GE poplars condemned
• On April 9, scientists and environmentalists condemned a press release by researchers at the University of British Columbia announcing they have created genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees for paper and biofuel production, opening the prospect of growing these GE trees like an agricultural crop in the future.
The poplars were genetically engineered for altered lignin composition to allegedly make them easier to process into paper and biofuels. Groups, however, warn that manipulation of lignin and the potential contamination of wild poplars with the GE trait could be extremely dangerous.
Lignin is a key structural component of plant cell walls and a major component of soils. It is also the product of millions of years of natural selection favouring sturdy, healthy and resilient plants. Contamination from GE poplars with altered lignin could have devastating effects on forests, ecosystems, human communities and biodiversity.
Poplars, which include at least 30 species, are widespread throughout the Northern Hemisphere and have a high potential for genetic dispersal.
“Because poplar trees generate so much pollen and seed that can travel so far, poplars genetically engineered for paper or biofuels are likely to inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests,” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. “The only way to prevent this potential ecological disaster is to stop the release of GE trees.”
Martha Crouch, PhD, a plant biologist consulting for the Center for Food Safety, is likewise concerned. “The reports that genetic engineers have restructured poplar wood to make it easier to process into biofuels makes it sound as if this technology is right around the corner. However, no ecological studies have been done yet and methods for keeping genes from escaping into forests are unproven and likely to fail… “ she concluded.
Commercial and industrial scale biofuels and bioenergy are creating vast new demands for wood… Rainforests in Indonesia are being burned to make way for plantations of oil palm, for example. Genetically engineering trees to be easier to manufacture into bioenergy will further contribute to the problem by increasing economic pressure to convert land into GE tree plantations.
Rachel Smolker, PhD, co-director of Biofuelwatch adds, “The whole idea of engineering trees for biofuels is outrageous. There is no question that we must end our fossil fuel addiction, but pretending we can simply substitute living plants is horribly misguided.”
GM alfalfa release delayed
Your actions are working. Thanks to all your protest, we have kept GM alfalfa off the market this spring. The company Forage Genetics International (FGI) will not release genetically modified (GM) alfalfa this spring, thanks to farmer and consumer opposition. Your continued protest, culminating in last year’s national Day of Action to Stop GM Alfalfa, has delayed the release of GM alfalfa in Canada. Thank you for taking effective action with CBAN.
Even though the Canadian government has approved GM herbicide-tolerant alfalfa, it has not yet been sold in Canada. The GM alfalfa uses Monsanto’s GM “Roundup Ready” herbicide tolerant trait and would be sold by Forage Genetics International.
The industry launched a “coexistence plan” last year that failed to allay concerns about contamination from GM alfalfa and farmer and consumer protest continues.
Donate today. Your continued action and support is needed as we work to protect family farms from GM alfalfa contamination. Join us.
From Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), www.cban.ca