Quantcast
GMO
Poplar trees in Morrow, Oregon. Andy Simonds / Flickr

Long-Term Risks of GE Trees Remain Unanswered

The following is a joint statement from Global Justice Ecology Project, Indigenous Environmental Network, Rural Coalition, Biofuelwatch and Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

In an apparent effort to allay serious public and scientific concerns about contamination threats from genetically engineered (GE) trees, on Aug. 3 researchers at Oregon State University claimed they had genetically engineered sterility into poplar trees. The real story of the study, however, is that the risks of genetically engineering trees are too great and can never fully be known.


During the seven year field trial of GE poplars described in the study, small environmental variations resulted in significant differences between trees that had the same GE constructs and also found differences between GE trees over time. This all points to how trees cannot be reliably engineered to prevent contamination.

"This study confirms what we've known all along," said Anne Petermann, executive director of Global Justice Ecology Project and coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP GE Trees. "Trees are extremely complex, and fertility, which is one of the most important functions of any living organism, has been evolving in trees for millions of years. It is incredibly arrogant and dangerous to think that through genetic engineering we can override such a fundamental function as reproduction. Far from allaying fears, this research opens up serious new concerns."

The genus populus includes 25-35 different species of trees, many of which can breed with each other, and are found across North America and Europe. Poplars can also reproduce asexually and live for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Therefore this seven year study on GE poplar trees is seriously inadequate.

"We still have no information about the potential long-term impacts of sterile or attempted sterile GE poplars on pollinators, birds and other wildlife that depend on fertile flowers and pollen to survive," added Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. "We know GE sterility traits are never going to be 100 percent reliable. What happens when sterility fails and allows GE trees to escape? Unreliable sterility technologies would enhance rather than remove the dangers of GE tree contamination."

BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network explained the implications of GE poplars for Indigenous Peoples:

"Aspen, cottonwood, and other poplar varieties are an integral part of our individual and collective history, physical well-being and spiritual ceremonies. For Native tribes in the U.S. Southwest, for example, the cottonwood is sacred and every part harvested is done so without killing or harming the tree. Freshly fallen branches provide bark used in teas, poultices, tinctures and salves and the leaf buds and flowers provide food in the early spring. Fundamentally changing these trees' genetic makeup violates Natural Law, our cultural traditions and subsistence rights."

Stars can be found in the branches of the cottonwood. Cottonwood Institute

Developing plantations of fast-growing trees like GE poplars for biofuel, biomass or other raw materials could lead to the accelerated destruction of forests for the development of these plantations, a trend identified in a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Target areas for this expansion in the U.S. are the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, where many GE poplar test plots already exist.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Fossil fuel use is the primary source of CO2. eflon / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Trump EPA Takes Credit For Obama-Era CO2 Reductions

Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 2.7 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to a report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released on Wednesday.

Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the EPA, touted that the report shows that regulations are unnecessary to slash carbon emissions.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Pacific bluefin tuna. OpenCage.info

Big Bluefin Tuna Recovering Due to Conservation, But Species Still at Risk

Although Pacific bluefin tuna remains a fraction of its historic population, the giant fish is making a comeback off the California coast after a eight-decade hiatus, due to global conservation efforts, Reuters reported.

The world's love of sushi and rampant overfishing has nearly decimated the species. Its population recently bumped to a meager 3.3 percent of its unfished level, up from its low of 2.6 percent two years ago, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Study urges conservation push for critically endangered black rhinos. CC0 1.0

Humans Are Wiping Out Species So Fast That Evolution Can't Keep Up

With the consequences of human activities pushing Earth into a sixth mass extinction, a team of biologists have calculated that plant and animal species are being wiped out so quickly that evolution cannot keep up.

Human activities—including pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, poaching, warming oceans and extreme weather events tied to climate change—are predicted to drive so many mammals to extinction in the next five decades that nature will need somewhere between 3 to 7 million years to restore biodiversity levels to where it was before modern humans evolved, according to an alarming new analysis published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Mackinaw Bridge, Michigan. Deb Nystrom / CC BY 2.0

Great Lakes Pipeline Dispute Highlights a Broader Energy Dilemma

By Douglas Bessette

A deal involving an aging oil pipeline in Michigan reflects the complex decisions communities across the country need to make to balance the needs for energy and safety with efforts to deal with climate change.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Enbridge, a Canadian company, have reached an agreement over a leak-prone pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac, the four-mile-long waterway that divides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Christoph Schmidt / Picture Alliance / Getty Images

Antibiotics in Burgers: Majority of U.S. Fast Food Chains Fail Annual Report Card

By Lena Brook

Less than two weeks ago, JBS USA, one of our country's largest meat processors, announced a high-risk recall of nearly 7 million pounds of its raw beef, over concerns it may be contaminated with Salmonella Newport. Nearly 60 patients in 16 states have so far been made sick. This recent outbreak of infections tied to contaminated ground beef is especially worrisome because S. Newport is a strain of Salmonella that has often been resistant to antibiotics. It may also be the largest beef recall in history for Salmonella.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Daniel Bruno / iStock / Getty Images Plus

How to Make Apple Kombucha

By Brian Barth

René Redzepi and David Zilber talk us through how to make a delicious Fall kombucha from their new release The Noma Guide to Fermentation.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Thom Yorke performs at Madison Square Garden in July. Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

Thom Yorke of Radiohead Releases Song With Greenpeace to Help Antarctica

Greenpeace is on a mission to create the largest protected area on earth in Antarctica, and it just gained a very talented ally to help promote that goal.

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke released a single Tuesday in support of the campaign called "Hands Off Antarctica," The Guardian reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
"The Golden Couple" by Marsel van Oosten. Natural History Museum

'Otherworldly' Photo of Endangered Monkeys Wins Top Award

Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten was awarded the prestigious title of Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his surreal portrait of a pair of golden snub-nosed monkeys.

"The Golden Couple" shows a male and female snub-nosed monkey sitting on a stone in the temperate forest of China's Qinling Mountains. The endangered species, named in part for their golden-reddish fur and flattened noses, are endemic to the area.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!