Tag Archives: monoculture

Report Released on Dangers of Biofuels and Synthetic Biology

From the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) www.field.org.uk

FIELD has prepared a new briefing paper on next generation biofuels and synthetic biology.

The paper explores how synthetic biology is being used to create next generation biofuels, their potential risks and harms, and the need for clear thinking on domestic and international regulationFIELD has prepared a new briefing paper on next generation biofuels and synthetic biology.

To download the 5 page paper, click here

Note: while the paper is quite clear on the devastating impacts that have been documented from so-called “first generation” crop-based agrofuels, they do not adequately explain the threats from second generation “ligno-cellulosic” agrofuels–many of which are the same as those associated with first generation agrofuels: competition with food crops for land, deforestation to make room for agrofuel feedstocks (and all the emissions that result from this land use change), and of course the threats from trees genetically engineered to make better fuel.

For more on these threats from second generation agrofuels, download our booklet “From Meals to Wheels,” or our report “Wood-based Energy: The Green Lie

–The GJEP Team

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Tree Biotechnology Conference Wrap Up Blog Post Part II

Arraial d’Ajuda, Bahia, Brazil (Part II of II)

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

I will start off this post with a few juicy quotes:

From Ron Sederoff, considered the “father of forest biotechnology:”

• On Synthetic Biology (that is, developing completely synthetic life forms): “If we think we know how something works, we should be able to build it.”

Dude, seriously?  Life forms?  Build them?

• On the use of biocontrols: “We can use genetic engineering to conserve endangered species through biocontrols.  Like the mosquitoes, for example, that are being genetically engineered to fight malaria.”

Oh yeah, nothing could EVER go wrong with that…

• On where to plant GE trees: “just as the timber industry has done, in a large-scale on non-agricultural land.”

Non-agricultural land?  In the Lumaco District of Chile, the standard for tree plantations has been putting them on the agricultural lands of Indigenous Mapuche communities by using financial incentives that force small farmers to grow trees instead of food—leading to 60% of Mapuche families in the region living in poverty, with 33% in extreme poverty.


Next a little analysis from the other very interesting presentations; one on GE poplar field trials in Belgium, and one by an ArborGen bigwig on their plans to commerically sell GE eucalyptus trees for plantations across the southern U.S.

“Science, Society and Biosafety of a field trial of transgenic biofuel poplars”  by Wout Boergan –University of Ghent—Belgium

Wout gave a fascinating talk on Belgium’s attempts to create GMO low-lignin poplar trees for agrofuel (large-scale unsustainable biofuel) production.

He started by mocking Greenpeace for organizing protests against them.  Then showed a photograph from another protest by Indigenous Peoples against Belgium’s GE tree test plots that occurred during a meeting of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City.  It is worth noting that the photograph he used was taken by Global Justice Ecology Project Co-Director/ Strategist Orin Langelle…

IP Protest at the Belgian Mission in New York. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

As a result of these protests: the Belgian Minister decided not to allow the field trials to proceed.  The reasons he gave for denying the permit:

• The use of antibiotic resistance markers in the GE trees;

• The lack of protocols for studying the impacts on soils;

• The lack of protocols for studying the impacts of the genetic modification on the trees themselves;

• 40 reactions from the public against GE trees.

Howeveer, Wout was proud to add that “we went to a higher court and got the decision reversed.  We now have the most protected forest in the world.”

Their strategy for winning public acceptance of GE trees:

• Start with easy field trials

• Highlight the benefits we’ve seen from biotech crops

• Invite Opponents for Discussion

However, when GMO potatoes were brought in, the field trial was attacked in a public protest on May 29, 2011 (which destroyed 15% of the field trial), but according to Wout the protest backfired and there was a big backlash against the protesters.  His reaction to film footage he showed of the public protest with the demonstrators getting savagely beaten by the police was, “the Police didn’t hit hard enough,” and called the activist group, “one of the most hated groups.”  He concluded that the public protest against the GMO potato worked to the benefit of the GMO industry.


 “Making Biotech Purpose-Grown Trees a Reality” by Maude Hinchee of ArborGen


(Hinchee, by the way, previously spent 18 years with Monsanto).

Here is a snapshot of her talk:

ArborGen is in the process of “developing commercially in the US” GE cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees.

GE eucalyptus are needed, she argued, because “the hardwood inventory is going down, and the natural regenerated stands are harder to access and more expensive. As a result, we have to import hardwood for pulp.”

Ah ha, so too much forest has been destroyed, and it grows too slowly anyway, so let’s create millions of acres of GE eucalyptus plantations across the US South—good plan…

“And now we are facing competitors for the feedstock–for electricity, biofuels, wood pellets–which is driving a 33% increase in hardwood demand in the US.  Therefore we need trees that provide improved growth, processing, wood quality and shorter rotations.”

Yes, trees are being looked at to provide basically everything that fossil fuels are currently providing, causing a massive increase in demand for wood.  But I’ve got news for you, the exponentially increasing demand for wood cannot be sustainably met.  We have to DECREASE the demand—not increase it.  And we need to ensure that the communities that depend on the world’s remaining forests are the ones that govern them—not the state or corporations or the World Bank.  They have proven themselves wildly incompetant at protecting forests.  Genetically engineered tree plantations will only make the matter worse for forests.

But Maude had other ideas.  “For this reason, she said, referring to the lack of hardwoods, “ArborGen is developing freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees for use across the southern US” ArborGen’s eucalyptus plantation map on her powerpoint showed GE eucalyptus plantations growing from Texas to Florida and north to Arkansas and South Carolina.

