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Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees

For Immediate Release                                                                                  17 June 2020

For More Information Contact Steve Taylor                                         +1.314.210.1322

Researchers Seeking Approval for the Unprecedented Release of Genetically Engineered Trees into Forests to Spread Unchecked and Contaminate Wild Trees

 Diverse groups unite in opposition to plan by SUNY-ESF

New York – Twenty years after the founding of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Groups in the Campaign[1] are launching a new website, video, petition and other tools to accompany the relaunch of their effort to prevent the large-scale release of genetically engineered trees into the environment. This re-launch is part of a re-doubled effort to stop the release of GE trees into the natural environment.

Researchers at SUNY-ESF (State University of New York School of Environment and Forestry), in consultation with a retired Monsanto scientist, are working with Trump’s USDA to gain approval for the release of the first ever genetically engineered tree, an American Chestnut, into wild forests. In response, environmental, Indigenous, small farmer, human rights and forest protection groups, as well scientists, foresters and others are coming together with the Campaign to STOP GE Trees to oppose this unprecedented plan. The Campaign is also initiating a sign on letter today that will bring in additional organizations concerned about the legalization of the first ever GE tree in the United States–one of the first in the world.

“We are glad to have the support of so many allies in protecting wild forests from this threat,” said Anne Peterman International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees.  “Industry is trying hard to undercut the tremendous global opposition to genetically engineered trees. They are using a classic ‘bait and switch’ scheme to promote the GE American chestnut for supposed ‘forest restoration’ in order to open the door to the industrial GE trees they have in the wings.

In reality, the genetically engineered American chestnut tree will not restore the wild trees, it will replace them in a massive experiment with our forests. The long-term risks of this experiment are completely unknown and unassessed.”

The Campaign’s international and North American Steering Committee members, along with the list of over 440 groups from nearly fifty countries that endorse the Campaign’s call for a global rejection of genetically engineered trees and their removal from all outdoor plantings, including field trials, can be found on the new campaign website: stopgetrees.org

Notes to Editors

  1. Groups active in the international and North American campaigns to protect forests and communities from the social and ecological risks of genetically engineered trees include Biofuelwatch, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, Global Justice Ecology Project, Indigenous Environmental Network, World Rainforest Movement, GE Free New Zealand, OLCA-Chile, and Rural Coalition, which together represent hundreds of other groups.  Additional supporters of the campaign include Friends of the Earth-US, Greenpeace, Kids Right to Know, Environmental Paper Network, Moms Across America, Family Farm Defenders and Food and Water Watch, among others.
  2. The biotech industry has, in recent years, experienced major setbacks, and opposition to genetically engineered (GE) trees has grown to record levels.  In 2017, the Campaign to STOP GE Trees collected a record 284,000 comments to the USDA demanding that they reject a petition to legalize GE eucalyptus trees.
  3. The SUNY-ESF chestnut restoration project, under the direction of researcher William Powell intends to release a blight-resistant GE American chestnut into wild forest ecosystems.  Corporate backers of Powell and the American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) support use of the iconic American chestnut as a strategy to break through long-time public opposition to GE trees.
  4. As mentioned in a recent story in the New York Times Magazine, American Chestnut Foundation support for Powell’s GE chestnut led to the high-profile resignation of Lois and Denis Breault-Melican from the TACF Board. In the story, it was reported that Lois and Denis based their decision in part on information about the risks of GE trees exposed by Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP).  Some of that information can be found in a white paper produced by Biofuelwatch and GJEPGJEP founded the Campaign to STOP GE Trees in March of 2000.
  5. The Trump Administration is using COVID-19 as cover to initiate roll backs of environmental regulations. The USDA announced on May 14th its intention to fast-track approvals of new genetically engineered plants, through rule changes under the agency’s Plant Protection Act. According to the agency’s press release, Secretary Perdue stated that, “Under President Trumps leadership, USDA is implementing the first significant update to our plant biotechnology regulations in more than three decades.”
  6. The Campaign to STOP GE Trees expects a move by the USDA to approve Powell’s GE American Chestnut within the year.  “If approved, this would be one of the most significant environmental policy decisions in a decade with unknown and potentially irreversible implications for forests and health–ushered in under the cover of a global pandemic.” said Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees.
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