Genetically modified trees: an attempt to obliterate all life forms from Creation
by Anne Wilder-Chamberlain
“Let’s bring into our country a genetically-engineered, non-native tree that is known to be wildly invasive, explosively flammable, and insatiably thirsty for ground water.” Yes, this would be irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid - but apparently “Irresponsible, Dangerous, and Stupid” is the unofficial new slogan of the U.S. Department Agriculture.
The I. O. reported in December, 2009 that Monsanto, in conjunction with International Paper Co. and Cornell University, is planting GE/GMO tree test plots all over the U.S. Further research shows that universities across the nation have planted over 350 test farms. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) website, the locations of the test plots are not available to citizens who seek to protect their local agriculture from these trees, even though tree pollen has been proven by Duke University, North Carolina, to travel over a thousand miles. GE test plots are reported to be primarily in the southern states, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest.
Those carrying out GE tree research include the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Oregon State University, ArborGen (a partnership between the timber corporations International Paper and Mead Westvaco, and New Zealand-based Rubicon and Genesis Research and Development), Oak Ridge National Laboratory; North Carolina State University; Purdue University; Iowa State University; Applied Phytogenics, Inc.; State University of New York, Syracuse; Union Camp (paper corporation); University of California, Davis; University of Washington; and the University of Wisconsin.
Experimental GE trees include apples, plums, trees for paper and cellulosic ethanol production such as poplar, aspen, cottonwood, eucalyptus, pine, and sweetgum, American chestnut, American elm, English walnut and White Spruce.
In addition to being genetically altered for the specific features of insecticidal, herbicide tolerance, low lignan, and sterility qualities, the trees are also being altered for phytoremediation (removing toxins from soils). Currently there are test plots in Connecticut of mercury absorbing trees - trees that take mercury pollution out of the soil and release it into the air.
GE trees are the leading driver of deforestation in the equatorial regions, according to Ann Peterman of the Global Justice Ecology Program. The UN has allowed the decimation by GE eucalyptus plantations of the Mata Atlantica forest ecosystem in Brazil, where the natives call tree plantations “green deserts” because they’re so destructive and devoid of any species except the monoculture of that tree. Now corporations are talking about going into the Amazon and replacing parts of the Amazon with eucalyptus plantations.
Obviously, the United Nations “Climate Change” Agenda has nothing to do with protecting the environment. Peterman added that natural forests in tropical regions store four times the carbon of a tree plantation, so when you destroy a natural forest and replace it with a tree plantation, you reduce the ability of that land to store carbon by 300 percent. And it’s not just the carbon storage but the biodiversity - the ability of the forest to sustain life - that is destroyed.
In China, foresters planted hundreds of acres with two strains of poplar trees engineered to produce their own insecticide - more than 1 million trees in seven provinces had been planted by 2005. Experts warn that trees are perennial plants producing large quantities of pollen released far higher into the air than ordinary crops. If DNA can spread so broadly from GE crops a few feet high, there is no telling what will happen with pollen from trees 50 to 100 feet high or more, experts say.
This “gene drift” in crops has caused problems for U.S. and Canadian farmers, and large seed companies have sued them for illegally using GE seeds. The farmers claimed their crops were contaminated by drifting pollen, but to no avail. A study last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that seeds of traditional varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola “are pervasively contaminated” with low levels of DNA from genetically engineered varieties of those crops. On the Big Island of Hawaii, GE papaya has contaminated organic and wild papaya at a rate of over 50 percent. In addition, the GE papaya, engineered to resist ring spot virus, is now very vulnerable to black spot fungus and growers must spray their crops every ten days with toxic fungicides to cope with the problem.
We don’t want these trees!
A USDA comment forum offered last June online for a genetically engineered clone of a Eucalyptus hybrid apparently did not affect APHIS’s decision to continue to allow the planting of these trees. As a result, activists across the country are taking the matter into their own hands.
In March, 2001, Oregon State University (OSU) students and alumni targeted three GE test sites of Poplar and Cottonwood trees. They “ringbarked” or cut down 90% of the trees at OSU’s site at the Peavey Arboretum. At OSU’s tract at Half Moon Bend near the Willamette River they eliminated 60 percent of the trees. Every tree was cut down in one test plot at OSU’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Klamath Falls. In all, over 1200 GE research trees were destroyed.
On June 6, 2009, 270 apple trees on a trial site owned by the Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops of the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI), in Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany, were destroyed by unknown intruders. Most of the trees were genetically modified plants being grown in tubs in a special safety tent under field-like conditions. It is the first time that protesters have destroyed plants that were not being grown in the field.
According to a press release by the JKI, the tent fabric was cut open and all of the trees, which were about seven years old, were either snapped by hand or cut with pruning shears above the graft. The institute estimates the cost of the damage to be around EUR 700,000. Around ten years of research work was destroyed.
A Chilean woman from a South American women’s activist group protested outside the Belgian Permanent Mission in New York City on May 29, 2009. Belgium recently planted a test plot of genetically engineered low-lignin poplar trees.
“So what,” they say…
In 2005 an Arbor Day ceremony in Syracuse, N.Y. marked the first planting of transgenic American elms outside the laboratory. Scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry planted two-foot trees with artificial genes in front of the college library as a symbolic step toward vanquishing Dutch elm disease, which has destroyed millions of elm trees across America since the 1930s.
SUNY foresters also hoped to plant the first transgenic chestnut trees. The saplings incorporate a wheat gene designed to make them resistant to chestnut blight, which wiped out the once-dominant tree in eastern forests.
But GE trees, not allowed to flower, are not a celebration of new life. The budding of blossoms in these trees would mean certain doom, because if the pollen from these trees escaped, the technology would be out of the college’s control.
The USDA, which also invited comments on a GE plum in 2006, admitted that the plum would contaminate non-genetically engineered plum orchards if it were approved. Since all commercial plum trees are cultivars that are relatively cross compatible within the same species, contamination via GE plum pollen carried by bees and other insects would infiltrate the plum orchards of organic and conventional growers. The proposed buffer zones between GE plums and other plums would not prevent genetic contamination. The approval of a GE plum would open the door to the commercialization of GE varieties of other temperate trees such as poplars, pines, and walnuts.
STOP GE Trees Campaign Goals: To prevent the commercialization of genetically engineered tree plantations and to remove any test plots of GE trees that have already been released into the environment. Go to www.stopgetrees.org for tools and suggestions on how to accomplish these goals. Also contact NW Resistance Against Genetic Engineering and GE Free Maine.
Good News for I.O. readers who have been following our coverage of GMOs for the last decade. Jeffrey M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette has initiated a campaign to stop GMOs in the food supply once and for all. With his “Spilling the Beans” campaign he is working to put GMO education centers in all natural food stores, to get GMOs out of school food, and to get labeling on all remaining GMO-containing products on the grocery shelves. To join in this effort go to his website www.responsibletechnology.org for the consumer toolkit which includes the non-GMO shopping guide, “Healthier Eating in America” pamphlet and dvds to share for $1.