Tag Archives: GE Eucalyptus

BREAKING: Protesters disrupt genetically engineered trees corporate event

May 14, 2014. Source: Global Justice Ecology Project

Industry Warned: “Plant genetically engineered trees and expect resistance”

Tallahassee, FL (US) – Demonstrators today interrupted an event hosted by genetically engineered (GE) tree company ArborGen, warning participants to expect growing protests should they plant GE trees. The event brought together landowners and foresters from the industrial tree plantation industry and featured top ArborGen scientists working on GE trees.

“We sent a clear message to participants — plant genetically engineered trees and expect resistance,” said Keith Brunner, an organizer with Global Justice Ecology Project. “Invasive GE eucalyptus, planned for deployment across the US South, would irrevocably devastate native ecosystems, exacerbate droughts and lead to catastrophic firestorms. This must be stopped before it is too late.”

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected soon to accept public comments following the release of its draft Environmental Impact Statement on ArborGen’s request to commercially sell millions of potentially flammable and invasive genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, for planting across the US South from South Carolina to Texas. The USDA will ultimately issue a final decision approving or denying ArborGen’s request.

GJEP member Keith Brunner and Stephanie Hall, Toad Clan, Seminolee Miccosukee, interrupt an ArborGen event. Photo: Will Bennington/GJEP

Stephanie Hall, a member of the Toad clan of the Seminolee Miccosukee People, interrupts the ArborGen event. Photo: Will Bennington/GJEP

If approved, ArborGen’s freeze-tolerant GE eucalyptus, designed to be planted in industrial tree plantations for bioenergy and pulp production, would be the first commercially approved GE forest tree in the US. Approval of GE eucalyptus could open the door to approval for other GE species like GE pine and poplar, which pose additional risks due to the likelihood of contamination of wild relatives in native forests.

Stephanie Hall, a member of the Toad Clan of the Seminolee Miccosukee People, also pointed out the link between ArborGen’s plans and the history of genocide against Indigenous Peoples in the region: “ArborGen could not be planning for the development of vast industrial plantations of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees on land in Florida without the previous history of genocide and forced removal of Indigenous men, women, children, plants and animals from the region. People should not be complicit in this — we must ban genetically engineered trees.”

“Early last year, the USDA received nearly 40,000 comments opposing ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus, with only a handful received in favor,” stated Anne Petermann,Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.  “Then in May of 2013, the international Tree Biotechnology conference in Asheville, NC was protested and disrupted for almost a week by hundreds of protesters. These protests and today’s disruption are only the beginning. As the USDA considers ArborGen’s request to legalize GE trees, opposition to these trees and the threats they pose to communities and native forests continues to grow.”


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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Commodification of Life, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Indigenous Peoples

Kior falls after biofuel maker warns of default, bankruptcy

Note: One of the largest attempts yet at manufacturing liquid biofuels from trees seems to be failing.  This is great news for campaigners and communities organizing to stop genetically engineered (GE) trees and biofuels in the southeastern US.  GE tree company ArborGen – which is currently seeking USDA approval to begin selling their cold-tolerant, GE eucalyptus trees – has repeatedly mentioned the cellulosic biofuel industry as an important market for their GE tree seedlings.  Maybe now ArborGen won’t have such an easy time turning the southeast into the plantation-riddled gas tank of the US they’ve been promoting to investors for so long.

-The GJEP Team

By Christopher Martin, March 18, 2014.  Source: Bloomberg 

061512 Kior 14Kior Inc. (KIOR:US), the Vinod Khosla-backed operator of the first U.S. commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plant, fell the most on record after management told regulators they have serious doubts about staying in business.

Kior declined 39 percent to 65 cents at the close in New York, the most since its June 2011 initial public offering at $15.

The company needs additional capital by April 1 and its only potential source of near-term financing is a March 16 commitment letter from billionaire investor Khosla, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday.

The commitment for as much as $25 million is contingent upon meeting certain milestones. The company shut down its Columbus, Mississippi, biofuel plant in January to upgrade the manufacturing process, and “until we restart the Columbus facility, we expect to have no production or revenue from that facility,” according to the filing.

If the company doesn’t receive additional financing, it will “likely” default on its debts and may file for bankruptcy. “We have substantial doubts about our ability to continue as a going concern,” the Pasadena, Texas-based company said in the filing.

