Participants from the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Protest Belgium for their recent planting of a genetically engineered test plot.
For Immediate Release
22 May 2009
Protesters Insist Genetically Engineered Poplar Trees Planted by Belgium be Removed
New York, New York–Today on International Biodiversity Day, Indigenous Peoples Organizations along with several Non-Governmental Organizations held a protest against genetically engineered trees in front of the Belgian Permanent Mission. During the protest, a letter  was delivered to Belgian Ambassador, Jan K.F. Grauls, that condemned a field trial of genetically engineered poplar trees planted earlier this month in Belgium. The letter was signed by prominent international Indigenous Peoples Organizations including COICA (Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon), International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of Tropical Forests, Indigenous Environmental Network and others from Latin America, North America, Africa and India. 
The focus of the International Biodiversity Day this year was the damage caused to biodiversity by alien invasive species. “Genetically engineered trees that can spread their pollen for hundreds of kilometers should be classified as alien invasive species,” insisted Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director and North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition. “They can contaminate native forests with dangerous and unnatural traits that can cause extensive damage to forest biological diversity,” she added.
Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, in his statement about the celebration of International Biodiversity Day 2009 stated:
“Invasive alien species are an unintended consequence of globalization, damaging ecosystem services, livelihoods and economies around the world. The government of South Africa alone is spending $60 million per year to try to eradicate plants such as acacia, which are encroaching on arable land and valuable river systems, as well as sites of economic importance, as Cape Floral Kingdom … There are many other examples of invasive alien species can affect native biodiversity, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and human health.”
On 6 May, The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) planted an outdoor field trial of poplar trees genetically engineered specifically for the production of cellulosic ethanol in Belgium. With native poplars throughout Europe, the development of GE tree plantations in Belgium would threaten to contaminate forests throughout Europe with destructive traits.
“The use of GE trees or any trees to produce agrofuels is a terrible idea,” stated Jihan Gearon, Energy Campaigner for Indigenous Environmental Network. “The quantity of wood needed to produce agrofuels would mean vast areas of land would be converted to plantations of GE trees, destroying forests and displacing indigenous and forest-dependent communities,” she continued.
In the letter, delivered to the Belgian Ambassador by Reverend Patricia A. Maciel of the Native American Church, signatories explained that, ‘Mother Earth is no longer in a period of climate change, but in climate crisis. GE trees are yet another false solution and cannot be part of the fight against global warming. We therefore insist on an immediate end to the destruction and desecration of the elements of life.”
In the United States, GE tree company ArborGen is developing genetically engineered cold tolerant eucalyptus trees for agrofuel production. This GE trait would allow eucalyptus, already a known invasive species, to invade ecosystems in geographies previously inhospitable to eucalyptus trees. Native forest ecosystems across the U.S. Southeast would be threatened if these GE eucalyptus plantations are developed. Currently release of GE trees in commercial plantations is not legal in the U.S., but ArborGen is petitioning the government to allow the commercial planting of GE trees. The export of these GE cold tolerant eucalyptus to other parts of the world would massively expand eucalyptus plantations into temperate regions, devastating native forests and grasslands and displacing local peoples. Non-GE ecualyptus plantations are already notorious for these devastating impacts in tropical and subtropical regions.
CONTACT: Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director and GFC, +1.802.578.0477 (mobile)
Orin Langelle, Global Forest Coalition Media Coordinator, +1.802.578.6980 (mobile)–high resolution photographs available upon request
NOTES: Letter delivered to the Belgian Permanent Mission:
We Insist on an Immediate End to the Destruction and Desecration of the Elements of Life and Say “NO” to Genetically Engineered Trees
GE Poplars Planted in Belgium Risk Contaminating European Forests with Climate-Destructive Traits and Must be Removed
22 May 2009
Dear Mr. Jan K.F. Grauls, Ambassador,
Today, on International Biodiversity Day, we the undersigned organizations and individuals attending the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, call on Belgium to remove a field trial of GE poplar trees planted on 6 May by The Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) in Belgium. The poplars have been genetically engineered specifically for the production of agrofuels (industrial-scale biofuels).
Invasive alien species are the second leading cause of global biodiversity loss. GE trees are invasive alien species that can spread their pollen and seeds for hundreds of kilometers. Extensive contamination of native forests would be both inevitable and irreversible if GE tree plantations are developed.
Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, in his statement about the celebration of International Biodiversity Day 2009:
“Invasive alien species are an unintended consequence of globalization, damaging ecosystem services, livelihoods and economies around the world. The government of South Africa alone is spending $60 million per year to try to eradicate plants such as acacia, which are encroaching on arable land and valuable river systems, as well as sites of economic importance, as Cape Floral Kingdom … There are many other examples of invasive alien species can affect native biodiversity, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and human health. ”
The social and ecological impacts of genetically engineered trees are potentially devastating. Sterile GE trees without seeds or fruit will provide no food for communities or animals. Low lignin GE trees cannot be used for shelter or firewood. The pollen from some GE trees is toxic if it is inhaled. Indigenous Peoples and other forest dependent peoples will suffer severe impacts if genetically engineered tree plantations are developed. Communities will be displaced from their traditional lands to make room for GE tree plantations.
At the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, last month in Anchorage, Alaska, Indigenous Peoples from around the Earth met to discuss the impacts of climate change. The Anchorage Declaration that came out of the summit stated, “Mother Earth is no longer in a period of climate change, but in climate crisis. We therefore insist on an immediate end to the destruction and desecration of the elements of life.” The declaration further rejected all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on Indigenous lands.
Agrofuels made from food crops have been widely condemned due to their impacts on the global food supply. However, manufacturing agrofuels from GE (GMO) trees is not the answer. More land will be monopolized to grow GE trees–displacing agriculture and communities and destroying forests to free up the massive area needed to produce the necessary quantities of fuel. Reducing fuel consumption is the solution. There is simply no way to sustainably replace the huge amount of transport fuel being used in the Industrialized North.
The role of healthy forests in mitigating climate change cannot be underestimated. Forests are the lungs of the Earth. They are critically important carbon sinks.
GE trees cannot be part of the solution to climate change. Not only will GE trees themselves worsen climate change, the use of wood to manufacture liquid fuels will massively increase global deforestation levels. We need to stop the tremendous life-destroying carbon emissions caused by deforestation, not escalate deforestation by creating a massive new demand for wood.
GE trees are yet another false solution and cannot be part of the fight against global warming. We insist these test plots of GE trees be immediately removed. Organizational Signatories:
International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of Tropical Forests, International
CORE (Centre for Organisation, Research and Education), India
COICA (Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica), South America
Society for Threatened Peoples International, International
Asociación Indigenas Ambiental, Panama
Parakuiyo Pastoralists Society, Tanzania
Indigenous Environmental Network, North America
Global Forest Coalition, International
Global Justice Ecology Project, International
STOP GE Trees Campaign, International
Fundamin de Colombia, Colombia
AICO (Autoridades Indigenas de Colombia) Colombia
Corporacíon de Mujeres Mapuche, Chile