A handful of scientists are working to genetically engineer the iconic American chestnut tree which they hope to release throughout the forests of the Appalachians and the Eastern US. Indigenous Peoples, scientists and others are raising alarms about the risks of these trees, cautioning about their dangerous impacts to forests, wildlife and human health [1]. Due to these unassessed risks, they warn, GE chestnuts, or any GE trees should never be approved for planting.

photoBut GE tree scientists appear less worried about risks than about public relations. In his most recent annual report [2], Dr. William Powell of SUNY’s School of Environmental Science and Forestry stresses that it is “essential to reach out to the public,” adding, “we need their help to get the chestnut through the regulatory process. There is a significant anti-GMO movement that may try to stop the deregulation (legalization) of the [chestnut]. Therefore we need strong public support to counter any roadblock they may try to erect.”

“First of all, the GE tree regulatory process is not supposed to be a popularity contest,” stated BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Opposition to GE trees is growing because people are concerned with defending and protecting the biodiversity of our already stressed forest ecosystems. If GE American chestnuts are legalized, the ripple effects will be far reaching and potentially catastrophic. Even with years of research, all the variables cannot be identified and/or tested, which is precisely the reason to reject all GE trees once and for all.”

And if it’s widespread public opposition he is worried about, Powell has good reason to be concerned.

“In 2015 alone, more than a quarter of a million people signed on to reject genetically engineered trees [3],” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees. “Just this year, protests took place on six continents [4], and in September, there was an action at the world headquarters of GE tree leader ArborGen where two of us were arrested [5]. Earlier this month, in the face of a possible jury trial, they dropped our charges.”

In 2013 the largest ever protests against GE trees took place in Asheville, NC at the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference. Hundreds of concerned citizens rallied there against GE trees, and several were arrested for disrupting the conference.

“Right now, the US biotechnology regulatory process is being reviewed [6],” added Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch. “The government appears to be trying to streamline the approval process for the large number of new GE plants, trees and microbes that are coming up for evaluation. Yes, it’s true the current regulatory process is basically obsolete, but any new process should be more rigorous, not less. The GE American chestnut is a perfect example of this. If this tree were greenlighted, the impacts to forests, biodiversity and people would be nearly impossible to predict and potentially devastating. It would also open the door to other dangerous GE trees. If the regulatory process was really science-based and concerned about safety, Powell’s GE chestnuts would never be approved. In fact, there would be a permanent halt on any GE tree deregulation,” Smolker said.

[1] https://globaljusticeecology.org/no-ge-trees-resources/

[2] https://www.esf.edu/efb/annualreports/1415/powell1415.pdf

[3] In 2015 alone, 269,867 people globally signed petitions rejecting genetically engineered trees through a Credo Petition to the USDA and a Rainforest Rescue Petition rejecting GE eucalyptus trees.

[4] https://stopgetrees.org/stop-ge-trees-press-releases/

[5] https://globaljusticeecology.org/activists-arrested-at-genetic-engineering-world-headquarters-of-arborgen/
[6] https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/biotechnology/sa_regulations/ct_agency_framework_roles/!ut/p/a0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfGjzOK9_D2MDJ0MjDzd3V2dDDz93HwCzL29jAyMTPULsh0VAU1Vels!/


Photo: Claudio Nogueira

The Role of Eucalyptus in Brazil comes under the Crosshairs of the International Anti-Transgenic Tree Network (June 2, 2023)

Impact of monoculture in territories was the subject of visits led by FASE in Espírito Santo


Note: FASE were co-organizers of the tour to the communities of Espírito Santo.

The article (included below in full) is written by Claudio Nogueira (FASE Communications Coordinator) and originally appeared June 2nd, 2023, on FASE’s website. It is available in both Portugese and English through Google Translate.


The pulp industry writes a sad story in Brazil. Its role in land occupation with eucalyptus monoculture imprints a perverse logic that suffocates traditional communities and goes far beyond false ideas of reforestation and environmental concern. This was the scenario encountered by members of the campaign “Stop GM Trees” (No to Transgenic Trees) and the Alert Against Green Deserts Network, in a tour organized by the FASE Espírito Santo team, visiting locations in the north of Espírito Santo and the extreme south in Bahia, between the 24th and 29th of May.

In all, around 25 people, including popular educators, quilombola and landless leaders, environmentalists and foreign researchers from Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Ireland, Argentina and Chile were able to verify the impact of eucalyptus plantations on the way of life of family farmers and traditional communities in the region. For three days, the group got to know the experiences of agroecological practices in areas taken over by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) at the Egídio Brunetto Training School and at the Índio Galdino settlement, in addition to hearing reports of the difficulties faced by the quilombola communities of Volta Miúda and Angelim 2 with monoculture plantations. After the visits,

eucalyptus espirito santo

Photo: Claudio Nogueira

For Beto Loureiro, educator at FASE in Espírito Santo, the tour was important for the researchers to realize that the impacts are already terrible, and the transgenic trees are going to be one more aggression in the historical series that monoculture causes in the territories, “since the expulsion of traditional communities, passing through the depletion of water resources and the enormous amount of poisons that they apply now, even by air”. “They are spraying the monocultures by drone, and this poison is spreading, falling on the communities’ plantations, falling on their homes, on their schools. In short, a real chemical war, which takes place here in the green desert, ”he explains.

Transgenic trees, a new threat

Brazil was chosen to host the meeting due to the extension of activities in the paper industry and approval by the company Suzano, in 2021, for the planting of genetically modified eucalyptus trees to tolerate the herbicide glyphosate. This follows the previous approval, in 2015, of FuturaGene’s fast-growing transgenic eucalyptus tree, which was not planted commercially. The country is the only one in Latin America where field tests seem to be taking place today with genetically modified trees.

Genetic engineering directly changes the genetic makeup (DNA) of an organism, bypassing normal plant or animal reproduction to create new traits. Genetic engineering includes techniques that make changes to DNA by inserting genetic material from the same, similar or wholly unrelated organisms, or, with genome editing (also called gene editing), by introducing genetic material that acts as “editor” to change the DNA. Genetic engineering applied to trees is a technical challenge fraught with serious environmental and social risks.

Photo: Claudio Nogueira

Most research is focused on increasing the productivity of planted trees for various industrial purposes. These objectives include pulp, paper and wood production; as well as the use of trees as “bioenergy” crops – to produce biomass and liquid “cellulosic biofuel”. There is also some interest in genetically modifying trees to produce other industrial materials such as pharmaceuticals, using the trees as “biofactories”, as well as experiments to sell carbon credits and proposals to release these trees into the wild to “restor” endangered species. of extinction.

“It made us realize that it is another problem that we will have to deal with”, ponders Beto. “These transgenic eucalyptus trees grow very quickly. Therefore, they must also suck water very quickly, they are resistant to poisons. We can imagine that the burden of poisons in monocultures will increase, and that is what we expect from these researchers: that they return to their countries also understanding that non-transgenic eucalyptus is already a tragedy”, he concludes.

The foreign delegation continued its tour of Brazil with audiences at UnB and Esplanada dos Ministérios, in Brasília, and will continue to Mato Grosso do Sul, also to verify the role of eucalyptus plantations in the environmental imbalance in the state.