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A Brief History of Genetically Engineered Trees

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Environment and Climate Resource Center page.
Even the introduction of non-GE tree monocultures has been proven to have an incredibly damaging effect on local eco-systems and communities. Eucalyptus trees are already considered to be an invasive species in Florida and California and have a whole host of associated problems due their flammability and high demand for water.

Despite all the evidence, the USDA continues to support development of these and other GE trees, so what are the links between the multinational companies and the regulatory bodies that are supposed to protect the environment? With ArborGen's pending controversial application to the USDA to grow flowering GE Eucalyptus trees in commercial plantations across the US it seems appropriate to have a look at the history of GE field trials across the globe and the regulation (or lack of it) that has been in place over the last 20 years.

Early GE Trials

The first field trials of GE trees were started in Belgium in 1988 when researchers began to develop GE Poplars which were genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides. By 1999 the Biotech nightmare was a reality with multinationals such as Monsanto, International Paper, Fletcher Challenge Forests and the Westvaco Corporation supporting GE tree trials at over 116 sites in 17 countries including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, UK, USA and Uruguay.

The first trees to get the GE treatment were the fast growing varieties such as Eucalyptus, Poplars and Pines with the intention to produce crops that were herbicide and/or insect resistant, faster growing and produced higher yields for the timber and pulp industries.  Naturally all of these tendencies would result in higher profit margins for the companies that were investing in them rather than enhanced benefit to the environment.