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2-Plants: FAO urges caution over GM trees



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

TITLE:  UN body urges caution over GM trees
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by James Njoroge
        http://www.scidev.net/content/news/eng/un-body-urges-caution-
over-gm-trees.cfm
DATE:   22 Jul 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


UN body urges caution over GM trees

Increasing use of biotechnology in the forestry sector has led the UN
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to call for an international
framework to assess the safety of genetically modified (GM) trees before
they are commercialised.

Overall, genetic modification activities in forestry are taking place in
at least 35 countries, with the vast majority of research still
restricted to the laboratory, said the FAO on 13 July.

Most of this research is conducted in Europe and North America, but Asia
now account for 14 per cent of the global total, while Africa and South
America each produce just one per cent.

By genetically modifying trees, researchers hope to improve the quantity
and quality of wood they produce, and to give the trees resistance to
insects, diseases and herbicides. Both the timber and paper industries
could benefit from such research, says the FAO.

It warns, however, against rushing to commercialise GM trees before
conducting environmental risk assessments according to protocols agreed
upon nationally and internationally.

"The issue goes beyond the country level, since pollen flow and seed
dispersal do not take account of national boundaries, and wood is a
global commodity," says Pierre Sigaud, a forest genetic resources expert
at FAO.

Sigaud says a framework to govern research and application of GM forest
trees on a case-by-case basis is essential.

China leads the developing world in applying biotechnology to forestry.
In 2002, it became the first country in the world to commercially release
genetically modified (GM) trees, planting 1.4 million poplars (Populus
nigra). In addition, nine trials of GM trees are underway there.

The GM poplars contain a bacterial gene that produces a toxin that kills
insects feeding on the trees.

The risks associated with planting GM trees include pathogens and insect
pests developing resistance to the modified traits, and modified genes
'escaping' into other species.

Sigaud adds that a lack of reliable information makes it difficult to
reach conclusions on the potential impacts of GM forests.

"The economic value of forest products in global trade is far less than
that of agricultural products, and an economic rationale for employing
biotechnology in forestry has not yet been clearly demonstrated."

Genetic modification is just a small part of overall applications of
biotechnology in forestry. Other techniques include cloning and efforts
to identify the entire genetic sequence -- or 'genome' -- of economically
important tree species.

Indian researchers, for instance, are using 'micropropagation' to clone
plants from tiny pieces of tissue. Brazil's Genolyptus project, which
focuses on understanding the genome of Eucalyptus trees, is described by
the FAO as "cutting edge" biotechnology research. The FAO says that,
apart from Kenya and South Africa, most African countries are far less
advanced in forest biotechnology than Asian and Latin American nations.


Related links:
FAO report on biotechnology in the forestry sector (December 2004)
http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/ae574e/ae574e00.htm


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

TITLE:  Biotechnology in forestry gaining ground
SOURCE: FAO, Italy
        http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2005/104906/
DATE:   13 Jul 2005

------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------


Biotechnology in forestry gaining ground

Research and applications of biotechnology in forestry are advancing
rapidly, according to a new FAO study.

13 July 2005, Rome - Research and applications of biotechnology in
forestry are advancing rapidly, FAO said today.

A significant majority of forest biotechnology activities, around 70
percent, is taking place in developed countries, according to a new
global study of biotechnology in forestry conducted by FAO, with the
United States, France and Canada being the most active players. India and
China are the most active of the developing countries and countries in
transition.

While forest biotechnology activities have spread to at least 140 tree
genera, the great majority of activities (around 60 percent) has been
focused on only six (Pinus, Eucalyptus, Picea, Populus, Quercus and
Acacia). Of the over 2700 biotechnology activities reported in the world
over the past 10 years, genetic modification accounts for around 19
percent only.

Overall, genetic modification activities in forestry are taking place in
at least 35 countries, with the vast majority apparently restricted to
the laboratory, with some supporting field trials, FAO said.

Worldwide, more than 210 field trials of genetically modified (GM) trees
are currently under way in 16 countries; most of the trials are being
conducted in the United States and are restricted largely to Populus,
Pinus, Liquidambar and Eucalyptus. Only China has reported the commercial
release of GM trees: around 1.4 million plants on 300-500 hectares in 2002.

Weighing the benefits and risks

"Genetic modification is not intrinsically good or bad," said Pierre
Sigaud, a forest genetic resources expert at FAO. "A regulatory framework
to govern research and application of genetically modified forest trees
on a case-by-case basis is essential. The issue goes beyond the country
level, since pollen flow and seed dispersal do not take account of
national boundaries, and since wood is a global commodity," he added.

The potential traits of interest for GM trees are increased wood
production, improved wood quality and resistance to insects, diseases and
herbicides. In addition, production and processing costs of wood or chips
could be reduced, as well as financial and environmental costs for pulping.

But deploying GM trees is not without risks, FAO warned. Transgene
instability, plantation failure, poor wood quality, development of
tolerance to the modified trait by insects or disease organisms and the
escape of modified genes into natural ecosystems are potential risk factors.

"Given that genetic modification in trees is already entering the
commercial phase with GM Populus in China, it is very important that
environmental risk assessment studies are conducted with protocols and
methodologies agreed upon at national and international levels. It is
also important that the results of such research are made widely
available," the study stated.

"The economic value of forest products in global trade is far less than
that of agricultural products, and the economic rationale for employing
biotechnology in forestry has not yet been clearly demonstrated," Sigaud
said. "It is not possible yet to reach conclusions on the potential
impacts of genetically modified forests because of the lack of reliable
information."

"Since some 95 percent of the world's forests are natural or semi-
natural, plantation of genetically modified trees is likely to remain
relatively limited," Sigaud added.


Contact:
Maria Kruse
Information Officer, FAO
maria.kruse@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 56524
(+39) 34 814 16590 (mobile)


Related links
	- Preliminary review of biotechnology in forestry
http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/ae574e/ae574e00.htm
	- FAO Forest Genetic Resources website
http://www.fao.org/forestry/fgr
	- FAO Biotechnology website
http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp
	- "Are genetically modified trees a threat to forests?" (in pdf)
ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/y5507e/y5507e12.pdf
	- FAO Biotechnologies in Developing Countries
http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp
	- SOFO 2005 "Management, conservation and sustainable development of
forests" (in pdf)
ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/y5574e/y5574e05.pdf




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