What Are Genetically Engineered Trees?

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GE trees (sometimes called GM trees or GMO trees) are similar to other GMOs.

Scientists manipulate the genetic material of trees by inserting DNA from an unrelated species to achieve desired results.

Trees such as eucalyptus, American chestnut, poplar and pine are being genetically engineered for traits including faster growth, insect and disease resistance, and altered wood composition.  If released commercially, these GE trees risk contaminating native forests, damaging ecosystems and harming communities

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.  In addition:

  • 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 in forest ecosystems, 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. In the case of GE American chestnut trees, the edible nuts would be a new GMO food crop that could contaminate non-GMO chestnut orchards and damage the livelihoods of chestnut farmers.

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