Nearly 17,500 public comments were sent to the US Department of Agriculture opposing their recommendation for approval of an ArborGen proposal to plant over a quarter of a million genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees. If allowed, the plantings would take place on 330 acres of land across seven states in the Southern U.S., to feed future cellulosic ethanol production.
All but one of the field trials would be allowed to flower and produce seeds. The trees are genetically engineered to be cold tolerant, produce less lignin and have altered fertility. When the USDA issued their draft Environmental Assessment (EA) in early May in favor of ArborGen’s proposal, the STOP GE Trees Campaign mobilized.
The collection of comments from people firmly opposing the large-scale release of GE eucalyptus trees was a combined effort of several different organizations. Opponents argue that eucalyptus trees are known to be wildly invasive, extremely flammable and deplete huge quantities of ground water; they are also not native to North America; and, in many cases, they have exacerbated drought conditions, which can set the stage for devastating wildfires.
“Releasing a quarter of a million genetically modified trees that are allowed to both flower and produce seeds is irresponsible and dangerous,” stated George Kimbrell, staff attorney for the Center for Food Safety. “USDA failed to analyze rigorously the foreseeable impacts of this unprecedented experiment on native environments, which could have devastating consequences.”
“The Organic Consumer’s Association strongly opposes the release of any and all GMO trees into the environment,” stated Craig Minowa, environmental scientist at the OCA. “Some of the projected social and environmental impacts from the release of GMO trees commercially include the increased use of toxic herbicides and pesticides and the contamination of native forests with GMO trees engineered for such traits as reduced lignin, insect resistance, or faster growth which would be devastating to forest ecosystems.”
The USDA will be making a final decision soon. For updates on the current status of the application visit: http://nogetrees.org