On August 18, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a petition by researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) seeking federal approval to release their genetically engineered (GE) Darling 58 (D58) American chestnut tree into U.S. forests. Researchers claim the transgenic D58 tree will resist the fungal blight that, coupled with rampant overlogging, decimated the American chestnut population in the early 20th century. In fact, the GE American chestnut is a Trojan horse meant to open the doors to commercial GE trees designed for industrial plantations. The D58 would be the first GE forest tree approved in the U.S. and the first GMO intended to spread in the wild. (GE canola plants were discovered in the wild in 2010 but that was unplanned.)
An article printed in today’s New York Times Magazine, “Can Genetic Engineering Bring Back the American Chestnut?” by Gabriel Popkin, is a disappointing piece of questionable journalism. In this post, I highlight and challenge some of the most egregious statements in the article and question its advocacy for the idea that humans can and should use technology to “improve” nature. Note: Global Justice Ecology Project and our co-founders launched the first campaign to protect forests and communities from the risks of GE trees twenty years ago. Since then, the campaign has expanded globally and GJEP and other campaign members have testified at UN meetings, industry conferences and rural community workshops on five continents. Our advocacy and organizing to expose the potential dangers of GE trees led to a decision by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity warning countries of the risks of GE trees, as well as decisions by forest certification regimes like the FSC to prohibit the use of GE trees.
This report examines events and research publicized between 23 June and 4 July 2019 that discuss the mass-use of trees to enable the unsustainable lifestyles of the world’s top 1% in the face of looming ecological catastrophe: from trees genetically engineered to feed the “green” manufacture of energy, plastics and chemicals; the planting of trillions of trees to reduce global atmospheric carbon levels; and “reforms” to the economic system to allow future profit-making under the guise of biodiversity protection. The three events where these proposals were brought out were the International Union of Forest Research Organization’s 2019 Tree Biotechnology Conference 23-29 June at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, The Global Tree Restoration Potential, a new study published on 4 July in Science, and the launch of Business for Nature initiatives in China and Norway on 2 July.
Spencer, MA – In a statement today, two board members of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), including the Chapter President announced they were resigning from TACF as a protest against the organization’s support for genetically engineering (GE) American chestnut trees. Board President Lois Breault-Melican and Board member Denis Melican made the decision to leave due to TACF support for the unregulated planting of GE American chestnut trees throughout eastern US forests.
By Morgan Erickson-Davis for The Campaign to Stop GE Trees - Last year the world lost an area of tree cover the size of New Zealand, according to satellite data. That’s around 29.7 million hectares (297,000 square kilometers) – and was a 51 percent jump over 2015. The tree cover loss data came from the University of Maryland (UMD) and were analyzed by World Resources Institute (WRI). While the data don’t just represent deforestation (they also lump in tree plantation harvesting), the analysts attribute most of the tree cover loss to human impacts affecting forests such agriculture, logging and mining. But why the big jump in tree cover loss from 2015 to 2016? The analysis points specifically to fire as the primary culprit. The data indicate big upticks in fires around the world, both in areas where fire naturally occurs — like northern Alberta, Canada — and wetter areas of the tropics where fire is (or perhaps more accurately, used to be) a rare phenomenon. One of these latter areas is the Brazilian Amazon. Rainforest is, by definition, rainy and moist, and the Amazon rainforest is no exception. Rainforest shouldn’t burn on its own — and yet, WRI’s analysis found understory fires contributed to a tripling of tree cover loss in the Brazilian Amazon (3.3 million hectares) over that time.
By the Campaign to Stop Genetically-Engineered Trees. Wildfires in Portugal have been called “the worst such disaster in recent history.” Dozens of people burnt to death in their cars while trying to escape the inferno. But this horrific tragedy was human-made. One-quarter of Portugal’s forested landscape (more than 812,000 hectares or 2 million acres) has been replaced by non-native eucalyptus plantations. On top of that are expansive pine plantations. Oliver Munnion, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch, lives in Portugal’s wildfire zone. “We spent last night in a local school after some 30 villages were evacuated in our area. News reports say that a quarter of the municipality has burned. We’ve been lucky so far and still have our home, but many others have lost so much.
By The Campaign to Stop GE Trees. Chile - On March 22nd, World Water Day, the international delegation of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), CEPEDES* and OLCA** presented at the University of Concepción in Concepción, Chile. The all-woman panel reported on the devastating impacts of tree plantations on water, life and communities in Brazil, the danger of GE trees internationally, and the state of GE trees in Chile. This is a critical moment for Concepción, as forest fires have ripped through much of the region, destroying towns, forests, and tree plantations. Concepción is in the Bio-Bio region where 50% of Chile’s tree plantations are grown. Over the last couple of months, tree plantations aided the spread of the wildfires and for the first time in history, marches against the tree plantation industry occurred throughout the country on March 14th 2017.
