By Will Bennington, May 28, 2013. Photos by Orin Langelle and Will Bennington. Source: Global Justice Ecology Project
Just a day after two Asheville, NC residents were arrested for interrupting a talk at the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference, hundreds of demonstrators descended upon the conference center, throwing the biggest industry event of the year into utter chaos.
The demonstration – the world’s largest ever against GE trees – lasted four hours, and included speakers, singing, chanting and street theatre.
As part of a international movement against extreme energy extraction, demonstrators included members of Earth First!, Tar Sands Blockade, Mountain Justice and anti-mountaintop removal activists. Local farmers, grandparents, children and students also participated.
The demonstration is a major milestone in the international Campaign to STOP GE Trees. The USDA is currently considering an application from GE tree company ArborGen to deregulate cold-tolerant GE eucalyptus in seven states in the southeastern US. Industry and activists alike recognize that massive public opposition is a major threat, influencing the USDA’s decision as well as the willingness of investors to sink cash into a highly controversial sector.
In addition to the threats posed by allowing the commercial release of GE eucalyptus in the southeastern US, many demonstrators voiced concerns about the impacts of industrial plantations, both GE and non-GE, on forest biodiversity. The US south is already ground zero for industrial pulp production, and is facing a major boom in plantations for biofuel production. If approved, many of these plantations could eventually be converted to GE eucalyptus or GE pine and poplar.
After two arrests on Monday, and the continuing threat of protest and actions, conference security was on elevated alert. Dozens of police officers stood guard for the duration of the demonstration.
All other environmental concerns aside, one common thread of the day was a concern over the corporate ownership of genetic material. Companies like ArborGen, which compares itself directly to Monsanto, could potentially claim ownership of forestland and trees if they become contaminated with their patented engineered traits. At the end of the day, several conference attendees addressed this concern with a group of demonstrators, agreeing that there are serious problems with private and corporate ownership of genetic material.