Kior in October received $100 million from Khosla Ventures LLC and Gates Ventures LLC to expand production at the Columbus plant. The company makes transportation fuels from wood waste and non-food crops.

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USDA set to eat the poison apple

Note: Will Bennington is a campaigner with Global Justice Ecology Project.

-The GJEP Team

By Will Bennington, January 9, 2014. 

neal carterGenetically engineered apples may be the next novelty food item to hit markets, if Canadian company Okanagan Specialty Fruits wins the praises of the USDA.

In an article published Tuesday by the Seattle Times, the Arctic Apple, engineered to prevent browning and bruising, is described as an “economic disaster” by organic apple grower Henry House.  Industry groups and consumer advocates are also condemning what would be the first ever GE apple available for commercial production.

Concerns are far ranging, from the risk of contamination of non-GE and organic orchards via pollen transported by honey bees, to the unknown human health impacts of eating GE foods.  Some groups are concerned that that apple – which lacks a naturally occurring apple gene that aides in defense against pests – will increase the amount of pesticides used in apple orchards.  The Center for Food Safety features the Arctic Apple in its new report, Genetically Engineered Trees: The New Frontier of Biotechnology

Because the Arctic Apple doesn’t actually present a solution to any significant problem (not even an inconvenience, really), there is broad opposition among consumer advocates and other unlikely allies.  According to the Seattle Times, some industry groups are coming out against deregulation:
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Anti GE tree activists kicked off University of Florida campus, spied on by FBI

Note: Members of Global Justice Ecology Project and Everglades Earth First! maintain that UF officials cancelled a presentation on the risks of genetically engineered trees to protect their government and corporate relationships with the Department of Energy and GE tree company ArborGen.

Click here to sign the petition calling on the USDA to say NO WAY to ArborGen’s request to sell highly flammable, invasive, GE cold-tolerant eucalyptus by the millions for plantations from South Carolina to Texas.

-The GJEP Team

By Maureen Nandini Mitra, December 2, 2013. Source: Earth Island Journal

A few months ago, while reporting an article about genetically engineered trees for Earth Island Journal’s Autumn issue (read the story here), I had a mighty hard time locating plant biologists or genetic engineers at academic institutions who were willing to talk about the possible risks of growing GE trees in massive plantations. It seemed there was little debate over this controversial issue within the biotech community on college campuses — the very places where most of the research into GE trees is carried out.

Photo: Steve McFarland

Photo: Steve McFarland

So it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when I heard that a group of environmental activists who were scheduled to make a presentation on GE trees at the University of Florida in Gainesville last month were booted off the campus, charged with trespassing, and banned from the university grounds for three years. What did come as a bit of a surprise was news that the FBI, too, was keeping tabs on the activists.
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Beware of Genetically Engineered Trees

By Debbie Barker and Martha Crouch, Nov. 13, 2013, The Progressive

We should not let parts of the United States get overrun by genetically engineered trees.

But that is what is at risk today.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering whether to allow unrestricted planting of the first genetically engineered forest tree in the United States: eucalyptus engineered by ArborGen to grow in a colder climate. If approved, this would allow eucalyptus to be grown throughout a large part of the Southeast for the first time, where short-rotation plantations would be established to provide pulp for paper and biomass for energy.

ArborGen claims that its freeze-tolerant genetically engineered eucalyptus will grow faster and produce more wood per acre than either pine plantations or natural forests. The company stands to make a fortune if its request is approved. It predicts that its profits would increase from $25 million to $500 million in five years.

The burgeoning demand for hardwood pellets could further boost ArborGen’s profits. The United States is the largest exporter of wood pellets, shipping them to the European Union to co-fire power plants in mandated efforts to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and mitigate climate change. Although this sounds like a boon to the environment, studies show that while wood pellet biomass can lower sulfur dioxide emissions, other pollutants increase. And burning wood pellets may not lower overall greenhouse gas emissions as promised.

Growing genetically engineered eucalyptus presents other environmental problems.

For example, a U.S. Forest Service environmental assessment reported that these newfangled trees would use up at least twice as much water as native trees in the Southeast, potentially squeezing a region already experiencing water scarcity.

Eucalyptus, a highly flammable tree, also could increase risks from wildfires.

