World Rainforest Movement

Genetically engineered trees generate reaction

The increase in the international demand for industrial wood and paper, coupled with the idea that tree plantations can be used as carbon sinks to counter the greenhouse effect, are being used by the biotechnology industry as arguments for the promotion of genetically modified trees, especially commercially valuable and fast-growing species such as eucalyptus, pines and poplars.

Giant corporations currently working on genetically modified food (like Monsanto), oil corporations (as Shell), pulp and paper producers (such as Fletcher Challenge, International Paper, Westvaco Corporation) together with newcomers as Toyota, are devoting large sums of money to carry out research in tree biotechnology. Joint ventures of those and other companies are now mushrooming and becoming a new threat to nature and people.

This is a new and even more dangerous version of the Green Revolution, whose negative consequences on food security and the environment have devastated the lives of millions of people around the world. It also means a further step in the concentration of power and decision-making in the hands of a small group of megacorporations working for their own profit.

Environmental NGOs and some representatives of the academic sector have already expressed their concern on the impacts that these “Terminator” or “Frankentrees” will have on forests, water, biodiversity and people if planted -as their creators aim- over large areas of land.

This growing concern has already even led to direct action. Last July, environmental activists attacked and destroyed 152 genetically modified poplars planted at Zeneca Ltd.’s agricultural research station at Jealott’s Hill, Berkshire, UK. “We have been forced to take this action ourselves because the biotechnology companies have used their wealth and power to subvert not only the process of scientific innovation but also the democratic process” said a spokesperson of the activist group.

Sources: “Felled in the name of natural justice”, The Guardian, 13/7/99; “Trees are the next target of genetic engineers”, The Economist, 8/15/98.