The genetically engineered food experiment (also known as GMOs, or genetically modified plants that have been gene spliced and created in a lab) has continued to grow in scope and ambition in recent years, as several new concepts have been put forth by Biotech companies looking to cash in.
The advent of the genetically engineered tree by a New Zealand-owned company called ArborGen is one of them, with the goal of extending the range of the eucalyptus tree into South Carolina, Texas, and other states by providing a trait designed to engender cold tolerance.
But the trees come with serious risks — critics point out the relative lack of environmental testing, the unknown risks of releasing novel GE traits into vast ecosystems, the overuse of chemicals and water for the plants, and other concerns (additional info here).
While the preferences are clear for ArborGen, the general public seems set on its own opinion of the new GE trees, as demonstrated in their virtually unanimous rejection according to recent USDA public comment statistics.
Near Unanimous Rejection of GE Trees Recorded by USDA
According to a recent press release from the Global Justice Ecology Project, the new GE trees from ArborGen were roundly rejected by about 280,000 people in terms of individual comments, while only 3 comments were submitted in favor.
The comments were submitted 75 days after the USDA released their Environmental Impact Statement on the company’s request for deregulation of the GE trees.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of comments against the trees, 500 organizations representing millions of people around the world also opposed their deregulation.
The trees are said by the company to be needed for the fast-growing demand for wood pellets for “biomass” and would be planted in large plantations in order to provide for this need.
But critics say they could be an environmental disaster.
“Common sense dictates that regenerating native forests and reducing demands for wood are essential to addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Expanding plantations of non-native, water depleting, flammable GE eucalyptus, on the other hand, is beyond irresponsible,” said the press release, which can be read in full by clicking here.
The petition for planting was originally submitted in 2011 to the USDA for the trees, which are said to be the fastest growing of the varieties needed for the wood pulp and paper industries.
The GE eucalyptus tree could pave the way for GE pine and poplar trees in the future, but the Center for Food Safety, hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of organizations caution that the GE trees could have serious, unforeseen consequences.
“GE eucalyptus plantations spread across the South would be a disaster,” Marti Crouch, a consulting scientist for the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement according to a report in The Hill.
“Some non-GE eucalyptus species have already become invasive and are degrading natural areas. Plants and animals, including endangered species, will be unable to find suitable habitats within landscapes dominated by GE eucalyptus. Approving these trees is a terrible idea.”
Will the FDA take the clear and decisive public comment disparity into account and make the right decision? Or will they cave in to the Biotech industry yet again?
That’s anyone’s guess, but as usual it will be a case of corporate interests versus those of people and planet. Needless to say, this is one of the most important battlegrounds for the GMO-free and natural movement to keep an eye on in the coming months and years.