Note: for more on the public comment period regarding the USDA’s recommendation to approve release of GE trees into wild forests, or for information on submitting comments, please visit https://stopgetrees.org/stop-ge-trees/

For Immediate Release 11/17/2022       

Contact: steve@globaljusticeecology.org     +1 (314) 210-1322

USDA’s Holiday Season Comment Period

on Genetically Engineered American Chestnut Tree Called “Absurd”

Groups call on USDA to extend comment period that reflects seriousness and unprecedented nature of proposal and allows for wider community engagement. 

On November 9th the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) invited public comment on two draft documents regarding a petition by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) to deregulate an American Chestnut tree that has been genetically engineered for release into wild forests.  Although the petition seeks to allow the release of a genetically engineered tree into the wild–something that has never before been done, and the long-term impacts of which are unknown– the USDA is only allowing 45 days, ending on December 27th, for scientists, experts, organizations and concerned members of the public to read and comment on both its draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and its draft Plant Pest Risk Assessment (DPPRA).

“The proposal to release a genetically engineered American chestnut tree into wild forests is completely unprecedented, and one that many people and organizations have logged concerns about,” said Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. “Yet the USDA’s comment period on this proposal runs from November 10 to December 27, when many people will be on vacation or traveling. This is completely absurd. Why would the USDA schedule a public comment period on an issue this important when so many will be unable to fully participate? We are asking for a 60 day extension of the deadline to allow for a proper amount of time for organizations and individuals to read the drafts and to comment.”

Organizations representing tens of millions have endorsed the campaign’s demand to the USDA to reject the petition to deregulate the D58 GE American chestnut tree. Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Food Safety, Climate Justice Alliance, Food and Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Environmental Paper Network, Dogwood Alliance, Global Forest Coalition, the Organic Consumers’ Association and Rural Coalition are among the fifty-plus groups that have joined with the Campaign to STOP GE Trees to take an official stand against the proposal.

In an August 30th story in the Washington Post, Edward Messina, director of the Office of Pesticide Programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is also reviewing the GE American chestnut petition, stated that “The big policy question is: Should we bring back forests with genetically modified Chestnut trees? That’s a pretty heavy question. This case sits right at the intersection of cutting-edge science and public policy consideration…Just because we can do something, should we?”

“The Biden-Harris Administration has stated that it is dedicated to inclusion and equity, but this 45 day comment period during the holidays is going to limit the ability of working people and communities to comment,” said Dr. Rachel Smolker co-director of Biofuelwatch.  “Particularly for Indigenous and forest-based communities located in the regions targeted for GE American chestnut release, this holiday comment period is unacceptable. How can people meaningfully participate under such conditions?”

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