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Historic Protests Disrupt GE Tree Conference

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GE Tree Protest
Hundreds of activists from across the country converged on Asheville, North Carolina from Sunday, May 26 to Saturday, June 1 to protest the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference, hosted by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). They came to raise vocal and determined opposition to genetically engineered trees (GE trees). The conference occurs every two years and brings together leading tree engineers, students, and corporate representatives to discuss the science and politics of genetically engineering trees.

The conference was disrupted or protested by activists even before it began and almost every day it took place. On May 25, more than 1,000 people joined the March Against Monsanto in Asheville, with a vocal contingent protesting GE trees. On Monday morning, two Asheville residents were arrested after invading the conference and disrupting the opening session of the day. On Tuesday, the largest protest yet against GE trees took place as hundreds of people marched through the streets and rallied outside the conference hotel. A conference field trip on Wednesday was cancelled due to the threat of protests. On Thursday, three activists were arrested while blocking a conference bus headed to an exclusive dinner at the Biltmore Estate.

The conference was targeted due to plans by South Carolina-based GE tree company ArborGen and others to convert forests, farms, and other lands in the U.S. South into plantations of GE trees and other crops for production of liquid fuels and electricity. ArborGen is a joint initiative of International Paper, MeadWestvaco and the New Zealand-based Rubicon, some of the largest timber corporations in the world.
ArborGen has a request pending with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to commercially sell genetically engineered freeze-tolerant eucalyptus seedlings. According to Rubicon, ArborGen plans to sell half a billion GE eucalyptus tree seedlings annually for plantations from South Carolina to Texas. The USDA is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement on this and recently accepted public comments on ArborGen’s request. They received almost 38,000 comments opposed to the GE eucalyptus and only 4 comments in favor.

Activists, however, believe the USDA is likely to rubber stamp approval of ArborGen’s request anyway and the protests at this IUFRO conference are initiating the process of mobilizing grassroots resistance throughout the threatened region.
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