Wednesday What’s New: Genetically Engineered Trees

by Heleigh Bostwick
Wednesday, 17 November 2010

First it was genetically engineered food crops, now it’s tree plantations. On May 12, 2010 the USDA issued a permit to ArboGen that authorizes the experimental planting and flowering of a new, genetically engineered hybrid on 28 secret sites across seven southern states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas– the first time genetically engineered trees would be allowed to produce flowers and seeds on the U.S. mainland.

What’s the motivation behind ArborGen’s proposal? Fuel. ArborGen hopes its GE “cold-tolerant” Eucalyptus will become widely planted for pulp and biomass. The company says that eucalyptus trees are better at making ethanol than corn is and that growing genetically engineered trees will produce more wood on less land and in less time, thereby protecting native forests and ecosystems. However, they forgot to mention that according to the U.S. Forest Service, GE Eucalyptus plantations in the southern United States would use more than twice the water of pine plantations in a region already suffering from a depleted water supply.

In July 2010, a lawsuit was filed against the USDA by an alliance of conservation organizations. Opponents are worried that the seeds from the eucalyptus, which is not native to the US and is considered invasive in California, will disperse and escape into native plant populations.

According to this press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, in addition to approving these test sites, Agriculture is also considering a “deregulation” petition submitted by ArborGen that would allow widespread commercial planting of GE Eucalyptus without any limits or regulation.

Source: My Garden Guide

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