Proposed plantation management practices include use of pesticides, fertilizers and heavy equipment with negative impacts on water and soil.

And creatures that depend on natural forests will find little of use in monocultures of non-native eucalyptus — no nutritious nuts and berries, or edible leaves, to eat.

In the end, plantations stocked with genetically engineered trees could replace more biologically diverse landscapes, while also putting remaining forest ecosystems at risk.

Before taking this new path through the woods, we need long-term, comprehensive testing and analyses to determine whether genetically engineered trees lead to a sustainable future for all or simply to short-term profits for a few.

Debbie Barker is the international director of the Center for Food Safety, and the editor and co-author of the group’s new report, “Genetically Engineered Trees: The New Frontier of Biotechnology.” Martha Crouch is a former professor of plant molecular biology and an independent science consultant for this report. The authors can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org. Copyright Debbie Barker and Martha Crouch.

Photo: Flickr user Karen, creative commons licensed.

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The Lorax, Dr. King, genetically engineered trees and my grandchildren

Note: Steven Norris is a farmer and professor living near Asheville, NC.  In late May of this year, he participated in major protests against the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference along with GJEP, Dogwood Alliance, Earth First!, REAL Cooperative and other organizations.  GJEP is deeply appreciative of the work of Steve and others who took bold action that week to stop the threat of genetically engineered trees.

Below is the statement that Steve wrote for his court appearance.

You can take action to stop the threat of GE trees too. Please sign on to the petition calling on the USDA to reject ArborGen’s application for legalization of GE eucalyptus throughout the southeastern US here: http://bit.ly/stop-arborgen

–The GJEP Team

By Steven Norris, September 17, 2013.

Photo: Petermann/GJEP

Steve Norris disrupts the opening day of the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference in Asheville, NC in May of this year.  Photo: Petermann/GJEP

Many of us who are parents and grandparents have read Dr Seuss’ The Lorax to our children, or grandchildren. Some of us are the children of parents who read it to us.

No one can read the Lorax without wondering what the final words of this wonderful story means for us personally. After the Truffula trees have all been cut down to manufacture un-needed Thneeds, after the Swomee-Swans have all gone extinct, after the Brown Bar-ba-loots and the Humming Fish have disappeared, the old Once-ler ponders aloud the last warning of the lifted Lorax:


Photo: Langelle/photolangelle.org for GJEP

Photo: Langelle/photolangelle.org for GJEP

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What happened to biofuels?

Note: Take the following article with a grain of salt.  In fact, take it with a heaping tablespoon.  Advanced biofuels, which are still seemingly economically unviable without massive government subsidies, pose enormous ecological and social risks.  The food-vs-fuel debate is not to be taken lightly.  Across the world, agricultural communities have suffered after agreeing to plant biofuel crops in place of traditional food staples.  The returns promised by multinational companies rarely appear, and the monoculture crop systems require chemicals, deplete water supplies and interfere with traditional farming practices.  Often times, violent police or military intervention is required to remove communities from their traditional lands, paving the way for massive plantations of biofuel crops.

As the below article makes painfully clear, advanced biofuels necessarily require the use of controversial techniques involving synthetic biology, genetic engineering of plants – including trees like eucalyptus, poplar and pine – and the conversion of forests and grasslands to plantations, to produce the enormous quantity of biomass required to fuel an overgrown industrial economy with plant material.  This incessant tinkering with nature, which is far outpacing the ability to monitor the accompanied risks and negative impacts, could unravel unimaginable consequences on the foundational fabric of life.

The pipe dream of running a wholly unsustainable society on plant matter may well be dying before it wreaks havoc across the globe.  However, as oil giants like Shell read the writing on the wall – that oil, gas and other fossil fuels are running out – their push to maintain control over the world’s fuel supply by developing risky forms of biofuels must be challenged by social movements worldwide.  The bioeconomy is another false solution to the climate and ecological crises, further delaying the necessary transition away from a high consumption-based society that treats all living matter as a ‘resource,’ to a society that lives in harmony with the natural world, respecting and maintaining ecological boundaries and restoring degraded forests, soils, waters and communities.

