New York (US)–New Zealand-owned tree biotechnology company ArborGen faces near unanimous opposition to commercial deregulation of their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees. On 5 July, the US Department of Agriculture received an astounding 280,000 individual comments, as well as 500 organizations representing millions of people around the world, all opposing this deregulation. Only 3 comments were submitted in favor. This avalanche of comments came a mere 75 days after the USDA publicly released their draft Environmental Impact Statement on ArborGen’s request for deregulation.
Such overwhelming opposition sends a clear message to USDA that GE eucalyptus trees must be rejected–a message the agency can no longer ignore.
ArborGen’s eucalyptus are engineered for cold tolerance with the intent of extending their range into the Southern US, from South Carolina to Texas. Eucalyptus trees are native only to Australia. Eucalyptus plantations are invasive, notorious for depleting waterways and highly flammable–as demonstrated by recent wildfires in Chile and Portugal. Their introduction to Southern US states, where droughts, heatwaves and wildfires are already escalating, would be foolhardy.
ArborGen claims their GE eucalyptus will meet expanding market demands for pulp and paper, as well as the fast-growing demand for wood pellets for “biomass.” Currently, EU greenhouse gas emission policies provide subsidies to burn wood as an alternative to fossil fuels, in spite of the fact that doing so results in deforestation and releases even more CO2. These demands will not be met, however, without the accelerated destruction of native forests, including for GE eucalyptus plantation development–both in the US and globally.
Industrial plantations of eucalyptus are already creating problems in many parts of the world, and the US should learn from those experiences. In Brazil, they are referred to as “green deserts.” Similarly, experience with GE crops has demonstrated that engineering fails to deliver on promises, while introducing new problems (i.e. contamination, vastly increased use of toxic agrochemicals and herbicide resistant weeds). Common sense dictates that regenerating native forests and reducing demands for wood are essential to addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Expanding plantations of non-native, water depleting, flammable GE eucalyptus, on the other hand, is beyond irresponsible.
With near unanimous opposition to ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus trees, people have sent a clear message to the USDA: Commercial release of GE eucalyptus trees will not be tolerated.
On 29 June, less than one week before the end of the USDA public comment period on ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus, ArborGen’s two U.S.-based owners and co-founders, International Paper and WestRock (formerly MeadWestvaco) sold their interest in ArborGen to New Zealand-based Rubicon, which is now the sole owner.The following numbers of comments rejecting GE eucalyptus trees were submitted to the USDA on 5 July 2017 by these organizations:
Center for Food Safety 24,885
Friends of the Earth US 27,638
Rainforest Rescue 113,236
Action Aid US 1,065