Genetically Engineering Poplars for Paper and Biofuels Condemned


Biofuelwatch, Center for Food Safety, Global Justice Ecology Project,
Canadian Biotechnology Action Network

Industry Hype & Misdirected Science Undercuts Real Energy/Climate Solutions

Washington, DC--Scientists and environmentalists today condemned a recent
press release by researchers at the University of British Columbia
announcing they have created genetically engineered (GE) poplar trees for
paper and biofuel production, opening the prospect of growing these GE trees
like an agricultural crop in the future. [1]

The poplars were genetically engineered for altered lignin composition to
allegedly make them easier to process into paper and biofuels. Groups,
however, warn that manipulation of lignin, and the potential contamination
of wild poplars with the GE trait, could be extremely dangerous. [2]

Lignin is a key structural component of plant cell walls and a major
component of soils. [3] It is also the product of millions of years of
natural selection favoring sturdy, healthy and resilient plants.
Contamination from GE poplars with altered lignin could have devastating
effects on forests, ecosystems, human communities and biodiversity.

Poplars include at least 30 species, are widespread throughout the Northern
Hemisphere [4] and have a high potential for genetic dispersal. [5]

“Because poplar trees generate so much pollen and seed that can travel so
far, poplars genetically engineered for paper or biofuels are likely to
inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests,” stated Anne
Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. “The only
way to prevent this potential ecological disaster is to stop the release of
GE trees.”

Martha Crouch, PhD, a plant biologist consulting for the Center for Food
Safety is likewise concerned. “The reports that genetic engineers have
restructured poplar wood to make it easier to process into biofuels makes it
sound as if this technology is right around the corner. However, no
ecological studies have been done yet, and methods for keeping genes from
escaping into forests are unproven and likely to fail. All of this hype
distracts us from truly sustainable solutions that work safely with what
nature has already provided,” she concluded.

Commercial and industrial scale biofuels and bioenergy are creating vast new
demands for wood, and driving the conversion of climate stabilizing forests
and other natural ecosystems to fuel crops. Rainforests in Indonesia are
being burned to make way for plantations of oil palm, for example.
Genetically engineering trees to be easier to manufacture into bioenergy
will further contribute to the problem by increasing economic pressure to
convert land into GE tree plantations.

Rachel Smolker, PhD, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch adds, “The whole idea of
engineering trees for biofuels is outrageous. There is no question that we
must end our fossil fuel addiction, but pretending we can simply substitute
living plants is horribly misguided. Even the tiny fraction of fuel
currently produced from industrial bioenergy has had huge impacts on
forests, water, human rights and food security. Forests purify water and
regulate the climate. They are home to most of the world’s biodiversity and
many Indigenous Peoples. We need to protect and restore forests while
drastically reducing overconsumption. Engineering trees is moving in exactly
the wrong direction.”

Dr. Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch, +1.802.482.2848
Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project,

Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, +1.202.547.9359

Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network,

Notes to Editors:

[1] “Researchers design trees that make it easier to produce paper”

[2] Biofuelwatch,

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network,

Center for Food Safety,

Global Justice Ecology Project

[3] Lignin Biosynthesis:

[4] American Journal of Botany,

[5] “Transgene escape -Global atlas of uncontrolled spread of genetically
engineered plants”

For More Information:

“Genetically Engineered Trees: The New Frontier of Biotechnology” – Center
for Food Safety,

“Genetically Engineered Trees and Bioenergy: A Growing Threat to Forests and
Communities” – Global Justice Ecology Project

“Wood Bioenergy: Green Land Grabs For Dirty ‘Renewable’ Energy” –

Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker