World Rainforest Movement

Pulp mills and transgenic trees: From Spain to Finland, opposition is manifest

There is no smoke without fire, and in this case, the fire is in Spain, where the ENCE paper company has a pulp mill that for many years has contaminated the Pontevedra river mouth. Although the company was finally condemned and its executives ordered to pay fines and sentenced to prison, the environmental “inheritance” continues (see WRM bulletin 75). The local population is asking for the “factory to be closed” to enable them to “recover the shell-fishing areas” and “the fisheries.”

However, far from this, over the past few months, Ence has started formalities to extend its facilities with the construction of a tissue-paper mill, involving the consolidation of the industrial complex in the area. However, the opposition has made itself felt. The first phase of the extension (depuration works) was halted by court order last April on the insistence of the local government and the Association for the Defence of the River Mouth (Asociación pola Defensa da Ría – APDR). At the end of June, APDR convened a march that is carried out every year demanding the restoration of the river mouth and the immediate transfer of ENCE. Over three thousand people – twice as many as last year, although the organization estimated the figure at six thousand – supported the demonstration that was endorsed by many collectivities, ranging from the Federation of Castelao Neighbours to the Housewives Association, in addition to the BNG-PSOE coalition (the Galego Nationalist Bloc – Spanish Socialist Workers Party), the mayor and several city counsellors.

At other latitudes, 400 transgenic birch trees were destroyed in an experimental field in Laukansaari (Punkaharju), Finland, in an action of sabotage that took place during the weekend of 19 and 20 June. The Finnish police declared that they did not yet know who was behind the attack, nor did they know if people opposing genetic manipulation were involved. Although an anonymous group made themselves responsible for the attack (see ), beyond what they have really done, it is certain that there is increasing opposition in Finland to transgenic plantations. This can be seen in the mass support given by Finnish people and organizations to the letter submitted in May to the United Nations Forum on Forests, demanding the banning of transgenic trees (see

The 400 trees, which were cut down or uprooted from the unguarded fenced field, were part of the only field study on transgenic trees existing in Finland. The research responds to the timber industry’s interest in cutting costs and obtaining trees with characteristics that are best adapted to the needs of pulp production.

What do these two events have in common? They show the rejection of two activities that are cogs in a same productive model, one with clear business aims. Both the pulp mill and the transgenic trees feed the global paper market, becoming yet another product for consumer society, where waste is prevalent and everything becomes disposable, thus feeding the consumerist machine. Social considerations (and among them, environmental considerations) are left on the way.

The “progress” being imposed with globalization of the paper business and the installation of pulp mills brings much smog and dust with it and literally smells of “rotten eggs.” Perhaps the plotting of the plantation of transgenic trees, usually without the knowledge of most of humanity, does not visibly contaminate, but may be even more perverse in its scope (see WRM Bulletin No. 83), as it tears the delicate and complex web of life and perhaps later there will be no way of repairing it.

In the midst of the increasing marketing of life, many people still resist having everything measured in terms of profit. Can a price be put on the clear waters of a river? or on fresh air or on a limpid sky?

Article based on: “Protesters fell Finland’s only GM tree study”, June 24, 2004, Reuters, ; “El gobierno de Pontevedra respaldó una nueva manifestación contra Ence”, Cristina Barral, 29 June 2004, La Voz de Galicia, e-mail: ; “Destruido campo de árboles transgénicos”,