June 11, 2009
1:43 PM

CONTACT: Global Justice Ecology Project

Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, +1-802-482-2689 office/+1-802-578-6980 mobile
Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club, +1-512-472-1767 office
Brian Tokar, Institute for Social Ecology, +1-802-229-0087

Government Set to Approve Planting of a Quarter Million Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees in US South

HINESBURG, Vermont - June 11 - The U.S. government is set to approve [1] a request from ArborGen, the genetically engineered (GE) tree research and development giant, for permission to plant 260,000 GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees in 29 "field trials" across seven southern U.S. states.   Approval of such a large-scale planting of these dangerous flowering GE forest trees in the U.S. is completely unprecedented.  The GE eucalyptus, to be planted in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, would be allowed to flower and produce seeds, enabling them to potentially escape into native ecosystems and forests.

The STOP GE Trees Campaign, an international alliance of organizations that has banded together with the goal of globally banning the open-air release of genetically engineered trees, this week issued an "Urgent Action Alert" about ArborGen's potentially disastrous plans, with information about how the public can make comments to the government to help stop this large-scale release of GE trees.

"This is absolutely unprecedented--the government wants to approve the mass release of 260,000 flowering GE forest trees in so-called "field trials," stated Dr. Neil Carman who works with the Sierra Club in Texas.  "You cannot call over a quarter of a million trees over 330 acres "field trials."  These are experimental forests being planted outdoors under the disguise of "field trials" as a loophole.  The government must produce an Environmental Impact Statement to carefully review all of the potential environmental threats from this large-scale GE tree release," Dr. Carman continued.

Eucalyptus are internationally known for their devastating impacts--from invasiveness to wildfires to their ability to worsen droughts.  Massive wildfires in Australia earlier this year were fueled by eucalyptus, which contains a highly volatile oil.  These wildfires moved at 100 km/hr and killed 173 people, who literally did not have time to escape.  Additionally, eucalyptus grandis, one of the species in the GE eucalyptus hybrid, is also a known host to Cryptococcus gattii, a fungus that can cause fatal fungal meningitis in people and animals that inhale its spores.  C. gattii was recently found in the U.S. [2]

"In Brazil, eucalyptus plantations are known as 'green deserts' because they do not allow anything else to live," stated Camila Moreno, an attorney and Global Justice Ecology Project staff consultant in Brazil.  "No understory plants, no wildlife, no communities--only eucalyptus trees can survive there.  They are a disaster for Brazil, which is why there exists a large social movement against eucalyptus in Brazil and many hectares of plantations have been destroyed by communities," Moreno continued.

"ArborGen and their corporate owners, International Paper, Mead Westvaco and Rubicon [3] could not be more irresponsible.  The large-scale planting of these GE eucalyptus would spell disaster," added Danna Smith, Executive Director of the North Carolina based Dogwood Alliance.  "Already millions of acres of land in the South have been converted to pine plantations.  We cannot afford to lose any more of the precious native forests of the South--and especially not to eucalyptus plantations, which could make kudzu [4] look tame by comparison," she continued.

Public comments on the government's plans to approve the planting of 260,000 GE eucalyptus trees are being accepted until 6 July 2009 at 5 pm eastern U.S. time.   Also as a Public Service, the STOP GE Trees Campaign has created a sign-on Comment Letter demanding rejection of ArborGen's request to which members of the public can add their name. That Comment Letter with signatures will be submitted to the government.



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