For Immediate Release
May 10, 2007
National Effort Launched to Stop Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Plantations in US Southeast
As the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) wraps up its annual convention in Boston, the STOP GE Trees Campaign and member groups from around the U.S., including Dogwood Alliance, WildLaw, Southern Forests Network, Sierra Club and Global Justice Ecology Project are uniting to stop the plans of GE tree giant ArborGen to release genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in the southeast U.S.
ArborGen, which was a co-sponsor of the BIO convention, is laying the groundwork for massive plantations of non-native eucalyptus trees genetically engineered to be cold tolerant for biofuels and paper pulp. In addition to the cold tolerance trait, these eucalyptus have been engineered for other traits which ArborGen refuses to reveal. News articles and reports indicate these traits likely include reduced lignin content and the ability to kill insects.
The first goal of this effort is to stop the USDA’s approval of ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus field trials in Alabama. “ArborGen wants approval from the USDA to allow their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees to flower and produce seeds,” stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club and the STOP GE Trees Campaign. “There has been no consideration as to what happens if these seeds escape into native ecosystems. This is an area heavily impacted by severe storms, including tornadoes and hurricanes–seeds from these trees could travel for hundreds of miles, ” he added.
ArborGen petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or APHIS) in 2006 for permission to extend the GE Eucalyptus field trials to allow flowering and seed production in 355 GE Eucalyptus hybrid trees grown on 1.1 acres in Baldwin County, Alabama close to the Gulf Coast of Mexico. APHIS is currently accepting comments on their Environmental Assessment (EA) in which they recommend approval for these field trials.
“Approval of this field trial represents the first time that a GE tree would be allowed to produce flowers and seeds on the U.S. mainland,” stated Orin Langelle, Coordinator of the STOP GE Tree Campaign. “Once this GE tree flowering and seed production is allowed, it will be easier for APHIS to approve outdoor field trial releases of other GE trees, such as poplars and pines for flowering and seed production. This could spell disaster for our native forests,” he concluded.
The STOP GE Trees Campaign is demanding that APHIS reject this permit and order ArborGen to destroy the existing field trials. Other groups want APHIS to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that comprehensively addresses all relevant issues related to the proposed GE Eucalyptus field trials.
Eucalyptus species are not native to the U.S. but grow well in certain warm climates such as the southern and southeast U.S. regions. Escape of GE Eucalyptus trees through seeds and vegetative plant material are quite likely due to severe wind and rain events that are common to Baldwin County, Alabama where the field trials are located. In other countries where eucalyptus have been introduced, they are well known for escaping and colonizing native ecosystems.
“The federal courts have been clear. In their recent decisions on genetically engineered perennial plants including GE bentgrass and GE alfalfa, they concluded that the USDA has inadequately assessed the risks of these species escaping into native ecosystems,” insisted Ray Vaughan of WildLaw, an Alabama organization that has monitored the development of genetically engineered trees. “The escape of non-native, potentially invasive, genetically engineered trees into the forests of the Southeast could be devastating to our ecosystems and our timber industry.”
Global warming and climate change will allow more extensive southern and southeast regions of the U.S. to have weather patterns conducive to the introduction and propagation of escaped GE Eucalyptus hybrids.
In regions where droughts occur, eucalyptus are known to be at high risk of catching fire. The southeast U.S. is currently in the midst of such a drought. Additionally, eucalyptus plantations have been documented to deplete ground water and cause or exacerbate drought situations. None of these potential impacts were evaluated in the EA.
APHIS is accepting comments on ArborGen’s proposal until May 21.
Alyx Perry, WildLaw– Southern Forests Network, 828.277.9008
Neil Carman, Sierra Club–512.472.1767
Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project–802.578.0477 (mobile)