ArborGen, she pointed out, is also involved in testing of non-GMO Urograndis eucalyptus hybrids in southern Florida. “But the pulp mills are not located in southern Florida, so we need cold-tolerant eucalyptus for other regions,” she insisted.

ArborGen, she said,  is having some success with freeze tolerant eucalyptus down to 16°F (-8 to -9°C).  At 48 months, these eucs also grew to 56 feet with 6.4 inch biomass yield.  The GE eucalyptus trees in Alabama performed well.  “We have submitted a petition for deregulation.”

And, why does Maude believe GE eucalyptus trees the best thing since sliced bread?  Well according to her (and flying in the face of numeorus studies on eucalyptus from regions all over the world):

“Gene flow from biotech eucalyptus trees is unlikely” because of:

• Limited natural reproduction;

• Poor seed production (low seed set and viability of seeds);

• no natural vegetative propogation;

• no sexually competitive native species.

(Well, eucalyptus grandis trees are actually listed as an invasive pest in Florida and eucalyptus globulus are a major invasive problem in California, where they contribute to wildfires.)

As to where these will be grown, she replied: “the plantations will replace pine plantations and pasture land.”

Really?  Tthe timber industry says they need to keep the pine plantations too.  International Paper was quoted as saying the GE eucalyptus plantations would double the acreage covered in plantations in the Southern US from 42 to 84 million acres.  And I’m afraid there is no way they will be able to accomplish this without wiping out more of the amazing biodiverse native hardwood forests in the south.

Let’s see, what other PR greenwash arguments for GE eucalyptus did she trot out?

• They use less water ‘per unit of biomass’ than other crops.  “We anticipate they will need no irrigation.”

Actually, one of the states where ArborGen is testing their GE eucalyptus is Texas, which is under extreme drought conditions.  Eucalyptus trees have a very deep tap root which allows them to access hard to reach ground water.  Unfortunately, this trait means  they can worsen droughts by drying up that ground water.

• They are very good for wildlife

Oh yes, non-native invasive, flammable vegetation is always good for native wildlife.

• They require less fertilization

Mature in under 7 years, yet don’t deplete soils?

• They require less herbicide application

I swear these points must have been written by ArborGen’s public relations department.  They are totally contradictory to the documented impacts of eucalyptus plantations.


But not to worry.  The Institute for Forest Biotechnology (IFB) is on the case, fervently developing voluntary standards for industry to enable them to certify GE tree plantations as sustainable.  Currently neither of the global certification schemes will certify GE trees.

On this point, Adam Costanza of the Institute of Forest Biotechnology argued, “We need to fight for what is right, good and responsible” and “ultimately, we want to see biotech trees used responsibly.”  (Good thing his presentation was listed under the Biosafety section…)

The IFB has even developed a book of “responsible use principles.”  It is amazing how they have determined how to “responsibly use” GE trees, even though almost no risk assessments have been done.  Their partners can be found at forestbiotech.org/partners.html.

Over all, biosafety concerns were largely ignored at this conference.  There were only four presentations on the topic (and only four people applied for it), and two of those presentations were basically about how to get around biosafety concerns so GE trees can get out there and commercialized.


The good news is that the next IUFRO Tree Biotechnology Conference is scheduled to take place in 2013 in Asheville, NC.  THAT should be a fun one!

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Filed under Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann

Blog Post for Friday: Eucalyptus Time!

From the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference in Arraial d’Ajuda, Bahia, Brazil 

Eucalyptus plantation. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

This morning was devoted to eucalyptus.  Hybrid eucalyptus followed by genetically engineered eucalyptus.  There was an interesting tension between researchers working with non-GMO clonal hybridization techniques of eucalyptus—such as we saw on our Veracel field trip on Wednesday—and those using transgenics; in other words, inserting genes from other species into the eucalyptus to try to get it to express very specific traits more quickly.

The second speaker of the day was from Brazil and explained in great detail the history of eucalyptus hybridization in Brazil, toward greater production.  This process had begun in the 60s, he explained, when they were getting 6 tons of pulp per hectare per year; to the projected production for 2015 when they expect to get 16 tons of pulp per hectare per year.

But in addition to increasing production, they are also altering wood quality and wood density, and even breeding for freeze tolerance.  The speaker, Teotonio de Assis seemed quite proud of the achievements made with these hybridization techniques over the past decades.  Indeed, a full-grown tree in seven years is something (something very destructive, but we’ll get into that later).

But then came Ziv Shani of Futuragene Ltd.  Futuragene is based in Brazil and Israel.

His presentation was called Eucalyptus Time! and emphasized why NOW is the time for genetically engineered eucalyptus.

First he started with the statistics.  There are currently 19.6 million hectares of eucalyptus plantations worldwide.  Brazil leads the pack with 4.7 million of those hectares, followed by India with 4.3, China with 2.6, South Africa with .58 and Thailand with .5 million hectares.

And because industry has perfected the standardization of the production methods for propogating clones of eucalyptus, now it is the time to genetically engineer them.  “The time is ripe!” he said enthusiastically.

And in this way, he expounded, eucalyptus can be developed for specific “off-takes.”  By this he meant different products such as ethanol, bioenergy, bioproducts, etc.

