Letter to CTNBio, Brazil

On 5 March in Brasilia, the Brazilian National Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) was scheduled to meet to discuss the potential approval of three new genetically engineered organisms (also called genetically modified organisms or GMOs), including a eucalyptus tree genetically engineered by the company FuturaGene.

The CTNBio meeting was cancelled because of protests opposing the genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus tree. It is rescheduled for the 9th of April.

During one of the protests, a woman from the MST (Movimento Sem Terra) stated,

“The landless women came here to denounce, to reject, to say that this model of agribusiness is the model of death, not of life. We the landless women are here to defend a model of life, defend food sovereignty, and defend agrarian land reform.”

We agree that FuturaGene’s request to commercially develop their GE eucalyptus tree in Brazil, and any requests to release GE trees, must be rejected because of significant risks and the inadequately assessed ecological and social impacts.

The cultivation of GE eucalyptus trees would pose unknowable risks to the environment, with irreversible impacts on biodiversity, and it would worsen the existing negative environmental and social impacts of industrial tree plantations.

• GE trees pose grave contamination risks with unknowable and irreversible environmental impacts:

Trees are long-lived organisms and have evolved to spread their seeds and pollen over great distances. GE eucalyptus trees, developed from non-native invasive species and engineered to grow faster, are more likely to become invasive. Unpredictable changes – commonly the result of the process of genetic engineering – may equally contribute to new or increased invasiveness. It is also inevitable that GE eucalyptus trees plantations will genetically contaminate the vast non-GE eucalyptus plantations in both Brazil and Latin America, with dangerous results.

Due to the complexity of trees and their interactions with other life forms, it is next to impossible to accurately assess the environmental impacts of FuturaGene’s GE eucalyptus trees, or even to know what questions to ask.

• GE trees threaten food sovereignty:

GE trees are part of the corporate capture and commodification of nature, and threaten food sovereignty. The increased profitability of GE trees will accelerate land grabs for GE tree plantations, further displacing small-scale and subsistence agriculture. Moreover, GE trees could disrupt ecosystems, negatively impacting insects as well as beneficial predators that are crucial for food production, and the food chain.

The additional threat of GE contamination of honey exported from Brazil would have further devastating impacts, including on the livelihoods of honey producers in rural communities. Because there is a high likelihood of widespread, irreversible genetic contamination of non-GE eucalyptus plantations by GE eucalyptus trees, they would further wreak havoc on communities and ecosystems already gravely impacted by eucalyptus monocultures.

In summary, the use of GE trees would worsen the documented social and ecological impacts of industrial tree plantations: loss of biodiversity, displacement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, destruction of native forests and ecosystems, and contamination of air, water, soils and people with toxic agrochemicals.

For these reasons and many others, CTNBio must reject FuturaGene’s request to commercialize genetically engineered eucalyptus trees.