GENET archive


2-Plants: GE trees in China: Genetically modified madness

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  China: Genetically modified madness
SOURCE: WRM Bulletin, Issue Number 85, Uruguay, by Chris Lang
        file Folie29.jpg attached
DATE:   Aug 2004 

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China: Genetically modified madness

Two years ago, China's State Forestry Administration approved genetically
modified (GM) poplar trees for commercial planting. Well over one million
insect resistant GM poplars have now been planted in China.

Also two years ago, China launched the world's largest tree planting
project. By 2012 the government aims to have covered an area of 44
million hectares with trees.

Decades of deforestation have left China facing serious environmental
problems, including droughts and deadly floods. Sandstorms from the Gobi
Desert frequently turn the air in Beijing yellowish brown reducing
visibility to a few metres. The desert is creeping relentlessly towards
China's capital city.

Although the government describes its tree planting as reforestation,
most of the area planted will be monoculture tree plantations, including
plantations of GM trees.

"The first step is to raise plantations using fast-growing species such
as poplar and larch", wrote Wang Lida, Han Yifan and Hu Jianjun of the
Chinese Academy of Forestry in a recently published book ("Molecular
Genetics and Breeding of Forest Trees" edited by Sandeep Kumar and
Matthias Fladung).

However, insect damage in plantations in China is a serious problem.
Rather than suggesting planting a mixture of trees which might not be so
susceptible to insect damage, the three Chinese forestry scientists
suggest a GM tree technical fix. "Recent research on insect-resistant
forest tree breeding shows considerable promise," they wrote.

Huoran Wang is a research professor at the Chinese Academy of Forestry in
Beijing and is China's representative on the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation's Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources. Last year Wang
told the FAO Panel that one million insect resistant GM Populus nigra
trees had been planted in China. A further 400,000 insect resistant GM
hybrid poplar trees have also been planted, Wang added.

Regulation of genetically modified organisms in China is covered by the
Biosafety Act for GMOs in Agriculture, adopted by the State Council in
May 2001. Before GM trees can be planted an expert panel organised by the
State Forestry Administration carries out a technical assessment. The
National Committee for Biosafety of GMOs in Agriculture bases its
decision whether to approve the GM trees for release on the panel's report.

However, China has no regulations specifically covering GM trees.
"Special regulations are in the pipeline," according to Huoran Wang.

Forestry scientists at the Chinese Academy of Forestry started research
into GM poplar trees in the late 1980s. From 1990 to 1995, they were
helped by an FAO-run project which provided capacity building, technology
transfer and laboratory support. The $1.8 million project was funded by
the United Nations Development Project.

For more than ten years, the Federal Research Centre for Forestry and
Forest Products at Waldsieversdorf in Germany has maintained close
contact with Chinese forestry scientists working on GM trees. Hu Jianjun
of the Chinese Academy of Forestry is currently based at the Research
Centre in Waldsieversdorf.

In May 2004, Dietrich Ewald, a forestry scientist based at
Waldsieversdorf, travelled to China to take a look at some of the GM tree
plantations. One of his visits was to Huairou, a town about 60 kilometres
north of Beijing. Ewald's photographs of the 33 hectare GM poplar
plantation at Huairou show row upon row of GM poplar trees.

Ewald labelled two of his photographs "No ground vegetation". He's right.
There is absolutely nothing growing except trees. The soil looks hard,
dry and barren. A more extreme example to illustrate the difference
between plantations and forests is hard to imagine.

Another of Ewald's photographs shows a handful of seeds from the GM
poplars. "There is no possibility of these seeds spreading because of the
dryness, the grazing (sheep) as well as the adjacent agriculture," reads
Ewald's comment on the photograph.

Huoran Wang appears to disagree. "Poplar trees are so widely planted in
northern China that pollen and seed dispersal can not be prevented," Wang
stated in his presentation at the FAO meeting last year. Attempts to
prevent genetic pollution by maintaining "isolation distances" between GM
and non-GM poplars is "almost impossible", Wang added.

China's forestry scientists, with international complicity, are setting
up an uncontrolled, irreversible experiment. No one knows the exact area
planted with GM trees in China. "It is very difficult to trace them,"
Wang commented. Poplar trees can be very easily propagated and GM trees
are moved from one nursery to another. A GM poplar tree looks much the
same as any other poplar tree.

There isn't even a system in place to monitor the GM plantations that
have so far been planted. Wang suggests setting up a system "to monitor
the situation of the GM plantations" and their impact on surrounding
ecosystems. A better suggestion would be to stop this unscientific,
dangerous experiment now.

Sign the petition to ban GM trees:

Dietrich Ewald's photographs of GM trees in China are available at


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