Then he showed two slides, one, a quaint pastoral painting depicting some people lying around in a field, which was supposed to represent organic farming practices.  The other was serious, mechanized, industrious and represented “modern” industrial agriculture.  In 2011, he argued, we have 7 billion people on the planet.  “We need industry.  We need large scale agriculture; AND we need to keep living on this planet.”

We need, he said, “to enhance the product while preserving today’s resource for tomorrow.”

He apparently has not seen the analysis of the long-term downward impacts on productivity of the so-called “green revolution” and the use of biotechnology in agriculture.  Or about the “new menace” of herbicide tolerant weeds, resulting from the repeated heavy applications of Monsanto’s RoundUp on their roundup ready GMO crops—now requiring farmers to use even larger amounts of more toxic herbicides (just as was predicted by silly anti-GMO naysayers like us fifteen or twenty years ago…).

La Via Campesina has done some excellent work pointing out that small-scale organic and natural farming methods can feed a lot more people than the worn out soils of the GMO and industrial monocultures which require heavy inputs of petroleum-based fertilizers (which also contribute to climate change, by the way) and other chemicals.

But he had not heard of any of this, or if he had, he was keeping it to himself, so he continued, this time dragging out some of the tired old arguments about GMO trees that we have been countering for a decade.

1)    Increasing the productivity of eucalyptus trees will grow more wood on less land (ArborGen’s motto) and therefore protect native forests.  No it won’t.  It will mean that eucalyptus is even more profitable, creating increased incentives for landowners to convert their forests to eucalyptus.  Plantations grow where native ecosystems once stood—whether forest or grassland.  As demand for wood increases (like for the ethanol, bioenergy and bioproducts he mentioned earlier), the forests will be cut down and replaced with “high productivity” plantations.

2)    GMO trees can reduce the need for chemicals.  Sure.  You don’t need to apply insecticides to insect-resistant GMO trees, because the entire tree is a pesticide.  Every bit of it, from the leaves to the roots to the pollen.  Oh yeah, and the insecticide then enters and wreaks havoc in the soils, gets into the water, and blows around in the wind in the pollen, so that wildlife and people can inhale it and have the pesticide directly enter their bloodstream by way of their lungs.  Good plan.

3)    GMO trees will help us with climate adaptation.  Nothing will help our forests with climate adaptation except halting climate disruption by curtailing the emission of greenhouse gases.  And ensuring that native forests are maintained in large interconnected tracts so that species can migrate and adapt as needed to the changing climate.  Plantations are not in the equation.  In fact, plantations store only about ¼ the carbon of native forests, so expanding plantations actually worsens climate change.

But as our intrepid tree engineer pointed out, “Industrial production cannot wait 100 years for evolution.”

And just so you don’t worry, Futuragene is working in partnership with the “Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative” at Oregon State University.  Well, if its got “biosafety” in the title, it must be okay, right?


The word “biosafety” was added to assuage public criticism and after several GMO tree trials in the Pacific Northwest were vandalized.  It used to be just the plain old “Tree Genetic Engineering Research Cooperative”  Or ‘Tree Jerk,’ as it was affectionately called.

The leader of this enterprise will be presenting tonight and tomorrow, so I will wait to tell you more about the history of Tree Jerk.

Back to Mr. Futuragene.  One interesting factoid that he pulled out was that the entire research process just to identify and perfect one GMO tree trait is around $20-$40 million.  And for this reason, he explained, “partnering” with academia (i.e. using unpaid or poorly paid graduate students) to make the venture more economical is critical.

And his final bold assertion: “The future sustainable forest will be a biotech forest!”

Wanna bet…

This was when there were rumblings in the crowd from the non-GMO eucalyptus breeders who took offense to his casual dismissal of their craft.

Kinda like watching the right wing Republicans argue with the leaders of the Tea Party…

Whether GMO or not, eucalyptus plantations are destructive.  But rapidly increasing their productivity (and hence their need for fertilizers, ground water, herbicides, etc) will cause even more severe impacts.  And engineering them to be cold tolerant (such as they are attempting in the US) will enable their production in new regions meaning the loss of even more forests at exactly the time when we need our forests more than ever.

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Photo Essay from the Tree Biotechnology 2011 Conference Field Trip Hosted by Veracel

On Wednesday, July 29th, around 200 participants divided into 4 groups toured various facilities owned by pulp company Veracel.  This photo essay explains what we learned on the field trip.

Photos and commentary by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project (Exception: the last two photos are by GJEP Co-Director/Strategist Orin Langelle)

First Stop: Veracel Forest Preserve where children and visitors are “educated” about the importance of eucalyptus pulp and the “greenness” of Veracel.  Note that the human figure in the poster is exhibiting total dominance over the trees.

On the way into the forest preserve, children and visitors are presented with a native forest monster and representations of some of the scary wildlife that live in forests.

Veracel forest monster

Scary forest raptor

On the way through the 6,000 hectare forest preserve (80% of which is forested), a mixture of formerly logged lands and primary forest, participants were treated to a canopy rope bridge and photo shoots with 4 large trees we encountered on the path.  Most of the forest contained very young trees.

canopy rope bridge

one of the four big trees

The primary Mata Atlantica forest once stretched over much of the eastern edge of Brazil.  Large swaths of it have been eliminated and replaced with eucalyptus plantations.  Veracel took us next to the tree nursery where they propogate the 17 million eucalyptus clones they produce annually.  Henry Ford would have been proud.  The nursery was a very efficient assembly line operation.

