Below are excerpts from the 3 November 2020 publication in BM Global News. For the full story click here.

Scientists Have Not Identified the Impact of GE Trees

However, while the scientists told The New York Times they plan to submit a report to the FDA for judgment about food safety of the chestnuts, Gary Ruskin, co-director of US Right to Know, writes that the FDA has repeatedly made it clear that they do not test whether genetically engineered foods are safe.25

“As Jason Dietz, a policy analyst at FDA explains about genetically engineered food: ‘It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to insure that the product is safe.’ Or, as FDA spokesperson Theresa Eisenman said, ‘it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure that the [GMO] food products it offers for sale are safe …’”

In a white paper produced by The Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Biofuelwatch and Global Justice Ecology Project, they propose the GE American chestnut tree is a test case to determine if the public will “support biotechnology for forest conservation,” paving the way for more GE trees. They quote geneticist David Suzuki, who says:26

“We’re still at the very beginning of understanding what we’re doing. The rush to apply these [genetic engineering] ideas is absolutely dangerous, because we don’t have a clue what the long-term impacts of our manipulations are going to be.”

As Powell and Maynard push forward with the current support of The American Chestnut Foundation and others interested in populating the forest with genetically engineered trees, The Campaign to STOP GE Trees brings to light many of the questions regarding safety and the future of the environment that have not been addressed.27

“Locating and monitoring the progress of all the GE AC trees and their progeny will be near impossible, especially over a long period of time. There has been some discussion of planting the GE trees slowly, in stages, to improve the potential for monitoring. However, common sense and past experience with genetically engineered crops suggests that monitoring is not feasible.

A release of GE AC trees into natural forests raises some important questions and concerns about potential risks. For example: Will the nuts from GE AC be safe to eat? Will GE AC be safe for soils, waterways, fungi, pollinators, and other animal and plant species in the forest ecosystems where they grow?

Will inhaling pollen from GE chestnut be harmful? Will introducing GE AC present risks to the few remaining native AC trees, or those in hybrid backcross breeding program orchards?

Bees, butterflies, squirrels, birds and humans can carry away tree nuts and pollen, and pollen can also be blown on the wind. Once the engineered trees are released into forests, the GE AC ‘experiment’ will be irreversible. There is no way to prevent the trees from spreading, including across cultural or jurisdictional boundaries.

Before we can evaluate the risks, we must first ask: do we have the tools, information, time and wisdom to conduct adequate risk assessments? Only then can we determine whether the risks are worth taking.”

Biotechnology May Derail Natural Initiatives

Anne Petermann wrote in the Scranton Times-Tribune that planting these genetically altered trees opens the door for other risky genetically engineered plants. The fact is a wild tree cannot be replaced by a genetically altered facsimile. Peterman says this is “not restoration, but an uncontrolled experiment with our forests.

It is impossible to have the American chestnut trees in numbers that were living in the early 1900s. However, there are other areas of research currently underway to help the species recover. The first is breeding for resistance. Researchers have experimented with crossbreeding Chinese chestnut trees with the American chestnut.

However, the Chinese chestnut is much shorter and spreads wide instead of going tall and straight. While the process has been slow, The American Chestnut Foundation has had some success in developing a hybrid that is 15/16 American chestnut with selection for resistance and form. They are boosting seed production of a line of trees that appear to be blight-resistant to plant at test sites.

Another line of research has been aimed at lowering the virulence of the fungi. Experiments with infected European chestnut trees show the fungi had developed hypovirulence or had become less toxic to the trees. Researchers found double-stranded RNA within the fungi they later discovered was a virus. The virus caused the fungus to become less virulent.

This treatment has shown some promise in Europe and Michigan. Unfortunately, it has not had the same success along the eastern shores of North America. Researchers have been able to therapeutically treat individual infections, but using this strategy at a population level depends on nature. Petermann believes the genetically altered trees threaten to derail the reintroduction of natural trees.

For the full story visit BM Global News.

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