On Thursday 5 March, the Brazilian Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) was scheduled to decide whether to approve the commercial release of GE trees developed by FuturaGene. This meeting was cancelled after it was disrupted by activists, and after FuturaGene’s operations were taken over by 1,000 women earlier that same day.
Now we need your help again. The CTNBio meeting has been rescheduled for the 9th of April.
Sign the petition to show your solidarity with those fighting GE trees in Brazil, and to tell the Brazilian Biosafety Commission to REJECT GE trees. The deadline is the 8th of April at 4 PM!
FuturaGene, a biotechnology firm wholly owned by Brazilian pulp and paper company Suzano, has submitted a request for commercial planting of its yield enhanced genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in Brazil.
Suzano/FuturaGene, as well as other companies like Fibria (ex-Aracruz) and ArborGen, have been conducting research and field experiments on GE trees in Brazil for years.
Suzano/FuturaGene´s interest has been to increase the productivity of their tree plantations. They argue that their new GE tree will result in a 20% increase in productivity and by doing so will increase “competitiveness and environmental and socio-economic gains through higher productivity using less land and therefore overall lower chemical inputs and lowered carbon release, as well as making land available for food production or conservation and enhancing the income of outgrowers” (1). These myths do not stand up to real facts and are addressed below.
GE TREES WILL ADD TO THE PROBLEMS CAUSED BY INDUSTRIAL TREE PLANTATIONS, NOT REDUCE THEM
The use of faster growing GE trees in industrial plantations will exacerbate the already well-known negative social and environmental impacts caused by industrial tree plantations while introducing yet further impacts and knock-on effects due to the additional risks inherent to genetic engineering.
Industrial tree plantation companies have long promised that gains in productivity would lead to less land use. This is a myth. In Brazil, for example, where the productivity of monoculture tree plantations per hectare increased from 27 m3/ha/year in the 1980s to 44 m3/ha/year currently, the area covered by plantations has increased from about 4 million hectares at the end of the 1980s to more than 7.2 million hectares today. Historically, there is thus no evidence that in Brazil, increases in productivity led to less land being occupied by industrial tree plantations. A newly formed association, Indústria Brasileira de Árvores (Ibá), representing the Brazilian industrial tree plantation industry states that they intend to double the area of industrial tree plantations to 14 million hectares by 2020.
SUZANO SEEKS TO EXPLOIT NEW MARKETS FOR PLANTATION TREES
Suzano recently opened a new pulp mill in the state of Maranhão with an 1.5 million tons/year capacity. Huge areas of land covered with tree monocultures will be needed to fulfill Suzano’s wood demand for pulp, as well as for an added demand, in particular its plans to explore new uses of its wood with a project in the same state to produce and export wood pellets for energy production, to cofire with coal in the UK. The use of biomass for industrial scale energy production remains highly controversial, and its negative social, environmental and climate impacts have been documented widely. Both the pulp and wood pellet projects aim solely at profiting from new market opportunities, which is the mission of Suzano.
BRAZILIAN PEOPLE AND ENVIRONMENT WOULD PAY THE COSTS
While profits from this expansion accrue to Suzano shareholders, the social, ecological and economic costs as well as increased risk to regional food sovereignty and health will be borne by the Brazilian public, and local communities surrounded by plantations in particular. Many and serious conflicts over access to land already exist, and living conditions of communities surrounded by Suzano’s operations have deteriorated to the point that communities are now struggling to guarantee their food sovereignty and are increasingly at risk of losing their territories (2).
GE CROPS LEAD TO INCREASED APPLICATIONS OF AGROTOXINS
Further, there is no plausible reason to expect that the use of “chemical inputs”, including agrotoxins, will decrease as a result of planting GE trees. On the contrary, it will increase with the increasing occupation of land which is planned to take place and the intensification of growing cycles and the ensuing nutrient depletion of soil and land. Brazil, sadly, is already the world’s leading consumer of agrotoxins, causing injury to hundreds if not thousands of victims per year, putting further strain on already insufficient public health provision. Industrial tree monocultures, lacking biodiversity, and promoted at very large scale, will augment the application of agrotoxins by huge amounts. The argument used by the GE technology lobby that the introduction of GE crops—such as soy and maize—results in less use of pesticides and fertilizers has already been proven to be false. In countries including Brazil, Argentina, and the United States – front-runners in GMO soy & maize production—research has shown not a decrease, but rather an alarming increase in the use of agrotoxins (3).
DAMAGING SOIL AND WATER SUPPLIES
Genetically engineering trees to make them grow faster, while planting them on a continuously expanding portion of the land in ever larger industrial tree plantations, will only lead to further depletion of soil nutrients and fresh water. This is especially true for eucalyptus trees, already notorious for their voracious water consumption, which has been shown to result in the overall drying out of surrounding soils, springs and waterways. Communities living around non-GE tree plantations within and outside of Brazil have already widely reported water shortage and soil depletion. The introduction of faster growing GE Trees will only further aggravate this situation.
Read our open letter to CTNBio, demanding they reject the planting of genetically engineered trees in Brazil.