Taking Cuttings to propagate new clones

"Clonal Garden"

Assembly line for clones 1

Assembly line for clones 2

Assembly line for clones 3

All the happy clones together

The next step for these clones, of course, is to be transformed into large-scale monoculture eucalyptus plantations.  Veracel harvests 11,000 of these 7 year old eucalyptus trees every day for their pulp mill.  Virtually the entire timbering operation is heavily mechanized to employ the fewest people possible, and uses an assortment of chemicals, from a petroleum-based hydrophilic polymer that is planted with the seedlings, to glyphosate-based herbicides that are applied to keep out competition plants, to the insecticides used to control “pests.”  In this way, Veracel can maximize its potential for profits.

The eucalyptus plantation

The mechanical harvester rapidly gobbles up the trees

The jaws of the harvester up close and personal

This employee, clearly bored, awaits his cue to show the visitors how the mechanized planter works

After a couple of tries, they were finally successful in showing how the mechanized planter works

The result. Note the petroleum-based polymer gel at the base of the seedling

Despite several quotes from Rachel Carson, John Muir, Emerson and other naturalists posted at the nature preserve, the plantations rely heavily on chemical applications.  The guide informed me that the trees get three applications of toxic herbicide over their 7 year life span.  As a result, the plantations of non-native trees are devoid of understory plants or biodiversity.  Social movements in Brazil call them “green deserts” for this reason.

the ground beneath the plantation is barren of other life forms

Rachel Carson quote in the Veracel forest preserve. Too bad they don't listen to her.

The ultimate purpose for the clones:

massive pile of eucalyptus chips at the Veracel pulp mill

From standing trees to boiled, bleached pulp in one day

The reason Veracel needs to greenwash their image: their giant stinking, polluting pulp mill

The stench of the pulp mill. "It smells like money".

Veracel's vision for the future: Make more money!

One of the obstacles, according to Veracel, of their achieving maximum productivity, is people breaking into their plantations.  On the way to the plantation, we passed what appeared to be an MST (Landless Workers’ Movement) encampment–black plastic shelters with a red MST flag flying high over them.  Indeed, elsewhere in Brazil, the MST as well as indigenous Tupinikim and Guarani populations, have taken over eucalyptus plantations and found better uses for the land.  In the case of the MST, as encampments for landless peasants.  In the case of the Indigenous Peoples, as a retaking of their ancestral lands from which they were forcibly removed when the timber company was given the land for plantations.  The cases we had previously documented were on Aracruz Cellulose land in Espirito Santo, but it seems to be occuring here in Bahia as well.  Below are photos from the encampments in Esprito Santo:

MST encampment in former eucalyptus plantation. The sign says "Eucalyptus plantations are not forests". Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Indigenous community re-takes traditional lands, removes eucalyptus plantation. Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Eucalyptus plantations have been such a smashing success in other parts of the world, that now GE tree company ArborGen is trying to engineer them to be cold-tolerant so that the joy of eucalyptus plantations can be spread to new and untrammeled lands.  In the United States they hope to sell half a billion GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees annually for plantations from Texas to Florida.  They’re invasive? Flammable?  Dry up ground water and worsen droughts?  So?  What’s your point.  They will make a lot of money for a few powerful people.

To learn more or to sign our petition to the US Department of Agriculture opposing GE eucalyptus in the US, click here

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Tuesday Blog Post: To GM Chestnut or not to GM Chestnut, That is the Question

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

More analysis of the presentations at the opening night of the Tree Biotechnology 2011 conference in Arraial d’Ajuda Brazil.

The logo of the conference, I should mention, is quite interesting.  It is a tree made out of double helixes.  There is a brown double helix as a curvy trunk, and bursting forth from its top is a spiral of green double helixes.  It reminds me of a dandelion head being blown by a child.  The scientists assembled here like to think they can manipulate the DNA of trees just as easily as the artist used them to make this logo.

On Sunday night, following the presentation by the CEO of event co-host Veracel, the hour long keynote presentation was given by Ron Sederoff, a veteran tree geneticist from North Carolina State University.  He started off by describing how appropriate this gathering was in 2011—the International Year of Forestry.  This was a perhaps Freudian slip.  2011 is the UN declared International Year of Forests—not the year of the industry that has become fabulously well to do at their expense.  Though, with the UN being more and more controlled by business, it might as well be the International Year of Forestry.  Especially since the UN doesn’t even have a proper definition of forests.

Ron’s first encounter with GE trees, he recalled, was a science symposium organized by timber multinational Weyerhaeuser back in 1984.

He spoke at length about just how far the science has come in the past 25 years, but also stressed just how much further it has to go to really be practically useful.  This was echoed by a young woman I overheard during one of the breaks, who said “It seems like no matter how far we get, we still have the same distance to go.”  This subtle vibe of frustrated pessimism hung like a thin fog over many of the breaktime conversations, when people left their powerpoints behind and talked candidly about where they felt their work was going.

In noting the different things he and his fellow tree geneticists and tree engineers had learned over the years, Ron included the “unanticipated difficulties in public acceptance.”

This one struck me. Really? I thought.  My god, there was so much opposition to genetically engineered crops from the beginning, with people pulling crops in the US and Europe, and the EU banning the import of GMO foods or seeds.  Then on the other side, there were the active radical environmental campaigns to protect forests through the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s.  Our organization in the 1990s was involved in both the anti-biotechnology movement and the forest protection movement, so our launch of the campaign to stop genetically engineered trees in 2000 was a natural step—especially when we learned that no one else had yet taken up the cause (which was mainly because no one had heard about GE trees yet).

