Reason.com gets wrong the science behind GE trees

December 28, 2013

Anne Petermann

Talk about a lack of science. In a recent post, (“Science, Not Mysticism, Will Save the American Chestnut Tree,” Dec. 27, 2013, Reason), Ronald Bailey asserts American chestnuts engineered to contain unrelated wheat genes are more native than those backcrossed with Chinese chestnuts. Genetic engineering and hybridization are not comparable. American chestnuts crossed with wheat are as natural as strawberries crossed with flounders.

He goes on to address other GE trees: “What’s wrong with genetically engineered eucalyptus trees? [They] have been improved to be freeze-tolerant so that they can be grown in the southern U.S…”

In fact GE eucalyptus trees are invasive and highly flammable. The US Forest Service reports they would use twice the water of native forests. Eucalyptus are documented as invasive in Florida, California and Hawaii. Freeze tolerance will expand their invasive range.

Bailey says they will be sterile “so that it cannot escape…” Wrong. There is no GE tree that is 100% sterile. And eucalyptus can spread vegetatively.

But Bailey insists, “improving the productivity of trees grown on plantations reduces the pressure to cut down trees in wild forests…[sparing] land for natural forests to grow…”

Studies and satellite images disprove this. Tree plantations do not protect native forests, they replace them. In South Africa eucalyptus plantations are called Green Cancer. In Brazil, they are called Green Deserts. Do we really want these invasive, fire prone, water greedy GE trees growing across the US South?

Science says this would be a very bad idea.

 

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