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US Public Overwhelmingly Rejects Genetically Engineered Trees

Upcoming Protests Disrupt Tree Biotech Conference Plans
Asheville, NC – By a majority of almost 99.99% to .01%, the US public overwhelming rejected steps toward the legalization of genetically engineered trees during the USDA APHIS [1] public comment period that ended yesterday. The comments were in response to a petition by genetically engineered (GE) tree company ArborGen requesting permission to commercially sell their GE freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees.[2] Calls for a ban on the technology flooded the APHIS office, through individual online comments, petitions and online virtual meetings. [3]

“Yesterday, during APHIS’s ‘Invasive Species Month,’ the people of the US issued a firm demand to APHIS to reject invasive, flammable genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees,” said Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director and Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered (GE) Trees. “We will continue to hold the government accountable to the will of the people, rather than corporate interests.”

South Carolina-based ArborGen hopes to sell billions of GE cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees for planting across millions of acres in the US South in vast industrial plantations to supply biofuel, biomass electricity and paper production [4].

Dr. Rachel Smolker, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch stated, “ArborGen’s reckless vision of using the US South as a giant sacrifice zone for energy production would wreak havoc on rural communities, native forests and wildlife across the region, pushing already endangered species like the Louisiana Black Bear and the Red-cockaded Woodpecker over the edge.” Dr. Smolker added, “and despite the rhetoric about replacing fossil fuels with climate-friendly fuels, this wood-based energy will actually worsen climate change.”

Genetically engineered and other industrial tree plantations are not only a concern in the US, but internationally.  Rural communities in Brazil have been fighting non-GE eucalyptus plantations for decades, and are also opposing the introduction of GE eucalyptus plantations. Additionally, in 2006 and 2008 the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) warned countries of the social and ecological dangers of GE trees. [5]

In late May, Global Justice Ecology Project, the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Biofuelwatch along with Earth First! and the Dogwood Alliance are mobilizing events and protests around the IUFRO Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference [6] in Asheville, NC. Opposition organizers are taking credit for the recent cancellation of an IUFRO-sponsored field trip to a forestry research site planned for 29 May as part of the conference.  Organizers believe the field trip was cancelled due to the threat of protest.


Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project (Executive Director), Campaign to STOP GE Trees (Coordinator) +1.716.931.5833 (office) +1.802.578.0477 (mobile)

Dr. Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch (Co-Director) +1.802.482.2848 (office) +1.802.735.7794 (mobile)


[1] USDA APHIS is the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and oversees the release of GE plants. April is APHIS’ Invasive Species Month.
[2] GE tree company ArborGen is a joint venture of International Paper Company, MeadWestvaco, and New Zealand’s Rubicon, Ltd. The public commented on the 580 page petition to the USDA ArborGen submitted requesting permission to commercially sell their GE freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees.
[3] The USDA received over 37,580 comments to the ArborGen petition by the end of the comment period on April 29th. 10,200 of these were submitted by Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign, 21,431 were submitted by the Center for Food Safety and 5,344 were submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity. Only 4 of the comments were supportive of the release of GE eucalyptus trees.

[4] Rubicon Annual Review 2009

[5] Decision Regarding GE Trees at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Ninth Conference of the Parties, Bonn Germany, May 2008:

“With regard to Genetically Modified Trees, the Parties decide to:
(r)  Reaffirm the need to take a precautionary approach when addressing the issue of genetically modified trees;
(s)  Authorize the release of genetically modified trees only after completion of studies in containment, including in greenhouse and confined field trials, in accordance with the national legislation where existent, addressing long-term effects as well as thorough, comprehensive, science based and transparent risk assessments to avoid possible negative environmental impacts on forest biological diversity1;
(t)  Also consider the potential socio-economic impacts of genetically modified trees as well as their potential impact on the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities;
(u)  Acknowledge the entitlement of Parties, in accordance with their domestic legislation, to suspend the release of genetically modified trees, in particular where risk assessment so advises or where adequate capacities to undertake such assessment is not available.”

[6] IUFRO is the International Union of Forest Research Organizations. The Tree Biotechnology Conference happens every two years and brings together forest researchers, tree geneticists, students and others to discuss advancements in tree biotechnology including genetic engineering. This year’s conference is being held in Asheville, NC from May 26 to June 1. The last IUFRO Tree Biotechnology Conference took place in June 2011 in Arraial d’Ajuda, Brazil.

30 Apr, 2013
Posted in Press releases, Forests and Climate Change