Center for Food Safety Challenges “Greenwashing” in a Landmark Review of Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers whether to approve the first genetically engineered (GE) forest tree for commercial use, Center for Food Safety (CFS) released its new report, Genetically Engineered Trees: The New Frontier of Biotechnology. The report details the potential ecological and socioeconomic hazards of GE trees currently under commercial development.
USDA is currently reviewing a GE Eucalyptus for unrestricted planting. Eucalyptus is primarily cultivated to provide pulp for paper and “wood pellets,” which are used for fuel. The GE tree, developed by the biotechnology corporation ArborGen, is engineered to grow in colder climates. ArborGen hopes to cultivate GE tree plantations across much of the southeastern United States.
Debbie Barker, international program director for Center for Food Safety, and editor of the report, stated, “Commercializing GE trees could be devastating to the environment. ‘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 dangerous diversion.”
GE trees have been promoted under a banner of environmental sustainability. However, the report reveals that GE tree plantations would require vast amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and water. Further, tree plantations reduce biodiversity, can increase greenhouse gas emissions, and lead to deforestation.
“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 trees,” said Barker.
Among the report’s key findings are the following:
Dr. Martha Crouch an independent consultant for the report, and an expert on issues of biotechnology, agriculture, and the environment, commented: "Commercializing unproven GE trees is too big of a risk to take with so much at stake. Monocultures of GE trees could not only replace complex native forests, but GE trees could also escape from plantations into forests where they could disrupt longstanding relationships between species."
Despite the negative environmental impacts, GE “factory forests” would likely be very profitable for biotech companies. For instance, if GE eucalyptus is approved, ArborGen, the leading biotechnology tree company, has projected its profits will grow from $25 million to $500 million in five years.
CFS’s report also includes specific policy recommendations that will better determine if GE trees are a truly sustainable way forward.
To download a copy of the full report, please visit: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/ge_pages_final_nov-1_80728.pdf
About Center for Food Safety
The Center for Food Safety (CFS) is a national non-profit organization working to protect human health and the environment by challenging the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. CFS uses groundbreaking legal and policy initiatives, market pressure and grassroots campaigns to protect our food, our farms, and our environment. CFS’s U.S. Supreme Court successes include playing an historic role in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Massachusetts v. EPA decision mandating that the EPA regulate greenhouse gases. In addition, in 2010 CFS challenged Monsanto in the U.S. Supreme Court (Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms), which set key legal precedents.