The impacts of that would be highly unpredictable because
1) Tree genomes are complex, given their long lifespan, their role in complex ecosystems and their geographic distribution.
2) The inserted gene sequences and the genetic engineering processes themselves result in mutations and unpredictable changes within the genome of the GE tree.
3) This in turn brings unpredictable changes to the behaviour of the tree’s genes and its responsiveness to external factors, thus potentially altering how it reacts to cold, drought, storms, diseases, pests etc or how it interacts with or impacts on other organisms. .
Furthermore, due to the complexity of interactions within forest ecosystems, it is next to impossible to accurately assess the impacts of GE trees on forests, or even to know what questions to ask. For these reasons, any outdoor planting of GE trees, including field trials, threatens to contaminate native forests with unpredictable and irreversible impacts.
- GE trees and Food Sovereignty: GE trees are part of the corporate capture and commodification of nature, and threaten food sovereignty. Land grabs for GE tree plantations could further displace small scale and subsistence agriculture. Additionally, some trees being genetically engineered – including the American chestnut, apple and oil palm – are sources of food. The health impacts of eating foods from such GE trees are unknown. Moreover, GE trees, especially those engineered to constantly produce insecticides, would impact pollinators and other non-target insects as well as beneficial predators crucial for food production and the food chain. Direct or indirect impacts on birds, including songbirds, are part of this.
- System Change: As with many other socially and ecologically destructive projects, national policies and international trade regimes largely promote the development and deployment of industrial tree plantations and GE trees for the short-term economic benefit of a few transnational corporations to the long-term detriment of many.
For this reason, in addition to rejecting GE trees outright, we support and join the efforts of grassroots constituencies, local communities, Indigenous Peoples and civil society organizations who seek to transform the current unjust economic and political system and replace it with a system dedicated to social justice, ecological diversity and the well-being of this and future generations of life on this planet.
This document was initiated by the following organizations:
Asociación Napguana (Panamá)
Asociación Indigena Ambiental (Panamá)
Fundación para la Promoción del Conocimiento Indígena (Panama)
Viento del Sur (Chile)
Ñamoseke Monsanto (Paraguay)
World Rainforest Movement (Uruguay)
Indigenous Environmental Network (North America)
Censat (Friends of the Earth Colombia)
Network for the Indigenous Peoples Solomons, South Pacific Region (Solomon Islands)
Center for Grassroots Development (India)
Global Justice Ecology Project (international)
Campaign to STOP GE Trees (international)
Biofuelwatch (US and UK)
Friends of Siberian Forests (Russia)
Bureau for Regional Outreach Campaigns (Russia)
Global Forest Coalition (International)
If your organization also supports the resounding NO to genetically engineered trees, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org