World Rainforest Movement

New Zealand – WRM information sheet on GE tree research

 WRM information sheets on GE tree research

First posted: 1 August 2008
Updated: 15 August 2008
Updated 7 August 2009
Last update  August 2014

Tree species being manipulated:

  • Radiata pine and Norway spruce (1)
  • Eucalyptus sp. (2)
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus grandis X Eucalyptus urophylla) (4)

Aim of genetic manipulation

  • trees with reporter and selection genes (1)
  • herbicide tolerance (1)
  • flowerless trees (1)
  • wood easier to pulp (1)
  • cold-tolerance (4)
  • insect-resistance (4)

Those carrying out the research:

  • Scion (a Crown Research Institute -formerly known as Forest Research- which provides research and development services to the forestry sector through Ensis, a collaboration between Scion and Australia’s CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products). (6)
  • Scion has signed a research agreement with GE tree research company ArborGen, owned by International Paper, MeadWestvaco and the New Zealand company Rubicon. (2). This partnership was renewed in 2010. (14)

Those who provide support to research:

  • Life Sciences Network, a pro-GE lobby group. Scion is a member of the Life Sciences Network. (5)

Field trials

  • On 2 May 2008, Scion disseminated a Press Release: “No Environmental Impact from Genetically Modified Research Trees – Field Trial Provides New Science”, which appears to be a response to public concerns regarding its field trial. On 9 June 2008, all the 55 trees, both genetically modified and control trees were felled as the trial came to an end. (3)
  • In 2010, GE Free New Zealand reported about an application of Scion for planting 4,000 pine trees on a secret site in Rotorua. (13)
  • In 2011, Scion planted 375 GE radiate pines to test herbicide resistance and study reproductive development.(11)

Collaboration with USA

  • Eucalyptus genetically modified in New Zealand to withstand American caterpillars and tolerate colder temperatures have been growing on a secret one-acre plot in Baldwin County, Alabama, for two years. The trees belong to the company ArborGen. (5)
  • In July 2009, ArborGen received preliminary approval from the U.S. government to plant some 260,000 GE eucalyptus trees genetically manipulated in New Zealand. (4)

Regulatory framework for research and field trials:

  • Field trials need to be authorized by the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), in line with the assessment practices established by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO Act) 1996. Steffan Browning of the Soil and Health Association notes that “ERMA has never declined an application for a GE field trial.” He points out that there is a conflict of interest, in that “some ERMA decision makers [are] employed by other GE experimenting CRIs [Crown Research Institutions]”. (7)
  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), monitors compliance with the standards set out by ERMA (10)
  • In 2014, the Environmental Court decided to uphold the decision of a Regional Council in New Zealand “to place wording for a precautionary approach to be taken on the growing of genetically modified (GMO) crops in the region”, which had been challenged by Scion, while the central government claims that only the central government can rule on this issue. (12)

Organizations opposing GE trees:

  • GE-Free New Zealand in food & environment (Rage Inc.), a non-profit organisation with branches in the Kapiti Coast, Dunedin, Christchurch, Nelson, Wellington, Hawkes Bay, Taupo and Auckland.” (8)
  • The Soil and Health Association, a New Zealand NGO founded in 1941. Has been campaigning for the GE tree trial to be stopped and the trees to be removed. (9)

Actions by unidentified actors:

  • In January 2008, someone got into Scion’s GE tree experiment site and damaged 19 trees. (1)
  • 375 GE radiate pines planted by Scion in 2013 were destroyed in april 2014 in a break-in action (11)