Will Donald Trump Impact Future of Genetically Engineered Trees?

After Six Years USDA, GE Tree Company ArborGen Fail to Launch GE Eucalyptus 

New York (12 January 2017) – Tuesday, 17 January 2017, the eve of the new Trump Presidency, will mark six years since genetically engineered tree (GE) company ArborGen submitted a petition to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requesting unprecedented approval to sell GE eucalyptus trees. The USDA has still not made a decision. In 2013, the USDA received public comments at the rate of 10,000 to one rejecting these GE trees. [1] Since then, the USDA has not released any environmental assessments or other information on them.

“With the new anti-environmental Trump Administration coming in, we believe forests and the climate are going to be under attack,” explained Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and International Coordinator for the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. “We expect that Trump’s USDA pick will be even worse than Obama’s. This makes the looming threat from ArborGen’s 2011 request to the USDA to sell genetically engineered eucalyptus trees even more serious. These GE trees are extremely dangerous to forests, communities and the climate, yet the USDA and ArborGen remain secret about their status.”

Petermann added, “Luke Moriarty, the CEO of ArborGen investor Rubicon, called ArborGen ‘the Monsanto of the forestry world,’ yet to date, ArborGen has not commercially sold a single GE tree. The New Zealand Herald, on the other hand, called ArborGen ‘a huge disappointment’ that is still trying to break even 15 years after it was formed.” [4] Then why has the USDA not already rejected them? How will the new Trump pick impact them? The public has the right to know.

In 2010 the USDA was sued by environmental groups [2] for approving 330 acres of ArborGen GE eucalyptus field trials. Since then, the company has renewed fewer acres each year, and today has active permits for only 126.5 acres [3] of GE eucalyptus field trials. While less than half of the original 2010 acreage, this is still the largest acreage of GE tree field trials in the country.

ArborGen recently began commercially selling non-GMO eucalyptus “super-seedlings” in the US, but ArborGen’s own information, confidentially obtained by GJEP, reports that in some field trials of the trees, 50% suffered dieback from disease and cold weather. One field trial was completely killed by the cold. [5]

Eucalyptus trees are not native to the US, nor anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, though they are widely grown as plantation trees for pulp and paper in South America, Africa and elsewhere.

The 2010 lawsuit brought against the USDA exposed that eucalyptus trees are known to be flammable, invasive and that they rapidly deplete soils and ground water. It further emphasized that creating vast plantations of GE eucalyptus from Florida to Texas, as was proposed, could have dangerous impacts on wildlife, endangered species and the climate.

“The year 2016 was the hottest on record,” stated Ruddy Turnstone, Florida-based GE Trees Campaigner for Global Justice Ecology Project. “The changing climate has already contributed to terrible droughts in the US Southeast, which in turn has led to historic wildfires. The last thing the region needs is invasive, flammable, water-draining GE eucalyptus plantations.”

Turnstone continued, “We are also concerned that some of President Elect Donald Trump’s nominations for key cabinet positions could impact the future landscape for GE trees. Trump’s pick for EPA head, Scott Pruitt, for example, is a known climate change denier.  He was named in a New York Times story as being near the center of a ‘secretive alliance’ among energy firms and other corporations. Pruitt also has a history of working to weaken air pollution and other environmental regulations.”

Weaker EPA air pollution standards could open the door to additional burning of tree biomass for electricity, known for releasing dangerous levels of pollution [6].  This could in turn increase demand for biomass plantations and provide incentive to develop plantations of fast-growing GE trees. The EPA is currently developing a proposal to approve new ways to promote fuels from ‘short rotation woody crops’ like trees.

Petermann added, “After six years, it is time for the USDA to publicly reject ArborGen’s destructive GE eucalyptus trees once and for all. This secrecy nonsense has to end.” [As of this release Trump has not nominated a choice for the head of the USDA.]

Contact: Kip Doyle, Media Coordinator, Global Justice Ecology Project, mobile: +1.716.867.4080 <kip@globaljusticeecology.org>

Notes to Editors

[1] On 17 January 2011 GE tree company ArborGen submitted a petition to the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) requesting “non-regulated” status which would allow them to sell genetically engineered freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees commercially for development of vast plantations across the southern US.

On 27 February 2013 the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) released ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus petition for public comment. They received approximately 10,000 comments to one opposing ArborGen’s request.

Later that spring, the largest ever protests against GE trees were held in the US Southeast city of Asheville, NC, not far from the world headquarters of ArborGen in South Carolina.

[2] The lawsuit was filed against ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus test plots across the US Southeast involving more than a quarter of a million trees.  Organizations involved in the lawsuit included The Center for Food Safety, The Center for Biological Diversity, Global Justice Ecology Project, Sierra Club and Dogwood Alliance. For info and resources: http://globaljusticeecology.org/resources-and-background-information-pertaining-to-ge-eucalyptus-lawsuit/

[3] Retrieved from the Information Systems for Biotechnology site on January 9th 2017 from this link: http://www.isb.vt.edu/search-release-data.aspx

[4] New Zealand Herald, 15 October 2016 It’s time to put Rubicon shareholders out of their misery” 

[5] GJEP is in possession of this confidential information, and will release it to reporters as requested.

[6] The Harmful Impacts of Biomass Energy Generation

print