Photo Essay from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference Field Trip Hosted by Veracel

On Wednesday, July 29th, around 200 participants divided into 4 groups toured various facilities owned by pulp company Veracel.  This photo essay explains what we learned on the field trip.

Photos and commentary by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project (Exception: the last two photos are by GJEP Co-Director/Strategist Orin Langelle)

First Stop: Veracel Forest Preserve where children and visitors are “educated” about the importance of eucalyptus pulp and the “greenness” of Veracel.  Note that the human figure in the poster is exhibiting total dominance over the trees.

On the way into the forest preserve, children and visitors are presented with a native forest monster and representations of some of the scary wildlife that live in forests.

Veracel forest monster

Scary forest raptor

On the way through the 6,000 hectare forest preserve (80% of which is forested), a mixture of formerly logged lands and primary forest, participants were treated to a canopy rope bridge and photo shoots with 4 large trees we encountered on the path.  Most of the forest contained very young trees.

canopy rope bridge

one of the four big trees

The primary Mata Atlantica forest once stretched over much of the eastern edge of Brazil.  Large swaths of it have been eliminated and replaced with eucalyptus plantations.  Veracel took us next to the tree nursery where they propogate the 17 million eucalyptus clones they produce annually.  Henry Ford would have been proud.  The nursery was a very efficient assembly line operation.

Taking Cuttings to propagate new clones

"Clonal Garden"

Assembly line for clones 1

Assembly line for clones 2

Assembly line for clones 3

All the happy clones together

The next step for these clones, of course, is to be transformed into large-scale monoculture eucalyptus plantations.  Veracel harvests 11,000 of these 7 year old eucalyptus trees every day for their pulp mill.  Virtually the entire timbering operation is heavily mechanized to employ the fewest people possible, and uses an assortment of chemicals, from a petroleum-based hydrophilic polymer that is planted with the seedlings, to glyphosate-based herbicides that are applied to keep out competition plants, to the insecticides used to control “pests.”  In this way, Veracel can maximize its potential for profits.

The eucalyptus plantation

The mechanical harvester rapidly gobbles up the trees

The jaws of the harvester up close and personal

This employee, clearly bored, awaits his cue to show the visitors how the mechanized planter works

After a couple of tries, they were finally successful in showing how the mechanized planter works

The result. Note the petroleum-based polymer gel at the base of the seedling

Despite several quotes from Rachel Carson, John Muir, Emerson and other naturalists posted at the nature preserve, the plantations rely heavily on chemical applications.  The guide informed me that the trees get three applications of toxic herbicide over their 7 year life span.  As a result, the plantations of non-native trees are devoid of understory plants or biodiversity.  Social movements in Brazil call them “green deserts” for this reason.

the ground beneath the plantation is barren of other life forms

Rachel Carson quote in the Veracel forest preserve. Too bad they don't listen to her.

The ultimate purpose for the clones:

massive pile of eucalyptus chips at the Veracel pulp mill

From standing trees to boiled, bleached pulp in one day

The reason Veracel needs to greenwash their image: their giant stinking, polluting pulp mill

The stench of the pulp mill. "It smells like money".

Veracel's vision for the future: Make more money!

One of the obstacles, according to Veracel, of their achieving maximum productivity, is people breaking into their plantations.  On the way to the plantation, we passed what appeared to be an MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) encampment–black plastic shelters with a red MST flag flying high over them.  Indeed, elsewhere in Brazil, the MST as well as indigenous Tupinikim and Guarani populations, have taken over eucalyptus plantations and found better uses for the land.  In the case of the MST, as encampments for landless peasants.  In the case of the Indigenous Peoples, as a retaking of their ancestral lands from which they were forcibly removed when the timber company was given the land for plantations.  The cases we had previously documented were on Aracruz Cellulose land in Espirito Santo, but it seems to be occuring here in Bahia as well.  Below are photos from the encampments in Esprito Santo:

MST encampment in former eucalyptus plantation. The sign says "Eucalyptus plantations are not forests". Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Indigenous community re-takes traditional lands, removes eucalyptus plantation. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Eucalyptus plantations have been such a smashing success in other parts of the world, that now GE tree company ArborGen is trying to engineer them to be cold-tolerant so that the joy of eucalyptus plantations can be spread to new and untrammeled lands.  In the United States they hope to sell half a billion GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees annually for plantations from Texas to Florida.  They’re invasive? Flammable?  Dry up ground water and worsen droughts?  So?  What’s your point.  They will make a lot of money for a few powerful people.

