Plan to Plant GMO Eucalyptus Trees Stirs Up Hornet’s Nest of Protest

The US Dept. of Agriculture’s proposed approval of an ArborGen plan to plant more than 250,000 genetically engineered eucalyptus trees on 330 acres of land across seven southern US states has resulted in a storm of protest and more than 17,400 negative public comments.
The trees have been genetically engineered to be tolerant to cold weather, produce less lignin and altered their fertility characteristics in an effort to produce a fast growing feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Dubbed “frankentrees,” environmental groups including the regional Dogwood Alliance have quickly put together a STOP GE Trees Campaign.
Industrial eucalyptus tree farming is already a highly contentious and heavily criticized issue. Adding genetic modification to the mix only compounds the high risks and potential costs of the plan. Among the many and varied criticisms of the proposal, environmental groups point out that eucalyptus trees are not native to North America, are highly invasive, reduce biodiversity and push out native species. Yet more disruptive, they soak up large amounts of ground water, are highly flammable and exacerbate drought conditions, critics of the plan point out.

The Frankentree for Biofuel Plan
The strain of genetically engineered eucalyptus ArborGen intends to plant in the US South originated from naturally occurring tissue taken from a plant in Brazil, where non-GMO industrial eucalyptus tree farming has been causing large scale ecological damage and social problems for many years.
The tree tissue was then shipped to New Zealand, where it was genetically engineered, and then shipped to the US for cloning and outdoor release.
“Here in New Zealand ArborGen has been prevented from doing field trials of their GE trees because it is recognized that the risks associated with these field trials are simply too great,” stated Steffan Browning, co-chair and spokesperson for the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand.
“GE trees are prohibited from field trials in New Zealand, so ArborGen will export them to the USA or anywhere else they can get away with it. This scandal brings shame to New Zealand’s clean, green GMO-free reputation,” he added.
The USDA-ArborGen plan would see all but one of the trial GMO eucalyptus tree farms flower and seed, which would result in unintended and uncontrolled spreading outside the trial fields, environmental groups say.
“The Organic Consumer’s Association strongly opposes the release of any and all GMO trees into the environment,” stated Craig Minowa, Environmental Scientist at the OCA.
“Some of the projected social and environmental impacts from the release of GMO trees commercially include the increased use of toxic herbicides and pesticides and the contamination of native forests with GMO trees engineered for such traits as reduced lignin, insect resistance, or faster growth which would be devastating to forest ecosystems,” he added.
The Industrial-GMO Model for Farming Trees
In addition to being the latest issue of contention between advocates of and those opposing introduction of genetically modified species and growing crops for energy, this latest furor is symptomatic and hints at a deeper, perhaps root cause of tension and dispute between businesses and those representing broader public interests.
Rather than taking holistic, ecosystems or life cycle approaches when developing and commercializing new technologies that are bound to have widespread and negative impacts on human health and the environment, they continue to apply conventional, dangerously narrow-minded industrial age, mass production-mass market thinking and models when doing so.
Concerns regarding health, the environment, biodiversity and social equity are thrust aside, minimized or plowed under by the power and influence of large business interests and industry groups in a headlong rush for investment capital, profits and dominance of new markets.
“Releasing a quarter of a million genetically modified trees that are allowed to both flower and produce seeds is irresponsible and dangerous,” stated George Kimbrell, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “USDA failed to analyze rigorously the foreseeable impacts of this unprecedented experiment on native environments, which could have devastating consequences,” he concluded.

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

5 responses

  1. I find it interesting that your article made the following statement – Brazil, where non-GMO industrial eucalyptus tree farming has been causing large scale ecological damage and social problems for many years is 100% FALSE. Brasilian Scientists were the first to modify the tree to achieve faster growth rates and better cellular structure for pulp and paper.

    It seems that ALL the websites that are against Eucalyptus planting make the same statement WITHOUT supporting documentation, research and evidence. I call it “fear mongering” which I find to be an acceptable description that generally describes individuals who FEAR that genetically modified anything will turn everything and everyone into monsters. Probably the same people who enjoy cooking with canola oil so they can provide their bodies with its healthy benefits. Did you know Canola was originally called rapeseed and was used during WWI & WWII as engine lubricates. But some Scientist had the nerve to genetically modify the plant and create Canola Oil – shame on him and shame on all the GMO fear mongerers for buying the product and millions of products that use it as an ingredient.

    I am a Canadian who lives and has lived for 10 years in Brasil and has been fascinated with the eucalyptus planting. I am not a Scientist by education but I am willing to bet the majority of the fear mongerers on the GMO bandwagon are not either.

    I have however gotten to know many people and their families who have planted these trees, work with these trees and benefit from the harvesting of these trees.

    To date there has been no negative comments – they are happy to have the revenue, the jobs, the benefits these give for their families, and the future that a sustainable agricultural product provides.

    For those who fear this type of GMO modification I am willing to open an NGO (a charity which can give a tax receipt so contributors can get a tax benefit) in Brasil so you can send your “decent” sized donation. These funds will be used to assist these people and their families in finding an alternative way to make an income that will be agreeable to the environmentalists who I might add I have NEVER seen in Brasil helping to educate the people to till the soil, plant the crops, etc – NEVER. Actually I have never seen an environmentalist get their hands dirty helping anybody.

    They are no doubt striving for a better world, vigorous in their beliefs, committed to change – all the while using their i-phones, laptops, driving their cars, wearing leather shoes, sip Starbucks coffee, and generally being uneducated 9about the real facts and getting down and dirty with the people who need the help0, right winged, idealistic hypocrites.

    Now here is an opportunity to prove me wrong. Let me know when you have booked a trip to Brasilia Brasil – I will get you at the airport – bring work clothes, sturdy boots, kids clothes (anything as long as it is new – ballcaps are greatly appreciated), over the counter medicines and lots of band-aids, your camera (you won’t want to miss recording this memory) and don’t forget to bring your check-book as well as significant donations from all of your counterparts. Oh ya and lots of Kleenex because you will need them to wipe your eyes when you meet and live and work with the people who benefit from the trees and those who wish more trees would be planted so they could have a better future for their families.

    Looking forward to seeing you soon



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