GENET archive


2-Plants: Two articles on GE trees

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Genetically Modified Trees in Chile: A New Forest Conflict
SOURCE: Mapuexpress - Mapuche News, Chile, by Lorena Ojeda D.
        translated by Katharine Allen, Sierra Sky Interpreting & Translation
DATE:   1 Feb 2005

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Genetically Modified Trees in Chile: A New Forest Conflict

El Hacha (The Axe) is a song written by Patricio Manns and performed by
Inti Illimani on their release Arriesgaré la piel; its final lines refer
to deforestation: "The forest comes before Man, but desert follows him."
Without a doubt, deforestation has seriously affected the balance of
forest ecosystems worldwide, making understandable the fear that
paralyzes those who are aware of this issue; fear that is expressed in
different ways, such as in this song. A second phenomenon negatively
affecting the survival of forests is the creation of extensive single-
crop forest plantations, and in particular, current concerns about new
plantations of genetically modified trees.

To understand the negative effects of extensive single specie tree
farming, we must take into account that countries in the southern
hemisphere in general and southern Chile in particular suffer from a
destructive process that is advancing from the North. Over time, forests
have been greatly impacted by the incremental spread of agriculture and
livestock, cutting for firewood, and the felling and replacement of
native forest with pine and eucalyptus plantations, which have led to
topsoil degradation and acacia and blackberry invasions. As a result,
animal habitat has been lost and the countryside has been altered. Social
problems have arisen as well, including the forced migration of people
who find themselves surrounded by huge plantations of single-crop
introduced tree species and the transformation of the process of the
restitution to Mapuche communities of traditional lands into a matter for
the courts.

The first plantations of Pinus Radiata (Monterey Pine) were established
in Chile in 1920. From that date on the forward march of this single-crop
cultivation has gone unhindered and in recent decades, the result has
been environmental change and degradation. Among the many changes are:
environmental homogeneity, evident in the vast and monotonous landscape
vistas of unchanging color and architecture; biodiversity reduction and
changes in the mechanisms that regulate its component parts; increasing
vulnerability from pest invasions and the indiscriminate application of
pesticides to control them; and the use of prime agricultural land for
cultivating tree plantations, resulting in the underutilization of this
important natural resource.

Genetic engineering techniques have been used to achieve optimum
production results in both agriculture and forest cultivation, including
the genetic manipulation of commercially important plants. These issues
have gone largely unreported to the public. People might know a little
bit about genetically modified foods, but the development of Genetically
Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the forestry industry is far less well known.

The first genetically modified (GM) trees were planted in Belgium in
1988. In Chile, projects have been in development since the mid-1990s
exploring the use of biotechnology in trees for industrial and commercial
ends, which focus primarily on exotic species (pine and eucalyptus), with
the goal of improving productivity. These projects have public sector
support from such institutions as INFOR - Forestry Institute, (part of
the Ministry of Agriculture), Fundación Chile (Chile Foundation), and the
Universities of Concepción, Austral and Frontera, as well from the
private sector -Bioforest (controlled by Bosques Arauco). Several million
dollars have been paid out from the national treasury.

The following are some of the risks involved with planting these trees:

a) Long-term unforeseen changes in the altered or "guest" genome.
b) Genetic contamination when plantations or test stands of transgenic
trees are planted near their native forest relatives. The probability for
genetic contamination is high.
c) Changes in productivity and soil degradation (trees modified for rapid
growth are harvested in less time and use the soil more intensively, thus
there is greater demand for water and fewer opportunities for the
nutrients to recycle).
d) Possible effects on human health include resistance to antibiotics and
increased allergies.

In 2000, the New Zealand horticultural institute Hort Research won a
contract from the Chile Foundation (a governmental body) to provide
technical assistance in exchange for financing the development of a
transgenic Pinus radiata (Monterey Pine), one resistant to the moth that
attacks its buds. The goal is to "optimize the use of this natural
resource to increase its productive capacity."

The Chilean government takes a positive view of these practices and
partnerships. In its presidential announcement, made in March 2004 at the
inauguration of the first Global Biotechnology Forum, the spread of these
new trends nationwide was referred to, opening the door for the creation
of a Biotechnology Center in Chile.

According to an article by Dr. María Isabel Manzur published in October
2000 , the planting of genetically modified trees in Chile is in its
initial phases, but some projects working with transgenic pine and
eucalyptus are already underway:

1. Bioforest, subsidiary of Forestal Arauco, located in the VIII Region.
Its research program is centered on improving pine and eucalyptus through
cloning techniques. The company also works in biological pest control.

2. Genfor, S.A., a partnership between the Chile Foundation, Sylvagen of
Canada and Interlink of the United States, created in 1999 with the
support of CORFO (Ministry of Manufacturing Development). It utilizes
technology for improving cloning (somatic embryogenesis) and the creation
of genetically modified Pinus radiata, soon to be planted in test fields.

