American Chestnut Foundation Board Members Resign Over GE Chestnut

Graft of an American-Chinese Chestnut hybrid.  Photolangelle.org

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                             MARCH 28,  2019

Regional Board members of The American Chestnut Foundation Resign In Protest Against Genetically Engineered American Chestnut Trees

Contact: Steve Taylor       steve@globaljusticeecology.org.     314 210 1322

Spencer, MA – In a statement today, two board members of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), including the Chapter President announced they were resigning from TACF as a protest against the organization’s support for genetically engineering (GE) American chestnut trees.

Board President Lois Breault-Melican and Board member Denis Melican made the decision to leave due to TACF support for the unregulated planting of GE American chestnut trees throughout eastern US forests.

The Melicans stated, “We are unwilling to lift a finger, donate a nickel or spend one minute of our time assisting the development of genetically engineered (GE) trees or using the American chestnut to promote biotechnology in forests as any kind of benefit to the environment. The GE American chestnut is draining the idealism and integrity from TACF.”

If deregulated by the USDA, the GE American chestnut would be the first GMO allowed to be planted in the wild with the intent to reproduce itself. There are no long-term studies of the impacts this would have on forests, wildlife, pollinators or human health.

The Melicans joined TACF sixteen years ago to help bring back the American chestnut. In their statement they wrote, “Looking back, if we had known on day one that Monsanto and [GE tree company] ArborGen had an interest in – and funded – the GMO chestnut, we would not have gotten involved.”

Lois Breault-Melican added, “There is just no reason for taking the risks involved with genetically engineering the American chestnut. The local TACF chapters have been working for years and having great success developing blight resistant American chestnut trees using backcross breeding.”

Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project, an organization that has led international efforts to protect forests and communities from GE trees since 2003, described the Melican’s resignation. “This is a very important letter calling out the leadership of the TACF. TACF was founded to bring back the American chestnut, yet their national leadership is allowing the chestnut to be genetically engineered and used to promote the ludicrous idea that GE trees can improve forest health. In reality, GE American chestnuts are being used as a Trojan Horse to open the door to GE trees like poplar and eucalyptus, being developed for large-scale industrial plantations.”

[The full resignation statement can be found below]

A White Paper detailing the science behind concerns surrounding the genetically engineered American chestnut is forthcoming and will be released soon.

A commentary regarding GE trees and forest health coauthored by Anne Petermann and Dr. Rachel Smolker in The Hill can be found here.
https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/380363-the-forests-are-in-crisis-but-biotechnology-is-not-the-solution

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Lois Breault-Melican

Denis Melican

Spencer MA 01562-2005

 

March 28, 2019

 

Dear MA/RI Chapter Board Members, Asheville Staff, Science Coordinators, and Chapter Presidents,

Because of our opposition to the genetically engineered chestnut, Denis and I have come to the sad conclusion that we can no longer serve on the MA/RI Chapter board of The American Chestnut Foundation. Therefore, I will also resign as chapter president. We are unwilling to lift a finger, donate a nickel or spend one minute of our time assisting the development of GE trees or using the American chestnut to promote biotechnology in forests as any kind of “benefit” to the environment. The GE American chestnut is, we believe, draining the idealism and integrity from TACF.

We made the decision to join TACF immediately upon learning of its existence sixteen years ago and we were prepared to volunteer for the chapter until we were too elderly to be able to contribute.  Looking back, if we had known on day one that Monsanto and ArborGen had an interest in – and funded – the GMO chestnut, we would not have gotten involved.

Later when we learned about it, we were reassured by clichés about the public interest being protected by the dreaded “Regulatory Gauntlet.” Now we know better. The current administration’s “Regulatory Gauntlet” is a farce. Even the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine has said that the regulatory agencies in our country are unable to deal with the potential risks of putting GE American chestnuts out into the forests. And Trump’s public remarks have made it clear that he is on the same side as Monsanto, ArborGen and TACF.

No matter what position our board may take on the GE chestnut, we believe that even if it said no to any level of involvement, the NY chapter activist in our midst will continue his work on their behalf and there willbe GE chestnuts planted in Massachusetts. A lot of important and valuable back cross breeding work is being done and we feel that this progress is threatened if these 94% American hybrids are contaminated by GE chestnuts that are allowed to spread their pollen with no controls or regulations as is proposed.

Even though by resigning from the board we will be drastically reducing our level of involvement, we remain strongly committed to the Tantasqua Chestnut Project and the efforts to create beautifully designed chestnut groves at Flynt Park in Monson MA. We also would like to honor the commitment of promised trees to conservation partners such as the Greater Worcester Land Trust, the Worcester Tree Initiative and Wachusett Meadow Audubon Sanctuary as well as the Food Forest Initiative of Cape Cod. In addition, we want to encourage and support those individuals who are now developing an organic chestnut agricultural crop in western MA.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have discovered some extraordinarily beautiful places like Meadowview Virginia, and Ashfield Massachusetts, and to have met so many nice people along the way including board and committee members, science coordinators and the staff at TACF’s headquarters.

We admire the work done by Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and agree with them in opposing the unknown, long term risks posed by the GE chestnut and other GE trees and we intend to support GJEP in our future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Lois A. Breault-Melican

Denis M. Melican

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