November 08, 2013
As the US Department of Agriculture
considers whether to authorize the unrestricted planting of
genetically engineered Eucalyptus trees experts are warning that
such a policy would not only be unnatural, but negatively impact the
The GE tree is primarily developed by
ArborGen, a biotechnology corporation
that has been met with protests in recent months, to provide
materials to create paper and the wood pellets that fuel power
plants around the world.
Despite the trees’ propensity for cooler
climates, ArborGen has sought to promote the trees’ growth in the
south eastern US under the notion that they will help the
environment sustain itself.
Yet a new report from the Center for Food Safety titled "Genetically
Engineered Trees - The New Frontier of Biotechnology"
details how GE trees could increase greenhouse gas emission and
"Commercializing GE trees could be
devastating to the environment," Debbie Barker, international
program director for the Center for Food Safety, told Eco Watch.
"Factory forests’ will accelerate
and expand large-scale, chemical-intensive, monoculture
plantations. We need to understand the risks in order to
determine if GE trees are a sustainable way forward or a
Among the concerns laid out in the
report is the immediate risk GE trees would pose to natural trees in
the surrounding area.
Not only are they expected to suck up at
least twice as much water as normal trees, but GE trees are also
known for their ability to spread seeds and pollens over great
distances. If wild trees become contaminated they could be more
vulnerable to pests and pathogens, thus risking the life span of
natural US forests.
The GE trees would also require
substantial amounts of fertilizers and pesticides as well.
"Eucalyptus is the first forest tree
now being considered for approval for unrestricted planting, but
some of the largest biotechnology, paper and energy corporations
are experimenting on pine, poplar, chestnut and several
varieties of fruit," said Barker, who also edited the report.
Despite these and other warnings,
biotech corporations have a strong incentive to argue against any
If GE eucalyptus is approved, according
Eco Watch, ArborGen expects that
company profits will explode from $25 million to $500 million in
just five years.
Another red flag for the Center for Food Safety is the
assertion that burning wood pellets slows climate change. The report
acknowledges that the method, which involves selling European stumps
to European companies so they can keep power plants running 24 hours
a day, helps cut down on the number of sulfur emissions.
But more recent research has found that
burning wood pellets likely increases the presence of other
The USDA will consider the adoption of GE tree planting despite what
environmental advocates say are scientific risks, and questions
about the integrity of government’s scrutiny over ArborGen.
Rachel Smolker, co-director of the environmental advocacy
wrote a column in The Huffington Post
earlier this year alleging that vested commercial interests made
rigorous evaluation of the biotech’s venture unlikely.
"Perhaps in part it is a response to
the fact that ArborGen has succeeded in placing key personnel
within positions in agencies such as the USDA and Department of
Education where these decisions are made also," she wrote.
"Also, it is clear that the entire
awesome weight of the biomass juggernaut comes into play."
"Subsidies are flowing into the construction of hundreds of
bioenergy ‘renewable energy’ projects, including plans to
convert massive coal plants to burn biomass, efforts to convert
wood into ethanol and other transport fuels, as well as a suite
of other biomass based chemicals and products," Smolker
"The demand, and the potentially
massive profits to be made, are altogether clear."