What are Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees?
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. Common desired traits include:
- Freeze tolerance
- Altered wood composition for easier processing into paper, pulp or biofuels
- Pest, disease and stress resistance
- Scientists have even engineered poplar (Populus spp.) trees to produce an artificial rose fragrance.
Unlike traditional plant breeding methods, genetic engineering involves high-tech transgenics: the transfer of genes from one species to another. The results are organisms with traits not found anywhere in nature, designed solely to meet the needs of industry. 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. Get the details about GE Trees by checking out our fact sheet and other resources.
GE trees pose a huge risk of contaminating forests, damaging ecosystems and harming communities because:
- Ripping down forests to replace them with industrial GE tree plantations worsens climate change, and devastates biodiversity and the human communities that depend on those forests.
- Trees have a longer life-cycle. They can live for decades to centuries, meaning the threats they pose would be impossible to contain over the long term.
- 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.
- People living near the GE plantations face health risks from the altered tree pollen and the toxic agrochemicals used on the plantations (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers).
- Genetically engineered tree plantations, especially eucalyptus and pine, would be extremely flammable and could contribute to deadly firestorms.
- Developing huge plantations of non-native GE eucalyptus trees destroys natural habitat for birds, insects and mammals, including threatened and endangered species.
- Accelerating the growth rate of trees can take a substantial toil on groundwater and soil nutrients.
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 haas 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 is primarily supported by 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.
FuturaGene: Speed up growth, Speed up climate change.
FuturaGene formed in the cornfields of Indiana, as a spin-off from Purdue University in 2001. Nine years later the Brazilian pulp and paper company Suzano acquired the biotechnology group, with its sights set on engineering a species of eucalyptus with accelerated growth. Currently conducting field trials, this company hopes to be permitted to produce GE trees commercially by 2015.
Check out GE Trees News to keep up with the latest information.
Under the guise of conservation, the GE tree industry is trying to sell their risky science experiments to the public. Tree geneticists in New York are working to develop blight-resistant GE American chestnut trees. Blight resistance has already been achieved via conventional breeding techniques.
ArborGen’s brand-name conservation system, FlexStand, does more to maximize profits than conserve forests, including:
- 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. 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.
GE Trees are not the solution to climate change. These plantations are a false solution that will only increase climate change. A much better solution is the restoration of natural, sustainably managed forests.