-The GJEP Team

September 7, 2013. Source: The Economist

Image: Gillian Blease

Image: Gillian Blease

Scientists have long known how to convert various kinds of organic material into liquid fuel. Trees, shrubs, grasses, seeds, fungi, seaweed, algae and animal fats have all been turned into biofuels to power cars, ships and even planes. As well as being available to countries without tar sands, shale fields or gushers, biofuels can help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by providing an alternative to releasing fossil-fuel carbon into the atmosphere. Frustratingly, however, making biofuels in large quantities has always been more expensive and less convenient than simply drilling a little deeper for oil.

Ethanol, for instance, is an alcoholic biofuel easily distilled from sugary or starchy plants. It has been used to power cars since Ford’s Model T and, blended into conventional petrol, constitutes about 10% of the fuel burned by America’s vehicles today. Biodiesel made from vegetable fats is similarly mixed (at a lower proportion of 5%) into conventional diesel in Europe. But these “first generation” biofuels have drawbacks. They are made from plants rich in sugar, starch or oil that might otherwise be eaten by people or livestock. Ethanol production already consumes 40% of America’s maize (corn) harvest and a single new ethanol plant in Hull is about to become Britain’s largest buyer of wheat, using 1.1m tonnes a year. Ethanol and biodiesel also have limitations as vehicle fuels, performing poorly in cold weather and capable of damaging unmodified engines.

In an effort to overcome these limitations, dozens of start-up companies emerged over the past decade with the aim of developing second-generation biofuels. They hoped to avoid the “food versus fuel” debate by making fuel from biomass feedstocks with no nutritional value, such as agricultural waste or fast-growing trees and grasses grown on otherwise unproductive land. Other firms planned to make “drop in” biofuels that could replace conventional fossil fuels directly, rather than having to be blended in.

Governments also jumped on the biofuels bandwagon. George Bush saw biofuels as a route to energy independence, signing into law rules that set minimum prices and required refiners and importers to sell increasing amounts of biofuel each year. By 2013, America was supposed to be burning nearly 3,800m litres a year of “cellulosic” biofuels made from woody plants.
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EPA approves the use of one of the world’s worst invasive species for biofuel

Note: The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is currently considering the commercial deregulation of genetically engineered eucalyptus in 7 southeastern states.  Eucalyptus, which would be used in biofuel and pulp plantations, is also highly invasive, flammable and water-greedy.  Sign the petition calling on the USDA to deny GE tree company ArborGen’s application to deregulate their GE eucalyptus here.

-The GJEP Team

By Aviva Glaser, July 2, 2013. Source: National Wildlife Federation

Photo: Invasive Plant Atlas of the MidSouth

Giant reed can reach 20 ft or more in height Photo: Invasive Plant Atlas of the MidSouth

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a final rule which would allow for biofuels made from two well known invasive species to qualify for credits under the Federal Renewable Fuels Standard. The rule, which was finalized late Friday afternoon, allows two invasive grasses, Arundo donax (also known as giant reed) – assessed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as being a high-risk species – and Pennisetum purpureum (commonly called napiergrass), to qualify as cellulosic biofuel feedstocks under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“By allowing producers to grow these two invasive plants for biofuel production, EPA is recklessly opening a Pandora’s box,” said Aviva Glaser, legislative representative for agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation.”We want to move forward with homegrown sources of renewable energy, but by doing so, we don’t want to fuel the next invasive species catastrophe.”

The EPA rule, which was first proposed in January 2012, has been publicly opposed by more than 100 state, local, and national groups, including the National Wildlife Federation. Arundo donax is a non-native species that is a well-known and well-documented invader of natural areas. Currently listed as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive species, the plant is particularly destructive to riparian areas where it quickly becomes established. It has been shown to crowd out native-plant species, contribute to greater and more intense wild fires, and destroy habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the Least Bell’s Vireo. USDA, in their June 2012 weed risk assessment, concluded with very high certainty that Arundo donax is a high-risk species, noting that it is a “highly invasive grass” and a “serious environmental weed.”

The rule does require certain producers to put risk mitigation plans in place, but it has significant loopholes. Even with best management practices,wide-spread cultivation of these two highly invasive grasses is incredibly risky.

“Assuming that best management practices will prevent the escape of highly invasive weeds grown on a large scale is naïve, risky, and dangerous. We’ve seen time and time again with invasive species that good intentions can result in expensive unintended consequences,” Glaser said. 

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