Tag Archives: lawsuit

Court loss won’t stop environmentalists’ battle against modified-eucalyptus trees

Environmentalists are vowing to continue their fight against genetically engineered “frankentrees” after losing a test case in Florida earlier this month.

“We’re not terribly discouraged,” said Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and the coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign.

“We’ll wait until the next stage of the regulatory process and intervene there,” said Mike Stark, communications director for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that aimed to block field tests of genetically modified eucalyptus trees across the South.

The trees in question were developed by Arborgen, a joint venture of Memphis-based International Paper, MeadWestvaco Corp. and New Zealand-based Rubicon Ltd.

Industry expects the fight to continue.

Eucalyptus trees are not native to North America. They grow much quicker than native trees, but typically do not survive freezing temperatures. Arborgen has aimed to engineer hybrids that survive freezing weather and are sterile.

International Paper is interested in developing plantations of the fast-growing Australian hardwood throughout the southeastern U.S. to provide pulp for making paper and raw materials for biofuel refiners.

In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow the planting and flowering of 260,000 genetically engineered hybrids of eucalyptus trees at 28 test sites in seven southeastern states.

The Sierra Club blasted the decision as tantamount to commercial approval. Joining with the Center for Biological Diversity and four other environmental organizations, they challenged the approvals in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that they violated federal environmental regulations and decision-making rules.

On Oct. 6, U.S. Dist. Judge K. Michael Moore ruled against the environmentalists on every count. He rejected the argument that the large number of plantings allowed amounted to commercialization, then dismissed several of the environmentalists’ objections as irrelevant to a process for allowing limited scientific tests.

Reports from the Government Accountability Office and the USDA’s Office of Inspector General that criticized the department for poor management of field tests of genetically engineered organisms “have no bearing on this matter,” he ruled, because they did not address the specific field tests proposed for eucalyptus trees, but “only the agency’s handling of genetically engineered organisms generally.”

Stark said the next step would be to wait until the USDA takes up Arborgen’s petition to deregulate the genetically engineered eucalyptus hybrid. Deregulation would allow anyone to plant the hybrids anywhere without regulatory review.

“We would expect them to call for public comment and do an environmental impact statement,” which would give environmentalists more opportunities to intervene, he said.

“This has prepared us for that process,” Petermann added.

Biotech companies expect environmentalists to object when they seek to deregulate a product in order to commercialize it.

This lawsuit, however, troubled the whole biotech industry, said Nancy Hood, director of public affairs and sustainability for Arborgen, “because they were challenging scientific trials, not commercialization or commercial plantings.”

“It was really extreme,” she said. “It was like saying, ‘We aren’t interested in science.'”

While the battle in court was fought over differing interpretations of arcane federal regulations, the real battle is between two very different, but equally speculative, views of the future.

For the timber and forest industries, genetically engineered eucalyptus offers a way for timber-related companies and communities to survive and compete with Brazil and supply the pulp needed to meet demands for paper and the feedstock to produce biofuels to power America’s transportation system.

“Proceeding with the field trial research is critical to determine if these highly productive hardwood trees can become a new sustainable source of wood for pulp and paper, and for renewable energy — including biopower and biofuels — in the southeastern United States, where many communities depend on the timber and emerging renewable energy industries for their livelihoods,” said Tom Ryan, senior manager public relations, International Paper.

That assumes that biofuels will compete effectively with oil sands, natural gas and electricity to power the cars of the future.

For environmentalists, genetically engineered eucalyptus is a 21st century kudzu vine, an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

Petermann said that International Paper has said it wants to plant 42 million acres of eucalyptus forest in the southeastern U.S. Since eucalyptus trees take up twice as much water as do pine trees, that would reduce the water levels of nearby streams by 20 percent while layering the ground with highly flammable leaf litter and depriving native wildlife of food, she said.

If the engineered sterility isn’t 100 percent effective and eucalyptus trees spread into the wild and displace native species, it would be worse. Larger areas would become forested with trees that don’t support native wildlife, and that burn more readily than native species and siphon water out of streams, she said.

Either way, she said, it would be disastrous for the environment and for all the companies and communities that rely on hunting, fishing, bird-watching and other forms of nature tourism for their livelihoods.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, GE Trees

Listen to This Week’s Earth Minute on KPFK Los Angeles: GE Rice Contamination Settlement

Genetic rice lawsuit in St. Louis settled for $750 million

Listen to the Earth Minute on KPFK by going to the following link and forwarding to minute 35:06.


Late in the afternoon of Friday July 1st, just before the holiday weekend, Bayer CropScience agreed to pay $750 million to farmers in five states due to the contamination of the U.S. rice supply with Bayer’s LibertyLink GMO rice in 2006.  This GMO rice had not been approved for human consumption, yet somehow found its way into the rice supply.

Because of the rice contamination scandal, Rice futures plunged, and Europe and Japan banned the import of U.S. rice, which devastated US rice farmers. Many farmers had to leave fields fallow, plant lower-value crops or spend money cleaning equipment of contaminated rice.

The first of what would eventually grow to more than 400 lawsuits representing 11,000 plaintiffs were filed within weeks. Many were eventually consolidated in federal court in Saint Louis Missouri.

The attorney for the farmers believes the outcome sends a signal to those who develop genetically modified seeds that they need to keep those seeds very carefully contained…”

Other groups, like ours, believe that GMOs just shouldn’t be grown in the first place.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth Show this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project

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Filed under Climate Change, Earth Minute, Food Sovereignty, Genetic Engineering, Posts from Anne Petermann

Daniel Ravicher and Mark Kastel on KPFK Radio’s Sojourner Truth Show

Listen to this week’s interview with Mark Kastel and Daniel Ravicher as they discuss the preemptive lawsuit filed against Monsanto on behalf of 60 farmers, organic agriculture organizations and seed companies. Global Justice Ecology Project partners with Margaret Prescod and the Sojourner Truth show weekly to provide these interviews.

Click here to listen!

Mark Kastel is co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a progressive farm policy research group based in Wisconsin and acts as its Senior Farm Policy Analyst. He directs its Organic Integrity Project.

Daniel Ravicher is PUBPAT’s Executive Director and a Lecturer in Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. 

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Filed under Actions / Protest