To learn more or to sign our petition to the US Department of Agriculture opposing GE eucalyptus in the US, click here

Comments Off on Photo Essay from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference Field Trip Hosted by Veracel

Filed under Biodiversity, Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Latin America-Caribbean, Pollution, Posts from Anne Petermann

0 Responses to Photo Essay from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference Field Trip Hosted by Veracel

  1. Hi Justine,

    One of industry’s favorite excuses for plantations is that they will help protect natural forests by providing wood. Unfortunately this is a big lie. If you look at satellite images of where plantations grow today and compare them with what grew there 10, 20, 30 years ago, you will find that they were native forests, native grasslands, or agricultural lands. But mostly native forests. So far from protecting native forests, plantations REPLACE native forests. And because plantations are more valuable, per hectare, than native forests, native forests are constantly at risk from endlessly expanding plantations. Brazil has plans to massively expand their eucalyptus plantations, even into the Amazon rainforest. But there is an additional problem. Because the UN does not differentiate between a plantation and a forest, companies can clearcut a forest, then plant a eucalyptus plantation and say that they are “reforesting”. It makes identifying exactly how much forest is being lost and converted to plantations each year very difficult.

    Yes, the problem is the demand for wood. We have to reduce the global demand–but especially the demand in industrialized countries–or we will not stop the scourge of plantations from continuing to replace forests. No it is not the “fault” of the plantations. You could compare them to landmines, in the wrong hands they cause massive destruction. But like landmines, they are inherently destructive, due to the fact that the current industrial model is for non-native fast growing species that use large quantities of water, require huge toxic chemical inputs and displace forest dependent communities and Indigenous Peoples. The future model is for trees genetically engineered to do highly unnatural things like kill insects. This will wreak unpredictable, irreversible havoc on the natural world which is why we have been campaigning for a ban on GE trees since 1999. For more info, go to


  2. Justine

    I just love our nature so much, that i can’t take blamings on one of our best option to reduce industries to get into natural forest that should be protected you know. Let them have a land so they can produce the wood they need so they keep outside forests and all the ecosystem that it contains that should be protected, not harvested.

  3. Justine

    I am a forestry student and i am working on ecological researches to save natural forest

  4. Reality check. Wow! Are you a forestry student or do you work for the paper industry?

  5. Justine

    Alright, I do not agree with southern companies ethics, uses of pesticides, problems with population and all etc. We have to understand that the problem is not the plantations but the people who own those companies. The only thing they seem to get right is to use a land to produce their pulp instead of harvesting the natural forest. Those companies produce pulp to make paper, right. They don’t want forest but wood ! Of course plantations are not forest, it is not the purpose of it ! they are a field of a cultivated plants, just like corn or wheat ! And what do we use to cultivate these … pesticides right ? And not only we are polluting the soil but we ingest them as well. A much bigger crime for me than plantations. I don’t think it is right, I hate it, I just want people to realize that plantations are just a way to cultivate a primary ressources that allows us to produce all types of paper for exemple.
    For the certification it is obviously a proof of protection for the natural forest as they are attributed to company that manage the ressources with sustanibility. But I don’t think this company is certified, but if she were that would be a proof that she contributes to protect natural areas by not touching it by raising productivity on definate surface.
    Let’s do some math. For example, In boreal forest in Canada (sorry i have no idea of southern country trees’ productivity) a forest of natural black spruce is composed of 125m3/ha. A plantation produces more than 300m3/ha. If the company needs 10 000m3 What would you prefer ? That it cuts down 80ha of natural forest, chasing Fauna outs, destructing soils or that they harvest 33ha of their own land with adapted vehicles ? Moreover they will be way more careful with their lands as they have to re-use it everytime …..
    Thats why plantations are encouraged by research centers in biology conservation as they limit the harvesting of natural forest.
    And about the “fauna desert” that plantation creates you would be surprised by the number of animals that colonize them ! Check out for example of owls in north america.

