In January, groups from around the world joined together to denounce the US government for allowing the first genetically engineered tree, a loblolly pine, to be legalized with no government or public oversight, with no assessment of their risks to the public or the environment and with no regard for the overwhelming public opposition to GE trees.
“Approvals of genetically engineered trees just over our border could put Canada’s forest ecosystems at risk,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). “The loblolly pine is grown in the US southeast but what forest trees could the US government approve next? The Canadian government needs to look into the possible contamination risks from GE tree experiments and approvals in the US and field trials in our own backyard.”
A secret letter from the USDA to GE tree company ArborGen dated last August was exposed by scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Center for Food Safety. In this letter, the USDA made the unprecedented decision to allow ArborGen to pursue unregulated commercial cultivation of a loblolly pine genetically engineered for altered wood composition. These trees could be planted anywhere in the US, without public knowledge or access to information about them.
Gurian-Sherman argued the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “is deliberately thumbing its nose at the public” with this decision, pointing out this is probably the biggest environmental regulatory change in the US since the early 1990s. Loblolly pines are native across 14 states throughout the southeast US and are grown in plantations around the world. Their pollen is known to travel for hundreds of miles.
“If these GE loblolly pines are released on a large scale in the US, there will be no way to stop them from cross-contaminating native loblolly pines,” said biologist Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch. “This is deliberate, irreversible and completely irresponsible contamination of the environment with unknown and possibly devastating consequences. Forest ecosystems are barely understood and the introduction of trees with genes for modified wood characteristics could have all manner of negative impacts on soils, fungi, insects, wildlife, songbirds and public health. And all this for short term commercial profit.”
Many are also worried about the international implications of this USDA decision. Winnie Overbeek, international coordinator of the Uruguay-based World Rainforest Movement stated, “We are greatly concerned that these unregulated GE pines could be shipped to Brazil or other countries… further promoting the expansion of industrial tree plantations in the global south. This contributes to deforestation and affects indigenous and peasant communities worldwide who depend on forests for survival.”
Global Justice Ecology Project’s Ruddy Turnstone from Florida remarked, “ArborGen and the government may think they have won this round, but there is already a huge anti-GMO movement… A great many of them will take action to ensure these trees are never planted.”
In 2013, when the USDA called for public comments on another ArborGen request to commercialize a GE Eucalyptus tree (a decision still pending), they received comments at the rate of 10,000 to one opposing the industry request. By simply refusing to regulate this new GE pine, the USDA has cut the public out of the process completely.
The Campaign to STOP GE Trees is an international alliance of organizations, including the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), mobilized to protect forests and biodiversity and to support communities threatened by the dangerous release of genetically engineered trees into the environment. www.stopgetrees.org
The problem with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
In an excellent video, John Hilary, executive director of War on Want (www.waronwant.org) explains what’s wrong with the TTIP: It has nothing to do with “free trade.” It’s all about deregulation of controversial and risky products like GMOs, tobacco and hormone-treated meat. It won’t boost our economies. Politicians know that much of what we’re being told about the supposed benefits of TTIP is a lie.
If TTIP is adopted, a million jobs in the US and EU combined will be lost. Europe will lose exports. Food safety rules, labour rights and the European social model will be trashed. Corporations will be able to sue national and regional governments (i.e. the taxpayer) in secret courts for daring to regulate their products.
2015 will be a critical year in the GMO battle, with Europe vulnerable to increased GMO cultivation, Asia and Africa coming under growing pressure to open up their farming systems to GM, Monsanto continuing to sow misery in Latin America and ongoing legal and ballot measures aimed at restricting or labelling GMOs in North America.
image © Alexander Morozov