3. INIA IX Región (Institute of Farming and Animal Husbandry Research),
together with the Universities of Chile and Católica, CINVESTAV Irapuato
Labs of Mexico, Department of the Ministry of Agriculture (SEREMI) of
Chile's IX Region, Agrícola Mar Rojo, the Afodegama Foundation and Indes
Salus, are collaborating on a seed transgenesis development project to
enhance resistance to the apple tree scab.

4. Royal Dutch/Shell in Chile and Uruguay: Production of a GM eucalyptus
tree with a different type of lignin, making its removal easier for the
pulp and paper industry.

One incentive for establishing tree plantations in general and transgenic
trees in particular is the market for "carbon credits," which are part of
the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Production Mechanisms (CPMs) that were
recently accepted at the United Nation's 10th Framework Convention on
Climate Change, held last December in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Chile is
not averse to the idea of carbon credits, according to INFOR's Jorge
Urrutia , who stated that CPMs could turn into a very good opportunity
for the forestry sector.

It is important to recognize that Chile could become one of the countries
with the greatest number of genetically modified commercial tree
plantations without the legal and environmental safeguards to control
them; (currently, the release of transgenic crops are not subject to
environmental impact studies). One of 4 demands sought by the Foundation
for Sustainable Societies (Fundación Sociedades Sustentables) - that the
planting of GM trees should be subject to Law 19.300, which requires an
environmental impact study - stems from this issue. The other demands
seek a moratorium on GM plantations, the development of a national policy
for genetically modified trees, and an assessment of risks to human and
environmental health. I see no option but to join these demands.

We must act first, understanding that the reasons used to justified GM
plantations are lies; that genetically modified trees will not reduce
pressure on the remaining native forest, roll back climate change, solve
the problem of pollution from the pulp and paper industry, or reduce the
use of pesticides.

In conclusion, 2 facts about the paper industry underscore the issue of
tree plantations in general and genetically modified trees in particular:

1. International pulp and paper industry earnings are basically
guaranteed by the resources handed to them in the form of subsidies by
southern hemisphere nation governments. Furthermore, these countries run
the risk of dependence on a raw material subject to sharp price swings,
with a high probability of lower prices in the short term, an argument
against the tremendous increase, day by day, of these plantations.

2. The majority of all the paper produced worldwide is consumed by
developed countries, with 40% of the total destined for packaging, and
that doesn't even take into account that most of the paper destined for
writing and printing is used for marketing and publicity.

These facts raise the following questions: Are we prepared to pay the
costs of these export models? Is it worth suffering the social and
environmental impacts caused by plantations to obtain these products? Are
we truly informed about the amount of national resources being used to
finance the research and establishment of genetically modified trees?


1. Muñoz - Pedreros A & P Döepking (1999) Bosque Nativo y educación
ambiental. Ediciones Centro de estudios agrarios y ambientales, CEA,
Valdivia. Chile 152 p.
2. Lang, Chris (2004) Árboles genéticamente modificados. La amenaza
definitiva para los bosques. Movimiento Mundial por los Bosques
Tropicales y Amigos de la Tierra. 112 p.
5. Manzur M (2000) Biotecnología en el sector forestal de Chile. http://
6. Sector forestal. Desarrollo limpio, opción para Chile. El Diario
Austral, 26 de diciembre de 2004. Page B3.
7. Plantaciones para pulpa de papel: un problema creciente. http:// (Campaña plantaciones)
8. Carrere R (2004) Diez respuestas a diez mentiras. Movimiento Mundial
por los Bosques Tropicales. 30 p.

** Lorena Ojeda is a biologist of Natural Resource Development, member of
Koyam Newen.
(This article was requested by the Agrupación Konapewman for Mapuexpress
- Informativo Mapuche)

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

SOURCE: Gen-ethischer Informationsdienst, Germany, by Chris Lang
        in German:
        in English:
DATE:   Feb/Mar 2005

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came
to force in 1994. The convention states that its purpose is the
"stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a
level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the
climate system". Yet in the decade since 1994, greenhouse gas emissions
increased by 11 per cent, according to the World Resources Institute.(1)

When the thousands of participants get together each year to discuss
climate change at the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, reducing
greenhouse gas emissions is not even on the agenda. In December 2004, the
tenth Conference of the Parties (COP-10) took place in Buenos Aires.
After two weeks of negotiations, the best that the more than 6,000
participants could achieve was an agreement to hold another meeting. But
at this next meeting, which is to be held in Germany in May, participants
will not be allowed to discuss anything which might lead to new
commitments. The US refused to agree to a meeting focussing on compulsory
reduction of emissions.