    Moser, B. et Keith, H. 2004. Wintering owl use of hybrid poplar plantations and surrounding cover types. Northwestern Naturalist, 85(1):11-15.

    They are colonizing at super high rates plantations because they offer the perfect roosting site for exemple.
    And finally, does a land crop contains more biodiversity than a plantation ? Not sure …. And they have the exact same use … Produce primary ressource. Which the wood is ….

    Anyway, you can blame that company for everything if you want to, but don’t blame plantations are they are a way to stop industries harvesting our natural forests any longer.

  6. Well we can agree that genetically engineered trees will interfere with nature. But just because plantations are certified doesn’t mean they protect natural forests. Plantations are a monoculture, use more pesticides and herbicides that contaminates the natural world with more poisons. Plantations are devoid of biodiversity. Plantations are not forests. Please look into this issue further and if you can actually produce documentation that plantations protect natural forests, please share that.

    And when you say “If they can grow what they need on a lesser surface, that means that they don’t have to harvest huge amount of natural forest ( which are less productive) for the same wood they need…” Who are they? Are they the transnational corporations who make profits for the wood “they” need?

    Look into history and see how dictatorships in some South American and African countries gave land to transnational timber corporations that forced Indigenous Peoples, small farmers and others off of their traditional lands. Plantations are bullshit.

    Thanks for your comments. It helps us shed light on plantations. More more in-depth information, please go to the World Rainforest Movement’s web site

  7. Justine

    to stop blaming plantations*

  8. Justine

    As an agriculture student Im pretty sure you know that productivity is improved for food making so we can produce moss on a smaller surface. Well In forestry that’s the same thing … If they can grow what they need on a lesser surface, that means that they don’t have to harvest huge amount of natural forest ( which are less productive) for the same wood they need, which are then protected… Plantations are strongly recommended for conservation issues, so natural forest can be untouched. And they are certified FSC, SFI and CSA. Now I do not agree with the genetically improved trees because i think we shouldn’t interfer with nature. But, we can improve productivity by picking up the best trees and generates sons and daughters from them that will grow faster and stronger. I really think it is time for ecological organization to blame plantations are they are the first way to protect natural forests without breaking down economy and leaving peoples without jobs ….

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  15. Tuhina Bose

    I am an agriculture student,I am sad that this is what we call PROGRESS. I wish as a human race we had a more holistic view towards life,one analogy for what is being done in this photoessay ,cud be” make all unwanted humans non-existent.Arn,t the tribals who are landless and jobless, being treated like weeds, slowly getting eliminated.” Does that mean that only the strong and powerful hava the right to survive?

  16. It is all exported for production of paper.

  17. jwhitebear

    So the time is now, that genetically mutated forests and so-called food should be grown and called improvements to better serve the ever growing human population of our Mother Earth. Sad. Makes me think the population should be thinned some. We should start with the attorneys and work toward the political arena from there.

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  19. Thank you for posting all this information about the Conference and Veracel. I live in Brazil, and I just did a quick search in the sites of the two main newspapers in Sao Paulo and the Brazilian google for news on Veracel and Aracruz’s corruption and no mention of it except for the MST, which as always, is reported in the news invading the company’s plantations and called criminals. I haven’t found anything about the conference in the local internet, except on the Veracel’s site. It’s a pity the background story isn’t promoted here. I’m glad I’ve found your blog. Best wishes!