I find it hard to imagine that Ron and his colleagues did not foresee massive public opposition to their Frankentree designs.  We understood it instantly.

He then launched into a list of hurtles yet to be conquered.  1) Most gene functions remain unknown; 2) Pleitropy is still to be defined; 3) feedback control is limited; 4) the science is confounded by redundancy and lethality; and 4) there are multiple levels of regulations.  He added another question to be answered: to what extent does diversity depend on new genes, or merely new interactions between old genes?

About the direction of sequencing DNA he quoted a colleague who said, “it’s the wild west out there.”  This is another theme that has been repeated through the week.  While I think they mean it to say that its in a stage where anything is possible, it could be taken in a much different way.  I could imagine Ward Churchill, for example, having a field day with the idea.  Probably discussing Manifest Destiny as the common thread—the imperative to conquer this country from coast to coast irrespective of the consequences; with the imperative to create, as Ron called “The I-Tree Video Game”– a computer program that could be used to determine what gene needs to be changed (what switch needs to be turned on or off) to get a particular desired result. He described a systems theory approach where: “to the extent that [plants are machines], they can be described by the behavior of their components and consequently in mathematical models, which can then be used to make predictions.  In this way you could make the tree do anything you wanted it to, just by running the computer program.

But probably the most enlightening part of the keynote was the discussion of genetic engineering with regard to restoring threatened species like the American Chestnut.  Don went back to describe the dense stands of chestnuts, and their great economic and social value. He described the consequences of the Chestnut blight (a fungal infestation), which, he said, killed 4 billion trees and was “the greatest ecological disaster in the US.”  I’m not sure I agree with that assessment, but it certainly had extensive ramifications, including the replacement of the vast stands of chestnut in the Southeast with stands of pine and poplar.

The pine plantations of the Southeast have themselves been ecologically disastrous.  But the native forests throughout the east survived and adapted to the loss of the chestnut, though they are now struggling with new diseases and pests, which, like the chestnut blight, were imported from afar.  The native hardwood forests of the southeast—the ones that have survived the onslaught of loblolly pines—are some of the most biodiverse forests on the planet.

And they have a new exotic threat to worry about.  ArborGen’s cold tolerant GE eucalyptus (which they plan to sell by the billions for planting in the US South) came from a hybrid created in Brazil [eucalyptus, mind you, are native to Australia] that was sent to New Zealand for genetic modification, then shipped to the US for outdoor field trials.  I think some important lessons were lost somewhere along the way…

Eucalyptus Globulus was imported into California in the middle 1800s.  It now has invaded vast regions of the state and California spends millions annually on eucalyptus eradication due to its propensity to exacerbate wildfires.  But sure, plant billions of GE cold-tolerant eucalyptus across the South, what could it hurt…

But back to the American chestnut.  Ron anticipated that GE chestnut trees (engineered to resist the fungal blight) would be the first forest tree to apply for regulatory approval for release into forests in the US. [I don’t know if he hadn’t heard of ArborGen’s pending request to deregulate their GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees in the US, or he was saying that GE chestnuts would receive permission to plant within wild forests, rather than plantations.]

His argument for allowing the unregulated release of GE chestnuts was that there would be, “little ecological damage compared to what’s already happened.”  Hmmm…  He said that quite confidently for someone who only a little while earlier had talked about how little is known about how manipulated trees relate in a forest setting.

A forest ecosystem is wildly complex and biodiverse, with little known about the natural interactions between soils, fungi, insects, understory plants, wildlife and trees.  What is known, however, is that mychorrhizal fungi are instrumental in nutrient uptake in trees, creating symbiotic relationships with and between tree species.  Adding to the mix a tree engineered to resist fungus could indeed create some serious problems.

Pandora’s Box [of GE trees] must remain closed.  Besides, there has been quite a lot of progress with non-GMO chestnuts.  He didn’t mention those.

But Ron was quite determined.  He said, “If GM chestnut can’t get approved, I don’t think any GM tree can get approved.”  Interesting point…

Stay tuned for more tomorrow, when we all go on a field trip to the operations of Veracel.  Fun, fun…

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Filed under GE Trees, Genetic Engineering, Greenwashing, Posts from Anne Petermann

Public and Scientific Doubts Cause Confidence in GE Trees to Decline

STOP GE Trees Campaign

Genetically Engineered Tree Company ArborGen Decides Not to Go Public with Stocks:

Public and Scientific Doubts Cause Confidence in GE Trees to Decline

Summerville, SC— The genetically engineered tree (GE tree) company ArborGen, a joint project of timber corporations International Paper (NYSE: IP), MeadWestvaco (NYSE: MWV) and Rubicon (NZSE: RBC.NZ), decided suddenly yesterday to change its plans and not sell shares in ArborGen publicly on the NASDAQ exchange. [1]

On July 1, 2010, three member organizations of the STOP GE Trees Campaign (Global Justice Ecology ProjectDogwood Alliance and Sierra Club) teamed up with attorneys at the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety to sue the US Department of Agriculture over their approval of a series of field trials involving more than a quarter of a million GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees because the Environmental Assessment the USDA used to approve the field trials was inadequate.  The lawsuit demands that the USDA prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement regarding the field trials because of their potential impacts on forests, ground water, wildlife and endangered or threatened species. [2]

The groups that filed the suit charge that GE trees carry serious social and ecological risks; and that these risks were either downplayed or outright ignored in the USDA’s Environmental Assessment.