The US, with about five per cent of the world's population is responsible
for more than 20 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions. The USA has not
signed the Kyoto Protocol, and has no intention of doing so. But as
Michael Zammit Cutajar, the ex-Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC
Secretariat, explained recently: "The Kyoto Protocol['s] . . . market
orientation was largely inspired by the USA [and] largely instigated by
the negotiating positions of the USA."(2)

Kyoto's "market orientation" allows Northern countries to meet part of
their emissions targets by trading carbon dioxide with each other. Carbon
trading "turns the earth's carbon-cycling capacity into property to be
bought or sold in a global market," states the Durban Declaration on
Carbon Trading, which has been signed by more than 100 NGOs.

Kyoto's "market orientation" also allows increased emissions of
greenhouse gases. Through the Kyoto Protocol's clean development
mechanism, industrialised countries can invest in projects in the South
which are supposed to store carbon, thereby gaining credits allowing
further emissions. One example of this is the establishment of tree
plantations as carbon sinks.

If a power company in the Netherlands (say) wants to build a new power
plant, it can plant an area with trees in Ecuador (say) to absorb the
carbon dioxide produced by the new plant, thus making its new power plant
"carbon neutral", in the jargon of the carbon traders. In 1994, an
official from the US Department of Energy said that "Tree-planting will
allow US energy policy to go on with business as usual out to 2015."

On one level, it all sounds perfectly reasonable. Trees absorb carbon
dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. Carbon is stored in wood and
other tissues until the tree dies.

Logic and fraud

But the logic behind carbon sinks is based on a fraud. In the
international climate change negotiations, one ton of carbon released by
burning fossil fuels is considered to be the same as one ton of carbon
contained in a tree plantation. From the point of view of the impact on
the climate, however, these are two different types of carbon which
cannot be added to, or subtracted from, each other.

When carbon is stored in the form of fossil fuel under the earth it is
stable. Unless it is dug out and burnt, it will not enter the atmosphere.
Tree plantations are relatively unstable. They can catch fire, they can
be destroyed by pests, they can be damaged or blown down in storms, they
might be logged or local communities might try to reclaim the land they
lost to the plantations by cutting down the trees. All trees eventually
die and decay. In all these cases the carbon temporarily stored in the
trees is released to the atmosphere.

In December 2003, at the ninth Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP-
9), government representatives agreed the rules under the Kyoto
Protocol's clean development mechanism for tree plantations as carbon
sinks. One of the decisions reached at the meeting allows genetically
engineered (GE) trees to be used as carbon sinks under the Kyoto's clean
development mechanism.

COP-9 "formulated rules for capturing new subsidies for industrial
forestry projects that will accelerate global warming, disempower
activists trying to tackle it, promote genetically-modified monoculture
tree plantations, reduce biodiversity--and violate local people's rights
to land and forests worldwide," as Larry Lohmann of The Corner House, a
UK-based solidarity and research group, put it.(3)

Before COP-9 both Norway and Switzerland had publicly argued against the
use of GM trees in the Kyoto Protocol. At the meeting, the Norwegian
negotiator suggested excluding GM trees entirely from Kyoto.
Nevertheless, the end result of the COP-9 meeting was that Kyoto rules
now state that countries where plantations of GM trees as carbon sinks
are planned should "evaluate, in accordance with their national laws,
potential risks associated with the use of genetically modified organisms
by afforestation and reforestation project activities".

Even the mention of the word "risks" was too much for Harlan Watson, the
US chief climate negotiator. "We felt particularly that this singling out
of GMOs was inappropriate in this context," Watson told Agence France-Presse.

In an official submission issued at the end of COP-9, the US government
stated: "Genetically modified organisms do not present unique risks that
would warrant specific mention in the preamble to a decision on Clean
Development Mechanism activities."

Industrial plantations

In order to have a noticeable effect on the climate, immense areas would
have to be planted with trees. Industrial tree plantations have caused
serious problems for communities living near them in the South. In
Brazil, for example, Aracruz Cellulose, the world's largest producer of
bleached eucalyptus pulp, established its plantations on the lands of the
Tupinikim and Guarani indigenous peoples and other local communities. In
April 2004, Brazil's Movement of Landless Peasants protested against the
pulp and paper industry's take over of vast tracts of land in Brazil.
Landless people occupied areas of industrial tree plantations owned by
six pulp and paper companies including Aracruz.

Using GM trees as carbon sinks would bring problems additional to those
of large scale industrial tree plantations. In 1993, Japanese car
manufacturer Toyota started field trials to test trees which had been
genetically modified to absorb more carbon. While carbon absorption
increased, Toyota's scientists also noted a dramatic increase in water

The first open air trial of GM poplars took place sixteen years ago in
Belgium. Since then there have been several hundred field trials, most of
them in the USA. All of these were experimental plots and the trees were
destroyed at the end of the experiment.

