The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Long-Term Risks of GE Trees Remain Unanswered
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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
It's become a familiar story with the Trump administration: Scientists write a report that shows the administration's policies will cause environmental damage, then the administration buries the report and fires the scientists.
By Jake Johnson
Calling the global climate crisis both the greatest threat facing the U.S. and the greatest opportunity for transformative change, Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled today a comprehensive Green New Deal proposal that would transition the U.S. economy to 100 percent renewable energy and create 20 million well-paying union jobs over a decade.
The Parties to CITES agreed to list giraffes on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today at the World Wildlife Conference or CoP18 in Geneva. Such protections will ensure that all giraffe parts trade were legally acquired and not sourced from the poached giraffes trade and will require countries to make non-detriment findings before allowing giraffe exports. The listing will also enable the collection of international trade data for giraffes that might justify greater protections at both CITES and other venues in the future.
The WHO stressed that more research is needed on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion. luchschen / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The UN's health agency on Thursday said that microplastics contained in drinking water posed a "low" risk at their current levels.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) — in its first report on the potential health risks of microplastic ingestion — also stressed more research was needed to reassure consumers.