Source: Our Green Nation, 14 July 2016
Most consumers in the United States are now aware of genetically engineered foods, but far fewer realize that, beginning formally in 1988, biotech scientists have been working on the next frontier of genetic engineering: trees. While the biotech industry claims GE trees could be a natural solution to deforestation, it’s far more likely that a shift to GE monoculture forests, heavily dependent on chemical inputs, would further pollute our soil, air and waterways, and exacerbate the problems of climate change.
Not All Forests Are Created Equal
Natural forests are more than a collection of trees. They are rich, biodiverse habitats for millions of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms that are essential to life. Forests protect soil and waterways from pollution, and even protect humans from heart and respiratory diseases. Perhaps most miraculously, the earth’s forests also store 289 gigatons of carbon in biomass, making forests one of the greatest contributors to slowing the rate of climate change.
Enter genetically engineered trees. The biotech industry is in the process of developing GE trees for a number of aims, including lower lignin content to ease processing. Lignin, a structural component of wood, must be removed from wood pulp before it can be used to make paper. GE trees with lower lignin content stand to save the paper industry a great deal of money by cutting out the expensive removal process. GE trees also promise faster growth, ease of converting wood into biofuels, protection from pests and resistance to herbicides. These developments would surely increase the profits of biotech companies, but at what cost to the planet and future generations?
Genetically Engineered Trees Threaten the Health of an Already Fragile Planet
The risks of GE trees are grave. From current GE trees evaluations and experiments as well as studies assessing the environmental impact of GE trees, several large issues were identified. Lower lignin content trees decompose faster and release more carbon dioxide than non – GE trees, greatly contributing to climate change.
Additionally, GE trees require repeated and wide dousing of chemicals to eliminate pests and weeds, which furthers an industrial and chemically- driven approach to agriculture. This approach causes pollution to soil, waterways and air as well as heavy emissions of greenhouse gases.