Major news outlets are reporting on the news that over 250,000 signatures have been collected telling the USDA to not approve genetically engineered eucalyptus trees.
Petermann said there is a lack of independent research on the long-term, or even short-term, consequences of putting genetically-engineered trees out into the environment, and that the risks could be significant.
“We are talking about forest ecosystems that have evolved over millions of years,” Petermann said. “Planting eucalyptus trees, with mutations in their genomes – how are these organisms going to interact with the forest? How are they going to interact with soil micro-organisms? Those studies have not been done, and that is one of the major points in the comments.”
Petermann said if the studies were to be done they would have to be carried out over the full life of the tree, between 50 to 100 years. As that is not likely to happen, she said “there is no way to know the full scope of the risks.”
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TheHill.com published an article by Lydia Wheeler titled Groups urge USDA not to approve genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which featured a quote from Marti Crouch, consulting scientist for the Center for Food Safety.
“GE eucalyptus plantations spread across the South would be a disaster,” Crouch said. “Some non-GE eucalyptus species have already become invasive and are degrading natural areas. Plants and animals, including endangered species, will be unable to find suitable habitats within landscapes dominated by GE eucalyptus. Approving these trees is a terrible idea.”
The Hill is a political newspaper based in Washington, D.C. TheHill.com receives over 12 million visitors per month.
USDA officials have some light reading for the weekend in the form of more than 800 comment letters on the department’s pending decision to clear for market a eucalyptus tree that has been genetically modified to withstand colder temperatures. If approved, it would be the first genetically modified tree to get a government sign off. The tree, which is fast-growing and popular for timber, primarily grows in tropical climates. In a risk assessment released in April, USDA found that the tree is “highly unlikely to pose a plant pest risk as long as there is proper management and oversight of plantations as they are established and grown.”
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