The first commercial application

Two years ago, the Chinese government allowed the commercial release of
GM trees. Well over one million insect resistant GM poplar trees have now
been planted in China. Many of China's GM trees are planted in
experimental plots, but it is possible to buy GM trees from Chinese tree
nurseries and to plant them anywhere in the country. Neither the Chinese
government nor the forestry scientists who produced the trees have
records of where the trees have been planted.

Huoran Wang, a forestry scientist at the Chinese Academy of Forestry in
Beijing, explained the risks involved at a meeting organised by the UN
Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2003. "Poplar trees are so widely
planted in northern China that pollen and seed dispersal can not be
prevented," Wang explained. He added that maintaining "isolation
distances" between GM and non-GM poplars is "almost impossible".

Genetically modified trees pose the ultimate threat to the world's
forests. Unlike food crops, trees can live for hundreds of years. It is
impossible to predict what might happen over the life of a tree, how it
will be affected by extremes of heat or cold, for example. If GM trees
were to cross with natural trees, invade natural ecosystems and their
impacts were to become all too visible, it would be too late. There is no
way of recalling them to the laboratory.

No boundaries

GM trees that produce pollen could cross with native trees, irrevocably
changing forest ecosystems. Some trees can re-grow from broken twigs and
others grow suckers from the roots of living or already fallen trees.
Seeds can float down rivers. Trees, whether genetically modified or not,
do not respect international boundaries. GM trees (or genes from those
trees) planted in one country could spread into neighbouring countries,
regardless of international legislation on importing GMOs. Yet forestry
scientists argue that the only way to find out whether their new GM tree
technology is safe is by trying it out commercially. Steven Strauss,
professor at the Department of Forest Science at Oregon State University,
wrote in 2002, "As with other forms of novel breeding, the extent of
testing needed will be determined empirically - via adaptive management -
during early commercial applications."

Silent plantations

Forestry scientists are working on producing GM trees which are sterile,
in order to prevent the trees from crossing with natural trees.
Plantations of sterile trees would have neither flowers nor would they
produce fruit or seeds. They would grow faster but would be silent.

Silent, sterile monocultures might look good from the corporate
perspective, but they would be a disaster for insects, birds and wildlife
as well as for people living near the plantations.

The US Department of Energy is funding a three year, US$5.1 million
research project into the possibility of using plantations of poplar
trees to store carbon. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)
are collaborating with the Universities of Florida, Oregon State and
Minnesota as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the US
Forest Service to produce GM trees which would store carbon. "We're
talking about millions of acres," ORNL's Stan Wullschleger told the
Knoxville News Sentinel in March 2003.

Oregon State University's Steven Strauss is one of the world's biggest
proponents of GM trees. Yet he admits that there is "a lack of a pressing
need for the technology [of GM trees] at present in the USA". This is
"due to a lack of tax incentives for intensive tree-based pulp and
bioenergy plantations, low world pulp prices, etc." However, he adds,
"This of course could change radically overnight if the world were to get
serious about carbon emissions control and sequestration."

The decision reached in December 2003 at COP-9 allowing Northern
companies and governments to establish plantations of GM trees in the
South might be precisely the subsidy that proponents of GM trees have
been looking for to impose their dangerous new technology on the world.
The winners would be timber plantation companies, consulting firms and
polluting energy companies. The losers would be rural people in the
South, who would see their lands converted to monoculture tree
plantations and their livelihoods destroyed. If they are ever planted,
the resistance to GM tree carbon plantations will be massive.

Related articles
- November 2004 - Emissions trade instead of climate protection
- August 2004 - China: Genetically modified madness
- May 2004 - Genetically modified trees cause memory loss
- March 2004 - Climate change: Hot air, fake science and genetically
modified trees
- More articles about GE trees here.
- More articles about climate change here.


1. A list of companies that support World Resources Institute appears on
the organisation's web-site. Here is a short selection: Shell
International, Shell Foundation, Monsanto, McDonald's Corporation,
Microsoft Corporation, BP, Citigroup Foundation, Cargill Dow, General
Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Company Fund.

2. Michael Zammit Cutajar "Reflections on the Kyoto Protocol - looking
back to see ahead", 1. Juli 2004, in Memorandum to the Inquiry into the
International Challenge of Climate Change: UK Leadership in the G8 and
EU, The Corner House, Sinks Watch and Carbon Trade Watch, December 2004.

3. Larry Lohmann, Race to the Bottom at the Climate Talks, Forest Cover:
A Global Forest Coalition Newsletter on International Forest Policy, Nr.
11, Februar 2004.


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