GMO Trees Threaten Global Forests

by Vins
Published: Updated:

Genetically engineered trees are being planted in the southeast United States to produce paper and the wood pellets used in power plants. Created by ArborGen, a biotechnology company, these GMO trees threaten the environment in multiple different ways. GMO trees require twice as much water as regular trees and spread their pollen and seeds long distances, resulting in a decrease in tree diversity.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) seems to have accepted expanded planting of GMO trees, despite their negative consequences, resulting in significant profits for ArborGen. Critics fear that ArborGen’s economic success will accelerate the proliferation of large-scale, chemical-centric, monoculture plantations stocked with proprietary trees—a lucrative prospect for companies promoting this technology, but not for the environment.

In 2010, the USDA approved widespread planting of experimental GM eucalyptus trees, covering 28 open-air test sites across seven southern states, totaling 330 acres. These field trials, planted by ArborGen, involved over a quarter million GE eucalyptus trees. (The Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit challenging the field trials.) Based on these field trials, ArborGen, a joint venture of MeadWestvaco Corp and New Zealand’s Rubicon Ltd, requested permission from the USDA in 2011 to allow commercial plantings of its freeze-tolerant eucalyptus (FTE). If permitted, the GE eucalyptus will be the first transgenic forest tree approved for unrestricted cultivation and will most likely pave the path for speedy clearance of other GE tree species.

Simply put, GE trees and tree plantations are no substitute for the myriad complex functions of a forest. The rich diversity of forests provides an array of ecological services such as building healthy soils; providing habitat for numerous creatures; performing critical hydrological functions; purifying air and storing carbon; and many other features.

Source:  Debbie Barker, “Genetically Engineered Trees: The New Frontier of Biotechnology,”  Center for Food Safety, November 4, 2013, http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/reports/2637/genetically-engineered-trees-the-new-frontier-of-biotechnology.

Student Researcher: Molly McCormick (Sonoma State University)

Community Evaluator: Vincent Honnold (Retired NASA Researcher)