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Stop GE Trees from Taking Root

1.TAKE ACTION: USDA seeks comments on field release for genetically engineered eucalyptus hybrid Source: APHIS, USDA, June 4 2009

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) is advising the public that it has prepared an environmental assessment for a proposed controlled field release of a genetically engineered clone of a Eucalyptus hybrid.

Consideration will be given to comments received on or before July 6. You may submit comments by either of the following methods:

* Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to to submit or view comments and to view supporting and related materials available electronically.

* Postal Mail/Commercial delivery: Please send two copies of your comment to Docket No. APHIS-2008-0059, Regualtory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket No. APHIS-2008-0059.

2.Apple trees destroyed FarmingUK, 6 June 2009

Two hundred and seventy 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 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 has been destroyed.

The institute in Pillnitz - previously the Institute of Fruit Breeding of the Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants (BAZ) - has been working on the development of transgenic apple trees since 1997. One of the key areas of research is methods of controlling apple scab, apple powdery mildew and fire blight. Following the rejection in 2003 of a planned release trial with genetically modified apple trees, research work can now only take place on a reduced scale in closed tents corresponding to safety level 1.

Saxony's Minister of Agriculture and the Environment, Frank Kupfer, who visited the site to see the damage for himself, was shocked by the vandalism: "What happened in Pillnitz was simply criminal."

The JKI has reported an offence by unknown perpetrators.

3.This Week's Show: GMO-Trees Living on Earth (U.S. National Public Radio) Air Date: Week of May 29, 2009 29 May 2009

For information on how to listen to the programme:

[image caption: Maria Tesorera, from a women's group in Chile, protests outside the Belgian Permanent Mission in New York City. Belgium recently planted a test plot of genetically engineered low-ligning poplar trees. (Orin Langelle)]

Scientists are developing genetically modified trees for the forests of the future. Ann Peterman of the Global Justice Ecology Program tells host Bruce Gellerman that these designer trees don't measure up to what a real forest provides.

GELLERMAN: While preserving forests holds great promise for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not all forests are created equal. There are natural forests, which are home to a variety of trees, plant and animal life. Then there are tree plantations - where a single type of tree is grown for its commercial value.

Scientists are now experimenting with tree plantations, manipulating and modifying the genes of saplings that grow in these monoculture forests - and that's a problem says Ann Peterman. She's executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project.

PETERMAN: One of the main trees that they're genetically engineering is eucalyptus. But they're also genetically engineering poplars and pines, so those three species are pretty much the three main forestry trees that they're genetically engineering. And they're mainly doing it either for pulp and paper, for cellulosic fuel ˆ in other words biofuels made out of trees ˆ or for timber, in the case of some of the pine. So they're genetically modifying them to enhance some of the traits. In the case of timber, they want, you know, straighter trees or less branches or, you know, if they could grow two by fours that would make them very happy. Or in the case of paper, they want to actually create trees that have less lignin. Lignin is the structure in a tree that makes it strong, that protects it against insects, disease, fungus, etc, but makes it very hard to make paper or fuel. So if they have low lignin trees, they can more easily process them, they say, into paper or fuel.

GELLERMAN: When you say "they" you're talking about companies.

PETERMAN: Right, I'm talking about the paper industry, the biolfuels industry, etc.

GELLERMAN: What's the problem. I mean, they're saying we need to be more sustainable, we need to grow sustainable products, provide for an ever-expanding population and this is good.

PETERMAN: Their argument is that this will grow more wood on less land. Less forest will be cut down because we can concentrate the amount of timber that we're growing on a piece of land. But as we've seen with traditional plantations that are already developed all over the world, they do not protect forests, they destroy forests. And the reason is because plantations are worth more money than natural forests. They can get more timber out of them or they can get a specific kind of timber out of them. In a natural forest they can't do that. So, it's worth more money.

GELLERMAN: So what you're saying is, it's a driver of deforestation. They would go in and they would deforest a natural rainforest or tropical forest. And then plant these plantation forests.

PETERMAN: Exactly, and you see that in Brazil. They've pretty much decimated the Mata Atlantica forest ecosystem in Brazil to replace them with eucalyptus plantations. Now they're talking about going into the Amazon and replacing parts of the Amazon with eucalyptus plantations. So, yes, tree plantations have been a huge driver or deforestation all over the world.

GELLERMAN: But a tree is a tree is a tree. I mean, if you cut down a tree and you're planting genetically modified eucalyptus in terms of carbon, is there a difference?

PETERMAN: There is actually, there's a huge difference. And it's not just, of course, the carbon storage, but the biodiversity, you know, the ability of the forest to sustain populations, human populations in a way that plantations can't. But getting back to the carbon issue, 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 have just decimated the ability of that land to store carbon. Clearly, that's gonna have impacts on the climate, not to mention the actual act of deforestation itself has huge carbon emissions. Studies have shown at the very least twenty percent of annual carbon emissions come from deforestation and more recent studies are saying it's probably considerably more than that.

GELLERMAN: In Brazil they are planting to count plantation trees as forest.

PETERMAN: Yeah, they do in many parts of the world. The UN allows plantations to be considered as forest. It's just an incredible bad definition of forest that the UN uses that allows this to happen and that desperately needs to be changed. In Brazil they call tree plantations green deserts because they're so destructive and because they are basically devoid of any other species except the monoculture of that tree.

GELLERMAN: And where on the planet is the number one place where they're planting genetically engineered trees?

PETERMAN: China, at this point. China's the only place in the world where they have commercially released genetically engineered trees at this point. The U.S. is in the process of trying to figure out if they want them to be legal here, Brazil is in a similar process, they're moving forward with it. But China is the only place where they actually have commercial plantations.

GELLERMAN: Ann Peterman coordinates work on genetic trees for the Global Forest Coalition and directs the Global Justice Ecology Project.