The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club +1.512.288.5772

Anne Petermann, Executive Director,
Global Justice Ecology Project +1.802.578.0477

New Studies Expose Potential Risks of GMO Trees

Red Flags Raised About Potential Negative Impacts of Proposed Large-Scale Release of Genetically Engineered Trees in the U.S.


While the U.S. Supreme Court hears its first-ever case involving a
genetically modified organism, alarms are sounding over the proposed
planting of more than a quarter of a million genetically engineered
(GE) eucalyptus trees in the U.S., and transgenic trees are being
globally condemned.

On April 27, the Supreme Court began to hear a case challenging a
ban on the planting of a genetically engineered perennial alfalfa. The
ban was implemented due to concerns about escape and contamination, and
the inability of U.S. regulators to protect the public. [1]
In April, Reuters released a report exposing the fact that U.S.
regulating agencies have "dropped the ball" when it comes to evaluating
the potential risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). [2]
Reuters highlighted concerns that, "the U.S. government conducts
no independent testing of these biotech crops before they are approved,
and does little to track their consequences after." The report even
went so far as to state, "Indeed, many experts say the U.S. government
does more to promote global acceptance of biotech crops than to protect
the public from possible harmful consequences."
This is a particular concern since the USDA's Animal Plant Health
Inspection Service (APHIS), one of the named agencies in the report, is
considering approving a request by ArborGen to plant 260,000 GE trees
across seven states even though researchers admit some of these trees
produce viable pollen and some seedlings are assured to escape.
Referring to the questionable efficacy of the altered fertility
technology in these GE trees, researcher Steve Strauss said, "There
does not seem to have been any serious field studies, in any crop,
sufficient to estimate the operational effectiveness of containment
genes." Adding, "Until many such studies are published, it would be
unwise to assume that genes can be fully and safely contained in the
near future." [3]
Additionally, MSNBC [4], NPR [5] and PLoS Pathogens [6] recently reported that a new strain of a deadly pathogenic fungus, Cryptococcus gattii,
has been causing fatal human illnesses throughout the Pacific
Northwest. The fungus, which is known to grow on some species of
eucalyptus trees, has killed one on four people in Oregon, and 40 out
of 220 people infected throughout the region. While it is not known
whether genetically engineered eucalyptus plantations would be a host
for the fungus, the fact that some of the GE eucalyptus would have
reduced lignin has raised concerns that they could be more susceptible
to fungal infection.
Another study by researcher Claire Williams, recently published in the American Journal of Botany,
found that pollen from trees remains viable over long distances. [7]
This raises concerns about the potential for pollen from genetically
engineered versions of native tree species like pines to travel large
distances and contaminate forests. Williams' study found that, "GM
pine plantings have the potential to disperse viable pollen at least 41
kilometers from the source."
On April 22, during the World Peoples' Global Summit on Climate
Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a broad gathering of Indigenous Peoples,
social movements and organizations from around the world, issued a
consensus condemnation of transgenic trees (GMO trees) and monoculture
plantations. [8]
"Given all of this evidence, the USDA should not even consider
approving the release of any genetically engineered trees," insisted
Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign.
[9] "The fact that there are so many unknowns and no independent
studies evaluating the risks of GE trees--which include human health
risks and damage to forests and wildlife--is a major reason why the UN
Convention on Biological Diversity in 2006 and 2008 urged countries to
use the Precautionary Principle with regard to GE trees. The
Precautionary Principle would require GE trees to be proven safe before they are released." [10]
Contact: Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club +1.512.288.5772
Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project +1.802.578.0477
[1] "Monsanto's GM Crops Go to US High Court, Environmental Laws on the Line," published on Monday, April 26, 2010 by Inter Press Service
[2] "Special Report: Are Regulators Dropping the Ball on Biocrops?" by Carey Gillam, Reuters, published on Tuesday, April 13, 2010
[3] "USDA Weighs Plan to Bring GM Eucalyptus to Southeast Pinelands," by Paul Voosen of Greenwire published on January 29, 2010, in the New York Times
[4] "Deadly airborne fungus in Oregon set to spread", by Charles Q. Choi, published on April 22, 2010, MSNBC
[5] "Fungal Disease Spreads Through Pacific Northwest," by Richard Knox published on April 23, 2010
[6] "New Strain of Virulent Airborne Fungi, Unique to Oregon, Looks Set to Spread," from PLoS Pathogens, a Peer Reviewed Open Access Journal published by the Public Library of Science,
[7] "Long-Distance Pine Pollen Still Germinates After Meso-Scale Dispersal" by Claire Williams, published in the May 2010 edition of the American Journal of Botany
[8] "Indigenous Groups Condemn REDD as a Threat", published on April 23 by Alertnet
[9] The STOP GE Trees Campaign
is an alliance of organizations from across the U.S. and around the
world that have joined together to stop the release of genetically
engineered trees into the environment
(r) Reaffirm the need to take a precautionary approach when addressing the issue of genetically modified trees;
(s) Authorize the release of genetically modified trees only after
completion of studies in containment, including in greenhouse and
confined field trials, in accordance with national legislation where
existent, addressing long-term effects as well as thorough,
comprehensive, science-based and transparent risk assessments to avoid
possible negative environmental impacts on forest biological diversity;
(t) Also consider the potential socio-economic impacts of
genetically modified trees as well as their potential impact on the
livelihoods of indigenous and local communities;"

What differentiates Global Justice Ecology Project from most groups is our holistic approach to organizing. We believe that the compartmentalization of issues is enabling corporations and conservative forces to keep movements for change divided and powerless. We strive to identify and address the common roots to the issues of social injustice, ecological destruction and economic domination as a means to achieve a fundamental transformation toward a society based on egalitarian ideals and grounded in ecology.