By Kip Doyle of Global Justice Ecology Project. New York, NY - Biotech firm ArborGen, a leader in the research and development of genetically engineered trees (GE trees), has been fined $53.5 million in compensation and punitive damages after a court ruled that it acted to use "trickery and deceit" to "defraud" employees. Just before the holidays a judge issued the 180 page ruling (linked below) on the case in favor of ten ArborGen workers, and against the company, as well as its timber company founders, International Paper, MeadWestvaco (now WestRock) and New Zealand-based Rubicon, plus several of their Board members. “It is a shame that this story came out on 29 December, in the middle of a holiday week, and has gone almost completely unreported,” said Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project. “Only two articles have covered this important story in South Carolina papers.
By Global Justice Ecology Project. New York (15 December 2015)– In the midst of the holiday season, while thoughts turn to roasting chestnuts, a handful of scientists are working to genetically engineer the iconic American chestnut tree which they hope to release throughout the Appalachians and the Eastern US. Indigenous Peoples, scientists and others are raising alarms about the risks of these trees, cautioning about their dangerous impacts to forests, wildlife and human health . Due to these unassessed risks, they warn, GE chestnuts, or any GE trees trees should never be approved for planting. But GE tree scientists appear less worried about risks than about public relations.
By Anne Petermann of Global Justice Ecology Project - A new organizing initiative called “GE Trees Fall” launched with a four day GE trees action training camp outside of Asheville North Carolina, over September 24th to the 27th. Following the camp, activists converged on the world headquarters of ArborGen in Ridgeville, SC on Monday September 28th, resulting in two arrests. The action at ArborGen exposed their secret research and pointed out the potentially serious risks presented by these GE loblolly pine trees. Ruddy Turnstone, GJEP’s GE Trees Campaigner and I were arrested during the protest, which demanded ArborGen tear down their wall of secrecy surrounding their GE tree research and development, and pointed out that resistance to GE trees is growing, with more than a quarter of a million people signing on to letters and petitions rejecting GE trees, and protests against GE trees on six continents in 2015 alone.
In Brussels, Belgium, dozens of people representing organizations from around the world traveled from the European Parliament to the Brazilian Embassy where they rallied againstGE trees and delivered letters of protest. In Melbourne, Australia, protesters dressed as koalas, owls and other forest creatures rallied against GE eucalyptus trees at the Brazilian consulate. Other demonstrations took place in Europe and North America. This week's actions follow a wave of protests against GE trees at Brazilian embassies and consulates on 3 March 2015. These protests were directed at a 5 March 2015 meeting of the Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), which was to decide whether or not to approve a request by FuturaGene to commercially release GE eucalyptus trees in Brazil.
"If approved by the committee these GE faster growing eucalyptus will mature in only 4 years, as opposed to 6-7 years presently in non-GMO eucalyptus," said Catiane Cinelli, a member of the Rural Women's Movement. "The water consumption will increase 25 to 30 liters / day per GE eucalyptus over what is currently used. We are again calling attention to the danger of green deserts." The actions in Brazil today follow on the heels of an Emergency Global Day of Action Against GE Trees on Tuesday which saw protests on four continents in opposition to the approval of GE eucalyptus trees by CTNBio in Brazil. The Global Day of Action was organized by the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. In the US, a similar request to the USDA from GE tree company ArborGen to legalize their GE eucalyptus trees is currently pending.
On THURSDAY 5 March 2015, CTNBio, the agency that regulates GMOs in Brazil, will decide on an industry request to legalize the commercial development of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees. CTNBio may approve this commercial release of genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus. That is, UNLESS there’s enough pressure, both nationally and globally, to change their mind. If this request is approved, it will be an unprecedented decision, with devastating social and environmental impacts not only for Brazil but around the world. In the US, a similar request to the USDA from GE tree company ArborGen to legalize their GE eucalyptus trees is currently pending, and doubtless the US will be paying close attention to this decision in Brazil. We need you to help stop this disaster!
In an unprecedented and alarming move, the US Department of Agriculture has given GE tree company ArborGen permission to pursue commercial production of a genetically engineered (GE) loblolly pine with no regulatory oversight or environmental risk assessment. This decision was withheld from the US public for almost five months. This is the first genetically engineered forest tree to be approved for commercial production anywhere in the world (outside of China). The potential impacts to the public or to the environment will not be evaluated, and overwhelming public opposition to GE trees is being completely ignored. This decision sets a terrible and unacceptable precedent. If unchallenged, it will allow other GE trees, with even more dangerous traits, to be developed without any federal or public review.
(Qualla Boundary, North Carolina)--In the shadow of Columbus Day and the legacy of colonization in the Americas, the Indigenous Environmental Network  and Eastern Band of Cherokee community members organized a gathering of Indigenous Peoples from across the Southeastern US for an historic Indigenous Peoples' action camp against genetically engineered trees (GE trees). Participants condemned GE trees as a form of colonization of the forest. The Indigenous Environmental Network Campaign to STOP GE Trees Action Camp focused on building an information-sharing and mobilization network of tribal representatives and community members to address the unique threats posed by GE trees to Indigenous Peoples, their culture, traditions and lifeways.