Ban Genetically Engineered (GE) American chestnuts in New York State

Spring 2015

Dear friend and forest protector;

This is an invitation to you and your organization to join us in our efforts to stop the release of GE American chestnuts into the forests of New York State and beyond.

New York is ground zero for both research and investment in genetically engineered trees. The State University of New York at Syracuse College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) has partnered with the American Chestnut Foundation to use industry money to develop genetically engineered American chestnuts for release into the wild. They have plans to release 10,000 of these trees in the near future, to repopulate what they call a critical part of the eastern woodlands ecosystem.

The Dangers of GE Trees

As you may be aware, threats from genetically engineered (GE) trees are escalating around the globe. Industry is developing a variety of GE tree species including eucalyptus, poplar, oil palm, pines, and American chestnuts. Many of these GE trees are designed for enhanced production of lumber, paper, bioenergy and chemicals.

Introduction of GE trees threatens native forests through potential contamination of ecosystems and the loss of native forests for industrial tree plantations. This deforestation contributes significantly to biodiversity loss, climate change and human rights abuses.

Recently the USDA announced that it will not regulate genetically engineered Lobolly pine. They will not assess the threats from this tree and there will be no federal or public oversight.

Loblolly pines are a native of the eastern and central U.S. woodlands, and an important part of a habitat for a wide variety of species, including threatened and endangered species. The decision by the USDA to refuse to regulate this tree is dangerous and irresponsible.

The decision has been called a game changer for forest protection and climate change mitigation strategies with Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist from the Center For Food Safety calling this “potentially the biggest USDA regulatory shift since the early 1990s.”

Our forests and ecosystems, are under threat by industrial interests that use GE trees to put profit ahead of the environment. Companies like International Paper, ArborGen, and Monsanto intend to benefit by promoting the development of these dangerous and unproven trees.

The American chestnut

The American chestnut was nearly wiped out by the chestnut blight in the early part of the 20th century. It was an important part of the eastern forest ecosystem. However, genetically engineered varieties being developed by corporate investments at SUNY ESF raise questions about significant environmental risk.

Industry insists that the GE American chestnut will help to restore our native ecosystems.

However, the genetic manipulation of living organisms has unknown and unknowable consequences. The planting of fertile, long-lived GE American chestnuts throughout eastern forests will lead to the irreversible contamination of native chestnuts throughout the ecosystem.

And at the end of the day, we have no idea what the potential negative consequences will be.

The Precautionary Principle

Multiple threats to Earth’s natural flora and fauna have led to the current extremely high rate of species extinctions and habitat loss. International treaties including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognize this threat and urge the recognition of the Precautionary Principle as a common sense strategy to prevent economic interests from commercializing technologies that have not been proven safe.

In the name of precaution, we urge NYS to recognize that in the absence of adequate research or risk assessment as outlined in this letter, it is incumbent to ban GE Chestnuts in NYS.

Academia and Industry

We are concerned that the commercially sponsored research at one of our state universities is designed to give academic cover to companies like Monsanto, ArborGen, and other commercial interests that use greenwash to promote industry profit instead of environmental sustainability and integrity.

This all concerns us deeply.

If this concerns you as well, we invite you to join with us in exploring and opposing the introduction of GE American chestnuts, as well as other genetically engineered tree species in our state and across the bioregion.

Here is how:

  1. Visit our website: NO GE Trees, and our GE American chestnut Resource Section on the Global Justice Ecology Project’s website and learn more about the social and ecological dangers of GE trees and our efforts to combat them in the US and globally.
  2. Join the movement in New York against the introduction of GE American chestnuts and help us to reach others in your network to join us by sharing this letter.
  3. Sign up for our GE American chestnut mailing list  (bit.ly/AmChestnut-listserv) so that we can keep you updated and informed about our activities. We want to engage you in action strategies to fight against those that are causing harm to our life-supporting ecosystems.

Jay Burney, Anne Peterman

Campaign to Ban GE American chestnuts in New York

Global Justice Ecology Project

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