“This lawsuit against the USDA is just one of several lawsuits over genetically engineered organisms that have been filed against the USDA by the Center for Food Safety, on behalf of the Sierra Club and others,” stated Dr. Neil Carman, a plant scientist with Sierra Club.  “In every case so far the Court has found the agency’s actions unlawful.  ArborGen has good reason to worry that they will never get commercial approval for their GE trees,” he added.

Even industry is acknowledging the chilling effect of the numerous lawsuits against GMOs.  In an article from April 29, 2011 in Biomass Power and Thermal Magazine, Karen Batra, director of communications for the Biotechnology Industry Organization stated, “Obviously, the litigious environment we have seen in the past couple years is representing a tremendous deterrent to investment in [biotechnology]…” Batra says. “It’s making it very hard to get investments and to see their way through what could be five and 10 years in development of a product, if when you finally do get to a point where you’re close to commercialization, you’re going to have to deal with litigation. It is creating a huge barrier.” [3]

“According to the CEO of Rubicon, one of ArborGen’s parent companies, ArborGen plans to sell half a billion GE eucalyptus trees annually just in the US South,” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and North American Focal Point of The Netherlands-based Global Forest Coalition. “This could devastate forest ecosystems, especially when you consider that one of ArborGen’s eucalyptus species is an engineered variant of a species known to be invasive in Florida. In addition, eucalyptus trees are both explosively flammable and extremely water intensive.  And now they’ve modified them to be cold tolerant, so they can spread throughout the US South. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. GE eucalyptus trees are like kudzu, only flammable.” [4]  There are also several engineered species of native trees that are in the field trial stage—like poplar and loblolly pine that could irreversibly contaminate native forests with their engineered traits. [5]

In September 2009 the USDA rejected ArborGen’s initial application for permission to release millions of their GE eucalyptus trees commercially.

“In addition to the detrimental impacts of escape or contamination of forests by GE trees is the fact that International Paper stated that they anticipate the use of GE trees will vastly expand the acreage of tree plantations in the South,” stated Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director of the Dogwood Alliance.  “Where is all of this land going to come from?  Native forests will have to be clearcut to make room for GE tree plantations.  Commercial release of GE eucalyptus trees will devastate the biologically rich native hardwood forests of the South, which is why Dogwood Alliance is so strongly opposed to them.” [6]

Organizing to stop the commercialization of genetically engineered trees has been going on since 2000, with The STOP GE Trees Campaign founded in 2004 by thirteen groups including Global Justice Ecology Project, Dogwood Alliance and Sierra Club. The Campaign has since grown to include 145 organizations worldwide—with many based in Latin America. [7]

The court is expected to produce a ruling shortly on the lawsuit to stop ArborGen’s eucalyptus field trials.


Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, (802) 482-2689 / (802) 578-0477 mobile

Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance, (828) 251-2525 x 18 (828) 242-3596 mobile

Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club (512) 663-9594 mobile


Notes to Editors

1] http://www.silobreaker.com/biotech-tree-developer-postpones-ipo-5_2264562374503563464

2] For background and documents pertaining to the lawsuit against the USDA, go to:http://globaljusticeecology.org/stopgetrees.php?tabs=3&ID=418

3] http://issuu.com/bbiinternational/docs/may.11-bpt

4] http://www.rubicon-nz.com/pdf/Rubicon_Update_September_09.pdf

5] To search for GE trees approved for field trials by the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that regulates GMOs in the US, go to: http://www.isb.vt.edu/search-release-data.aspx

6] http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aEHNB_XJRWGU

7] Go to http://nogetrees.org and click on the “partners” tab.

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, GE Trees

Chile: Monoculture tree plantations on Mapuche territory, certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)?

Plantation on Mapuche territory in Chile. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Note:  Global Justice Ecology Project has worked in the past, and hopefully in the future, with Alfredo Seguel and other members of the Konapewman Mapuche Association.  Some of us from GJEP have witnessed first-hand the social and ecological devastation brought on by the Chilean government to Mapuche territory. GJEP recognizes and supports the Mapuche struggle as a “fight for survival, for rights, dignity, recognition, and the possibility of autonomous development   …stopping the expansion of the forestry sector is also a means of preventing this activity from provoking even greater impoverishment, environmental damage and cultural deterioration for the Mapuche people and vast sectors of society.”

–Orin Langelle for The GJEP Team


This article was based on the references cited below, which were sent by Paulina Veloso, Colectivo VientoSur, e-mail: paulina.veloso@gmail.com, and comments by Claudio Donoso Hiriart.Via email from World Rainforest Movement – Monthly Bulletin – Issue 163 – February 2011l. WRM http://www.wrm.org.uy/.  This issue looks at forest certification schemes.

Since 1974, industrial monoculture tree plantations have spread throughout Chile, and are particularly concentrated in the regions of Bío-Bío and Araucanía, although they are also found in the regions of Maule, Los Ríos and Los Lagos.

Decree Law 701, passed by the Pinochet military dictatorship and still in force today, granted state subsidies to private companies as a means of promoting the forestry industry. Large tracts of land and state-owned plantations were privatized and gradually ended up in the hands of powerful economic groups, like the Matte and Angelini Groups, effectively dismantling the advances achieved by Agrarian Reform in the redistribution of land ownership. Of the 10 million hectares of land that had been expropriated, three million were sold at low prices and under highly favourable conditions. (1) Private companies obtained financing for up to 75% of the costs of planting pine and eucalyptus trees on Mapuche indigenous territory for 37 years.

