Activists brutally arrested as zombie “franken-tree” protestors blockade GE tree conference

Thursday, May 30.  Source: Global Justice Ecology Project

Photo: Langelle/ for GJEP

Photo: Langelle/ for GJEP

Asheville, NC –  Three demonstrators were brutally arrested today at the controversial Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference.  They attempted to use GMO caution tape to wrap a bus full of conference participants headed for an upscale dinner at the Biltmore Estate. Dozens more groaning zombie “franken-tree” protesters banged pots and pans and chanted anti-genetically engineered tree slogans.

Will Bennington, a campaigner with Global Justice Ecology Project and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, was one of those arrested for blockading the buses. Bennington said, “We’re blocking the buses because these conference attendees are on their way to dinner at the Biltmore Estate.  Built by the Vanderbilts, the Biltmore is a symbol of the wealthy and powerful, and one of the birthplaces of industrial forestry in the US, which wiped out forests from coast to coast. The tree biotechnology industry is continuing this destructive legacy.  They plan to cut down native forests and replace them with GE tree plantations grown solely for the profit of the elite at the expense of local communities and biodiversity.”

Protesters are demanding a ban on the release of GE trees into the environment. South Carolina-based ArborGen, a major conference sponsor, has a request pending with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to release millions of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees annually for planting in vast plantations across the US South.

On Monday, two Asheville residents were arrested after invading the conference and disrupting the opening day. On Tuesday, hundreds of people marched through the streets and rallied outside the conference hotel as conference participants took part in a workshop on the future of forest biotechnology.  It was the largest anti-GE tree protest to date.

Wednesday, the conference organizers had planned a field trip for conference participants but it was canceled due to the threat of protests.

A local woman with Katuah Earth First!, one of those arrested today said, “Trees should not be burned for fuel – this is a false solution to climate change.  Monoculture plantations for bioenergy are already displacing Indigenous Peoples and local communities all over the world, and they will have a major impact on rural livelihoods and biodiversity here in the US South.”

She continued, “GE trees like ArborGen’s highly flammable, water-intensive and invasive eucalyptus would be especially devastating to our communities in the face of drought and extreme weather due to climate change.”

The Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference, taking place in Asheville from 26 May to 1 June, is the premier international conference on GE trees, organized by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Ending the Era of Extreme Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering

0 Responses to Activists brutally arrested as zombie “franken-tree” protestors blockade GE tree conference

  1. Now you scientists know how the “Climategate” scientists feel. Keep up the good work. Let science and evidence dictate our course over anger, fear and activist claims.

  2. Jason

    I didn’t see the actions of the police, though I can imagine that they were unnecessarily rough. Predictable, if unacceptable.

    That issue aside, Tim makes some good points that you should think about. You (and at least a few in your group whom I talked with) seem to fully subscribe to guilt by association. Case in point – I was having a quite reasonable and substantive discussion about GE trees with some of the protestors, and more than once had insults hurled at me by other protesters. Why is this? I would think that you would council the group before the protest that civil dialogue with folks from the meeting is a good thing. Unless you had headphones on through the whole meeting you know that many of us are doing good work on bio/genetic diversity/climate change mitigation/adaptation that has nothing to do with GM. Why blow the tiny GM aspect of the meeting so out of proportion? Why refer to the meeting as an ‘industry conference’ when 98% of attendees are from universities (most of whom have never had funding from industry). We live in a world of grey whereas you’re mind seems to only see black and white. It’s as counterproductive when it comes from the left as it is when it comes from the right.

    • Hi Jason,

      The protests were targeted at the GE trees industry because of the imminence of the threat they pose in the US South. People are outraged that ArborGen is planning to sell millions of GE eucalyptus trees (non-native, invasive, explosively flammable) in their region, with no thought to the short or long term ramifications. They were a key sponsor of the conference. Likewise, IUFRO is a big backer of GE trees–not to mention large-scale unsustainable industrial forestry.

      So maybe you can understand why people were so angry.

      You are right that many scientists and students were there who plan to use their research for positive actions, but unfortunately, a lot of that research will be used by corporations for highly dubious purposes. There are many forestry schools that get significant funding from the timber industry, for example–like Steve Strauss’ work at Oregon State University. The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions…

      • Jason

        Again, guilt by association. IUFRO is a loosely organized collection of scientists that work on all aspects of forestry, from ecology to conservation to genetics. To say that IUFRO supports anything is meaningless. Certain folks in IUFRO may support GE trees, but I can tell you that many others do not.

        I’d rather have large scale forestry that aims at producing as much wood as possible on as little land as possible, rather than the alternative which is clearing native forests and waiting for them to naturally regenerate, then clearing them again.

  3. Croatan Earth First!

    Reblogged this on Croatan Earth First!.

  4. For an idea of what the tree engineers think about activists getting brutalized by the police, check out the comments at the end of this post:

    • Tim

      There was no police brutality, I was on the bus and these people were lying on the road, which is very dangerous for them and illegal. This is why they were cuffed and removed from their horizontal position on the roads surface.

      There is no reason to shout abuse and give scientists the finger, we are all polite people and the majority of us work in conservation. Biotechnology is a very broad term, and out of 159 presentation only two mentioned GMOs, one of these was to bring back the American chestnut from the edge of extinction. Please be polite in future, we would be more than happy to talk to people, so long as they are not threatening us! The protestors rude behaviour was pathetic, and did more to put many University professors, academics and young scientists off side, rather than to generate support, a very destructive week for your cause, you lost me, well done!!!!

      • Hi Tim,

        Sorry you were offended. The protesters did not, in fact, lie down in the road, they went into the road with GMO Caution Tape for a symbolic action on the bus, the police overreacted and threw them on the pavement and arrested them. And yes, did so brutally. Anyone who wants to see for themselves can look at the photo essay. That can be found here:

        People are outraged at the idea of dangerous and destructive GE trees being released into the environment to escape into or contaminate native forests. GE tree engineers have called us terrorists for merely holding signs, Wout Boerjan has complained that GMO protesters were not hit hard enough when beat by the police in Belgium and has spoken of his dreams of protesters frying on his high voltage fence surrounding his poplar field trial. These are not polite comments. They elicit anger. You might speak to your colleagues about their behavior. It is quite unacceptable.

        –Anne Petermann for the GJEP Team

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