Genetically Engineered Trees (GE Trees) for Agrofuels: The Controvery Intensifies

by Anne Petermann

In the past two days, two conflicting articles have addressed the use of trees, and especially GE trees, for the production of liquid agrofuels (cellulosic ethanol).

The first article Range Fuels Closing Cellulosic Ethanol Plant announced that Range Fuels is shutting down its Georgia-based cellulosic ethanol plant after completing only one batch of cellulosic ethanol (also known as second generation ethanol).  The company cited the financial crisis and technological hurdles as the reason for shutting down despite $300 million in state, federal and private investments.

The second article, Court challenges stall new biofuel crops from the DesMoines Register, trumpets the advantages of trees for making second generation cellulosic fuels, but notes that restrictions on the use of genetically engineered trees is hampering their use.

One particularly interesting quote comes from John Heissenbuttel, co-director of the so-called Council for Sustainable Biomass Production, who states, “I do not see how we’re going to make the advancements that we need to make without biotechnology.”

Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign are collaborating with attorneys at the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety, as well as with the Dogwood Alliance and Sierra Club on a lawsuit to stop a field trials of GE eucalyptus trees that involve planting 260,000 GE eucalyptus trees across seven southern U.S. states.  GE tree company ArborGen received permission for the field trials from the USDA in the summer of 2010, and we filed suit against the USDA on July 1st.

The USDA has, however, rejected ArborGen’s request for deregulation of GE eucalyptus trees, which would have allowed ArborGen to sell the trees commercially.  Despite these major hurdles with getting its GE tree “product’ to the market, ArborGen is seeking investors for its GE tree breeding operations.

The fact that technological and financial hurdles have already forced one cellulosic ethanol plant to shut down should be another warning to investors about the volatility of the wood-based biofuel market.

GE eucalyptus trees and other GE versions of native trees like poplar and pine are being widely opposed in the U.S. and globally due to the potential for the GE trees to escape into native forests, damaging them and displacing wildlife.  The Charlotte Observer likened GE eucalytpus to Kudzu in a damning editorial it wrote on the topic last year.

There are also concerns about human health impacts due to the toxic chemicals that would need to be used on the plantations.  Use of these chemicals has already been found to contaminate soils and groundwater.  To read more about these health impacts, click here

To sign our petition to the USDA opposing GE eucalyptus trees, click here

To donate to the campaign to stop GE trees, click here

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