Since then, forestry sector exports have been given high priority by successive Chilean governments, which have continued to support and promote the sector. The drastic expansion of industrial tree plantations has not only infringed on agricultural land and native ecosystems like forests, but also on the traditional territory of the Mapuche people, which provides the material and spiritual support for their very existence.

Throughout this time, territorial conflicts between Mapuche communities and plantation companies, especially Forestal Mininco and the companies grouped under Bosques Arauco, have been a constant occurrence. As explained by Alfredo Seguel of the Konapewman Mapuche Association, “for Mapuche organizations, the conflict with forestry companies is not merely a dispute over land.” According to the forestry commission of the Coordinating Committee of Mapuche Territorial Organizations and Identities, “the territorial conflict with the forestry companies is a fight for survival, for rights, dignity, recognition, and the possibility of autonomous development. For the coordinating committee, stopping the expansion of the forestry sector is also a means of preventing this activity from provoking even greater impoverishment, environmental damage and cultural deterioration for the Mapuche people and vast sectors of society.” (2)

These ongoing conflicts have resulted in a long list of Mapuche people wounded, killed, harassed, arrested, tried and sentenced with the full weight of the law in civilian and military courts, often under laws created during the military dictatorship which remain in force, for their participation in protests in urban and rural areas aimed at recovering their land and halting the further spread of tree plantations.

In the meantime, as revealed by a recent report on independent forestry monitoring of river basins in the Los Ríos region, “the increase in the emigration of the rural population to cities is a consequence of the new land ownership regime in rural areas, with the expansion of tree plantations being a significant factor in this process.” (3)

Another ongoing problem is the growing scarcity of water in rural areas in south-central Chile, where “the vast areas of tree plantations and the methods of harvesting used alter the normal levels and water quality of rivers, which means that the decisions adopted by the forestry companies on the land where their assets are located affect all of the area’s inhabitants.” This is particularly true for the Mapuche people, “who have lived in these territories since time immemorial, and maintained a harmonious interrelation with the water and land until the European invasion.” The companies do not consider the effects of the huge volumes of water consumed by fast-growing tree species in areas where water is scarce, which prevent water from being used for other productive activities, among other impacts. This problem is also ignored by the government policies that promote the spread of tree plantations.” (4)

The water shortages provoked by monoculture plantations of fast-growing exotic tree species have worsened the conditions faced by Mapuche communities, who organized a massive march against the expansion of tree plantations in Araucanía, among other regions, in 2006. The Ñancuichew Association of Lumaco, together with Mapuche communities in Lumaco, Purén, Los Sauces, Traiguén, Victoria and Ercilla, declared that the reason behind the protest march was “the presence of privately owned pine and eucalyptus plantations on their territory, among other problems.” They also described the plantation companies’ actions as “environmental terrorism.” (5)

Recently, the mayor of the commune of Antuco, in the province of Bío-Bío, blamed monoculture pine and eucalyptus plantations for aggravating the drought currently affecting peasant farming communities in the region. The mayor stated that intensive cultivation of these trees is “using up the water sources in rural areas, which is further accentuated in the summer season in the Precordillera region.” (6)

Despite the well-documented impacts of the industrial and intensive cultivation of trees, forestry sector companies are now attempting to obtain the “green label” of FCS certification for their plantations. During a recent visit to a number of communes in Araucanía (Nueva Imperial, Chol Chol, Galvarino, Traiguén, Lumaco, Los Sauces, Purén, Angol and Renaico), Claudio Donoso Hiriart told WRM about the “devastation and desolation” caused by pine and eucalyptus plantations, which “have replaced native forests and highly fertile agriculture land and are finishing off the water and land.” He commented that “the most striking commune is Lumaco, where plantations occupy 52.5% of the total land area of what is the poorest commune in the region (Mininco is the largest landowner).” He also showed us a video of a eucalyptus plantation established on what was once prime agricultural land in the commune of Chol Chol, which is now facing severe water shortages, and where there is a sign posted with the FSC certification label.

Forestal Mininco is currently seeking FSC certification for a total of 666,581 hectares of plantations spread across the regions of El Maule, Bío-Bío, Araucanía, Los Ríos and Los Lagos.

In response, this past January in Temuco, the Mapuche organizations and communities gathered together in the Wallmapu Futa Trawun – an autonomous and self-organized body made up by ancestral community authorities, group leaders, community members, young people and students from throughout the Mapuche nation – addressed the national and international public through a press release in which they declared:

“Today, January 25, we held a meeting with Mr. Freddy Peña, the head of the auditing commission from the United States (FSC) certifying body Smartwood, who is gathering information and background for the certification of the wood produced by the company Forestal Mininco.

“This certification is very important in order for Forestal Mininco to sell its products in vital markets, mainly in Europe, Asia and the United States. The company must fulfil a series of requirements related to the protection of the environment, good relations with local communities, respect for laws, conventions and the culture of indigenous peoples, not infringing directly or indirectly on the resources and land rights of indigenous peoples, respect for sacred places, compensation for damages, respecting traditional knowledge, providing nearby communities with skilled employment and training opportunities, respect for labour legislation in accordance with ILO conventions, etc.

