Protesters denounce GE trees at a meeting of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative in 2011 (image by Anne Petermann/Global Justice Ecology Project)
The Global Justice Ecology Project’s Executive Director Anne Peterman was interviewed by Joan Brunwasser on OpEdNews yesterday on the dangers and drawbacks of the GE American chestnut tree being developed by researchers at SUNY Syracuse.
Interview by Joan Brunwasser, OpEdNews. 5 January 2015
JB: You’re up in arms against the humble chestnut tree. You recently wrote This Holiday Season say NO to GMO Chestnuts , a strong OpEd piece against it. I admit that I don’t know much about this subject and many of our readers are probably in the same boat. Would you educate us on the subject, please?
AP: Let me be clear first that my background is in forest protection. I have been working to protect the forests of the Northeast US and the world for the last 25 years. I started working on the threats posed by GE trees in 1999 because I worried about their impact on forests. The further I dug, the more concerned I became. So when we talk about the American chestnut tree, we need to understand that this tree was once a key part of the forest ecosystem in the Eastern US. There is an understandably strong desire to return it to that ecosystem. However, I do not agree with replacing wild American chestnut trees with genetically engineered facsimiles.
The reasons for concern about the GE chestnut are many, but one of the main problems is that the GE chestnut has been engineered with foreign DNA from wheat, a process which damages the genome and leads to numerous mutations. This means the engineered tree will likely have unanticipated and unpredictable consequences when released into a forest ecosystem. As we’ve seen time and again with GMO crops, these unanticipated consequences can be very damaging to biodiversity and wildlife, not to mention people. Just take a look at the iconic Monarch butterfly–it’s population is crashing due to the chemicals applied in abundance to herbicide resistant GMO crops. These herbicides are killing off the main food of the butterflies.
During the holidays, a time of the iconic roasting of chestnuts, scientists and activists are raising alarms about these efforts to genetically engineer and widely release GE American chestnuts into U.S. forests. Syracuse.com recently reported in “Breakthrough at SUNY-ESF” that researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry are growing 10,000 genetically engineered (GE) American chestnut trees to be distributed widely when approved.
The GMO chestnuts produced by these trees would be a new GMO food when concerns about GMOs and labeling are mounting.
Ada from the Solomon Islands. If biomass energy is not stopped, her islands will continue to drown. Photo credit: GJEP-GFC
In this week’s Earth Minute, Anne Petermann reports from Asunción, Paraguay, where she participated in a series of meetings put together by Global Forest Coalition to discuss deforestation and its underlying drivers, including biofuels and wood-based bioenergy (which will some day include genetically engineered trees, if Brazil has its way), and all over the continent, but especially here in Paraguay, cattle ranching and the livestock industry.
GJEP partners with the Sojourner Truth show on KPFK Los Angeles for weekly Earth Minutes on Tuesday and Earth Watch interviews on Thursday.
On November 14th, Syracuse.com published a response by Dr. Martha Crouch to a story they ran about SUNY ESF’s work on genetically engineered chestnut trees. Her response led to a very active conversation online. Here we’re publishing the full response, which was slightly cut and edited by Syracuse.com, the online source of the Syracuse Post-Standard.
Imagine this headline: “Bald eagles genetically engineered with pigeon genes to withstand toxic pesticides ready for release back into wild, say researchers.” Or, “Scientists genetically engineer endangered Florida panthers with synthetic DNA to resist deadly virus.”
by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
In a society rising up against the corporate capture of our food supply in the form of GMOs, a new untested and not-yet-approved GMO food is being promoted: the GMO chestnut.
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post, however, makes the silly assertion that this emerging new GMO food will be the answer to hunger and a step toward reconnecting with our food supply:
Repopulating our woods — and even our yards, our commons and our courthouse lawns — with [GE] American chestnuts would put a versatile, nutritious, easily harvested food source within reach of just about everyone. For those living on the margins, it could be a very real hedge against want. For everyone, it could be a hedge against distancing ourselves from our food, which can be the first step toward a diet low in the whole foods that virtually every public health authority tells us we should eat more of.
Really? A food source for the poor? People are going to be heading out with their burlap sacks collecting GMO chestnuts to roast, grind into flour or boil into candy? This is the answer to hunger? And what is the health impact of eating GMO chestnuts? Is this even being assessed? No.
By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
Ayoreo family in the Gran Chaco in Paraguay. This family and their community were relocated from their homeland by groups who want to exploit the Chaco. Photolangelle.org
Global Justice Ecology Project just arrived in Paraguay for two weeks of meetings on the themes of wood-based bioenergy, genetically engineered trees, the impacts of livestock and GMO soy production on global deforestation levels, and the solutions to climate change and deforestation provided by local communities maintaining and caring for their traditional lands.
Looking out of the Asunción hotel room at the wide majestic Paraguay river, and the expanse of forest on the other side, feeling the tropical humidity and listening to the rumble of distant thunder, it is hard to imagine that yesterday my GJEP colleague and I woke up in the midst of a major snowstorm in Buffalo, NY.
With the Right to Know labeling movement in full swing, GMOs are making headlines in every major website and newspaper in the U.S. However, genetically engineering food isn’t the only way that industry is trying to sneak their modified plants into our lives.
Companies like ArborGen, jointly owned by International Paper and MeadWestvaco among others, are pressuring congress and the USDA to give them permission to release billions of GE eucalyptus seedlings in vast plantations across the U.S. Teamed up with another false solution to climate change, bioenergy, these GE trees, also called GM trees or GMO trees, could invade our natural forests, altering them forever. Not to mention drying up ground water and causing massive firestorms. It is time to say no to corporate greenwashing and no to genetically engineered trees.
GE ecualyptus farms are a growing threat to biodiversity. This is a eucalyptus greenhouse in Brazil. Photo: Anne Petermann/GJEP
To prevent GE trees from contaminating natural forests, the Campaign to STOP GE Trees is circulating a petition demanding the USDA ban ArborGen and other entities from selling/distributing GE trees and creating “frankentree” planations across the U.S. The USDA is set to make a draft decision any day now. The more signatures the Campaign gets, the greater the chance we have to stop GE trees.
To Whom It May Concern, I demand that all petitions by GE tree company ArborGen to plant or sell their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees be rejected. In addition, I demand that all petitions to release dangerous GE trees into the environment be rejected as they are inherently destructive and the full extent of their social and ecological risks has not been assessed. Further, I demand the USDA ban planting GE trees and all such plantings of GE trees be banned outright.