All posts by Peggy Evans

Warning: GM Trees Coming Soon to a Forest Near You

The worldwide movement against genetically-modified organisms (GMO\’s) has mostly focused on food and animals, but there is a general lack of knowledge about the genetics, physiology, and ecology of most genetically-modified (GM) tree species. In addition to the unknown effects humans will experience from eating fruits from these trees, there could also be disastrous effects on both the newly-engineered tree species and their native ecosystems in the future. These questions have prompted many anti-GMO and pro-forest activists to turn their attention to transgenic foods and to question their sustainability.

What used to be disdain for tree farms for their lack of aesthetics and clearcutting of hardwoods (resulting in \”value-added\” business) has become genetic fear. Trees are not just \”trees\” but a crop and GEO trees pose the risks of genetic pollution and toxicity to wildlife and a real threat to biodiversity. Genetic pollution from GEO plantation crops/trees threaten the stability of native ecosystems in a completely unpredictable, and potentially permanent way. Answers to questions about the threat they pose to biodiversity will not be known for generations.

There are many similarities between the environmental threats posed by transgenic (GMO/GEO) trees and those for agricultural crops — genetic pollution, invasiveness, effects on biodiversity. There are six important issues which have been ignored:

1) time and location factor, in that many tree farms are located in remote areas where constant vigilance against unanticipated problems is diffucult, if not impossible;

2) crop trees are managed in the centres of origin or close to natural species, increasing cross-pollination risk;

3) the effect transgenic trees will have on long-term site productivity;

4) unlike agricultural crops, trees have not been subject to the same degree of domestication & research, and current knowledge regarding the biology and ecology of tree species is inadequate;

5) the vast majority of current field trials only examine the direct effects of the manipulated traits.

6) the environmental impact of accelarated growth or completely sterile trees are not considered.

The (mad) scientists now are developing tree fruit engineered to provide medications to the poor and undernourished. As if working toward fundamental challenges to social injustice, the science industry and various \”development\” programs is not the answer to hunger. Correcting these deeply rooted problems of colonialism and capitalism with frankenfoods is supposed to be. GEO companies are now researching on sugar cane, coffee, bananas, papaya, kiwifruit and cocoa. What next?

In 1999, agricultural economist Charles Benbrook defined \”sustainable agriculture\” according to the following conditions:

  • Provides a reasonable rate of return to farmers, to sustain farm families, agricultural infrastructure, and rural communities;
  • Assures a reasonable rate of return to public and private providers of farm inputs (seeds, fertilizers, etc), information, services, and technologies;
  • Preserves and regenerates soil, water, and biological resources upon which farming depends, and avoids adverse impacts on the natural environment;
  • Increases productivity and per-acre yields at least in step with the growth in demand;
  • Adheres to social norms and expectation in terms of fairness, equity, compliance with regulations, food safety, and ethical treatment of workers, animals, and other creatures that share agricultural landscapes.

Many non-governmental organizations all over the world have called for a moratorium on the use or release of GMO\’s until more research has been done on their effects. Meanwhile, protests continue all over the world and more and more people are looking to certified organic products as safer and more sustainable.

Increasingly serious economic surprises and setbacks for farmers are occurring because many emerging biotechnologies are more expensive to bring to market. Biotechnology results from mergers of seed companies and pesticide companies. As pesticide companies try to raise the profit margins of their new acquisitions, the cost of seed and chemicals will probably continue to rise for farmers. Genetically modified crops are requiring more herbicides than farmers were initially led to believe they would, thus driving up weed management costs. Traditionally farmers get reliable information from land grant colleges, but GMO crops are developed in secret by for-profit companies so farmers are privy to only a small amount of the info available on the crops.