“The Lonko, Machi and Werken participants and Mapuche leaders and community members from different territories wish to express our profound concern to this auditing commission with regard to all of the damage that this company has caused in our territories. The cultural and environmental genocide and criminalization of our social demands which it has carried out against our nation, and all of the suffering caused to thousands of our families. At the same time, we have submitted to them a file of background material gathered by our leadership and professionals, which provides evidence of all the environmental, cultural, social and economic impacts, as well as the criminalization, sentencing, imprisonment and murder of community members fighting to recover their territory, for which Forestal Mininco is responsible.”

The Wallmapu Futa Trawun stresses that the “predatory company Forestal Mininco” should not be certified, and calls on the different Mapuche communities to “be aware and informed of events that have a bearing on our individual rights and the customary rights of the Mapuche nation and the intentions of these companies that destroy our territory, our Itrofilmongén, with all of the life forms that our nation has defended and protected throughout the thousands of years of our history.” (7)

The plantation companies could try to improve the way they carry out their business, but they have no intention of changing their model of production: large-scale, monoculture, expansive and exclusive. This model is uncertifiable, as well as incompatible with a policy of territorial sustainability for Mapuche communities in La Araucanía.

(1)       “Modelo forestal chileno y Movimiento autónomo Mapuche: Las posiciones irreconciliables de un conflicto territorial”, Alfredo Seguel, 2005, http://www.wrm.org.uy/paises/Chile/modelo_forestal_chileno.html
(2)       “Conflicto público de tierras y Recursos naturales”: Expansión forestal y territorialidad Mapuche (Chile), Alfredo Seguel, Agrupación Mapuche Konapewman, http://www.mapuche.nl/doc/seguel0906.pdf
(3)       “Informe Nacional, Monitoreo Forestal Independiente en Cuencas Hidrográficas Abastecedoras de Agua de la XIV Región de Los Ríos”; ONG-Forestales por el Bosque Nativo.
(4)       “Gran marcha mapuche en contra de expansión forestal en La Araucanía”, Aldea Comunicaciones, http://www.olca.cl/oca/chile/region08/forestales01.htm
(5)       Ibid.
(6)       “Antuco: Alcalde considera que plantaciones de pino y eucaliptos agudizan la sequía”, Bío-Bío La Radio, http://www.radiobiobio.cl/2011/02/01/antuco-alcalde-considera-que-plantaciones-de-pino-y-eucaliptos-agudizan-la-sequia/
(7)       “Declaración de Fvta Xawun Mapuche por certificación de Forestal Mininco”, national and international press release, http://www.observatorio.cl/node/1326

This article was based on the references cited above, which were sent by Paulina Veloso, Colectivo VientoSur, e-mail: paulina.veloso@gmail.com, and comments by Claudio Donoso Hiriart.

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There is No One Magic Bullet Solution… So Get Over It!

By Anne Petermann

Blog Post June 7th, 2010

Back home to our little cottage on the lake—back to the sanity of being surrounded by native forest instead of megalomaniacal bureaucrats intent on capitalizing off the rape and plunder of the earth under the auspices of climate mitigation.

First, of course, we had one last stop prior to boarding our respective planes and trains back to sanity—a presentation at the European Parliament in Brussels.

This time it was one of the Ministers of Parliament (MEP) responsible for implementing the European Union’s “renewable energy” target of 20% by 2020 that took issue with our analysis.

Once again it was Deepak’s presentation that was most hotly debated—perhaps because it best showed, through graphic photographs, the wholesale devastation of primeval rainforests for woodchips for export—the direct and indirect result of the EU’s desire to fulfill its renewable energy commitment by burning trees for electricity.

The MEP explained that we had limited choices—wood-based fuels (liquid and electric) or even worse options like nuclear power or large-scale hydroelectricity.  To me this is a false dichotomy.  It is not either burn trees or build nukes or flood rivers.  The solution is to transform the way we live on this earth.  The solution is to find the small-scale truly sustainable alternatives that make sense for each bioregion.  The solutions for Vermont are not going to be the same as the solutions for Belgium.  And the big magic bullet solutions do not exist.  Forget about it.  Technology and the markets are not going to save us from this mess—especially since they have contributed so significantly to it.

The faster we get over the idea of the imaginary single magic solution, the sooner we can dig in to the work at hand.

Here in the United States, the crisis of burning trees for electricity is a little closer to home—especially in those regions that still have some intact forest left—whether primary forest or second growth native forest, these forests are now under the gun.  With plans for new biomass electricity plants popping up all over the place, and with the EU demand for trees leading to increased woodchip exports from the U.S., our forests are under threat like they haven’t been since the continent was first invaded by those white folks who’d already trashed their own forests.

And don’t forget the threat from genetically engineered trees!  Eucalyptus and poplar trees are being avidly engineered to provide better agrofuels (liquid transport fuels) and faster growing biomass.  And it’s the Gulf Coast states where these Franken-eucalyptus plantations are planned to be developed.

So, while it was good to spend time with allies in Europe, and we had many important meetings about international forest policy and GE trees, it was really good to finally get back home to our office in Vermont where we are developing strategies to take on ArborGen and defeat their plans for vast industrial plantations of non-native, invasive, water depleting and flammable eucalyptus trees.

GJEP Co-Director Orin Langelle and I have collectively been working to protect forests and the rights of forest-dependent peoples for close to 50 years.  This is one forest fight that we cannot, we will not, lose.

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Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, GE Trees, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann, REDD