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Biotech Tree Company ArborGen Settles with Defrauded Employees

 Company still hopes to develop GE eucalyptus trees for US plantations

New York (31 March 2016) — After being found guilty late last year of using “trickery and deceit” to defraud their employees out of millions of dollars, genetically engineered tree (GE tree) company ArborGen [1] settled with the employees for an undisclosed sum on 24 March.

The judge who rendered the verdict against ArborGen in December fined the company $53.5 million, which included $10.8 million in damages and $32.4 million in punitive damages. The judge found that ArborGen and their parent company Rubicon “engaged in a concerted, organised campaign using deception to mislead plaintiffs.” [2]

Despite this legal turmoil, ArborGen continues to pursue the commercial development of genetically engineered freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees [3], which they hope to sell by the billions for development of industrial plantations from Florida to Texas. They filed a petition for deregulation with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2011 but the process is still ongoing. [4] The trees originated in Brazil, were genetically transformed in New Zealand and sent to the US for field trials, then illegal in New Zealand.

“ArborGen’s effort to win USDA approval to commercially sell GE non-native eucalyptus trees for plantations in the US is utter madness,” stated Anne Petermann [5], Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. [6]  “These GE trees are invasive, flammable, water sucking and will cost us millions of acres of native forest. ArborGen, of course, insists their GE eucalyptus trees will have no negative effects. But they were found guilty of fraud and deceit. How could anyone, including the USDA, believe a word they say? The time to stop this GE tree disaster is now, before it is too late.”

Non-GE eucalyptus trees are already the number one plantation tree globally, growing in vast plantations in tropical and subtropical countries where their negative impacts have been thoroughly documented. [7]  ArborGen has engineered them to be freeze tolerant to allow them to grow in the Southern US, normally too cold for eucalyptus trees.

Just a few of the most serious documented impacts of eucalyptus plantations include:

• clearcutting native forests, and displacing Indigenous Peoples and small farmers for establishment of plantations of these non-native trees that cannot be used by local peoples, wildlife or other biodiversity [eucalyptus are native only to Australia].

• depletion of ground and surface water leading to water shortages and the exacerbation of droughts;

• inundation with repeated applications of toxic fertilizers and herbicides that contaminate ground water and nearby land;

• firestorms: especially in areas suffering from drought, eucalyptus trees are known to be explosively flammable when they catch fire.

• eucalyptus trees are already documented as, or suspected to be, invasive in Florida, California and Hawaii.

Notes to Editors:

1] ArborGen Company history: ArborGen was founded by Monsanto, International Paper, Westvaco (later MeadWestvaco and now WestNorth), Fletcher Challenge Forests (later Rubicon) in 1999. Their world headquarters are in Ridgeville, South Carolina and they have operations in Brazil and Australasia.

The entity that would become ArborGen was announced on 6 April 1999 with a press release titled “Fletcher Challenge Forests, International Paper, Monsanto Company and Westvaco Corporation Announce Forestry Biotechnology Joint Venture” It read, “The four companies will contribute $60 million (US) in total over five years to the joint venture.” See original press release at http://globaljusticeecology.org//srv/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/Arborgen-original-PR-1999.pdf

2] In 2010, nine employees of ArborGen sued the company, its founders, key executives and Board members for defrauding them out of millions of dollars. On 22 December 2015 the judge issued a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs and fined ArborGen $53.5 million for using “trickery and deceit” “with an intent to defraud.” A story about the case appeared in the New Zealand Herald (where ArborGen co-founder and co-defendant Rubicon is based) on 10 January, and Rubicon stocks tumbled 15% on 11 January.

3] http://arborgen.com/biotechtress (sic)

4] ArborGen filed a petition to deregulate their freeze tolerant GE eucalyptus in January 2011http://globaljusticeecology.org//srv/htdocs/wp-content/uploads/Eucalyptus-Petition-to-Deregule-11_01901p1.pdf. It was releasedby the USDA to the public for comments in early 2013 in preparation for a draft environmental impact statement (EIS).Public comments were overwhelmingly opposed to the GE eucalyptus, at the rate of approximately 10,000 to 1. The USDA has not yet issued their draft EIS.

5] Anne Petermann is a global leader in the opposition to GE trees and has been since June 2000, when the first campaign against GE trees was launched at a press conference in Boston, MA. She has coordinated anti-GE tree efforts globally throughout the past 16 years, including at the UN Climate and Biodiversity Conventions, and is an expert on their social and ecological impacts.

6] Founded in 2003, Global Justice Ecology Project houses the Campaign to STOP GE Trees,a global alliance of national, international, regional, and local organizations, the goal of which is a global ban on the release of genetically engineered trees into the environment.World Rainforest Movement, based in Uruguay, is the Southern Contact for the Campaign and has materials in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The Steering Committee for the Campaign is comprised of scientists, lawyers, Indigenous Peoples and activists who reject all forms of genetically engineered trees and organize to stop theircommercial release anywhere in the world.

7] World Rainforest Movement are also experts in the social and ecological impacts of industrial timber plantations, including eucalyptus plantations: http://wrm.org.uy/browse-by-subject/tree-plantations/




Kip Doyle, Media Coordinator, Campaign to STOP GE Trees, +1.716.867.4080 (mobile), +1.716.931.5833 (office),kip@gjep2020.local