GENETICALLY MODIFIED TREES Sign-on letter to CBD

- Sign-on letter to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) urging a ban on genetically modified trees

from World Rainforest Movement http://www.wrm.org.uy/
WRM BULLETIN #110 - September 2006
www.wrm.org

GENETICALLY MODIFIED TREES

At its last Conference of the Parties (COP8), the
Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a very
important Decision (VIII/19),"Recommending
"Parties to take a precautionary approach when
addressing the issue of genetically modified
trees".

That Decision recognized "the uncertainties
related to the potential environmental and
socio-economic impacts, including long-term and
transboundary impacts, of genetically modified
trees on global forest biological diversity, as
well as on the livelihoods of indigenous and
local communities, and given the absence of
reliable data and of capacity in some countries
to undertake risk assessments and to evaluate
those potential impacts".

This is a very important step in the right
direction, which needs to be supported against
the pressure that will be put on the CBD by the
powerful pro-GM tree lobby.

Given that the COP8 Decision has invited everyone
"to provide relevant views and information to the
Secretariat for inclusion in this assessment", a
number of organizations have produced a joint
letter to be sent to the Secretariat providing
information and analysis on the issue and calling
for a "mandatory decision declaring an immediate
ban on the release of GM trees."

The letter concludes that "GM trees have no role
to play in the conservation of global forest
biological diversity and, on the contrary, are
likely to reduce forest biodiversity, with
attendant social consequences. The high risks
indicated by the available though incomplete
science show that the technology could result in
the extinction of forest plant and animal species
with severe negative impacts on biodiversity" and
urges the CBD "to move forward from the current
recommendation to Parties to take a precautionary
approach, to a mandatory decision declaring an
immediate ban on the release of GM trees."

The full letter is available IMMEDIATELY BELOW or
can be found:
http://www.wrm.org.uy/subjects/GMTrees/LetterCBD.html

If you wish to sign on to this letter, please send a message to STOP GE Trees
mailto:info@stopgetrees.org before November 15th!

Sign-on letter to CBD urging a ban on genetically modified trees

At its last Conference of the Parties (COP8), the
Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a very
important Decision in relation to the issue of
genetically modified trees and invited everyone
"to provide relevant views and information to the
Secretariat for inclusion in this assessment".
Given that a number of organizations have
produced a joint letter (below) to be sent to the
Secretariat providing information and analysis on
the issue and calling for a "mandatory decision
declaring an immediate ban on the release of GM
trees."

If you wish to sign on to this letter, please send a message to
STOP GE Trees: mailto:info@stopgetrees.org before November 15th!

CBD Secretariat
Dear Mr Djoghlaf,

The undersigned wish to express our full support
for the COP 8's Decision VIII/19 (Forest
biological diversity: implementation of the
programme of work), which "Recommends Parties to
take a precautionary approach when addressing the
issue of genetically modified trees".

We also support the reasons for the adoption of
the above Decision which states that:
"Recognizing the uncertainties related to the
potential environmental and socio-economic
impacts, including long-term and transboundary
impacts, of genetically modified trees on global
forest biological diversity, as well as on the
livelihoods of indigenous and local communities,
and given the absence of reliable data and of
capacity in some countries to undertake risk
assessments and to evaluate those potential
impacts".

Given that the Decision also "Invites Parties,
other Governments and relevant organizations,
including indigenous and local communities, as
well as relevant stakeholders, to provide
relevant views and information to the Secretariat
for inclusion in this assessment," we would like
to contribute to this assessment.

A look at the main genetically modified (GM) tree
research currently being carried out shows that
it is focused on a very narrow range of aims:

- herbicide resistance
- insect resistance
- tree sterility
- lower lignin and higher cellulose content
- resistance to cold, salt or drought
- faster growth

None of the above can be seen as being beneficial
to global forest biological diversity, which
needs accompanying flora species (impacted by
herbicides), insects and related food chains
(impacted by insect resistant trees), flowers and
seeds (inexistent with tree sterility), wood
resistant to strong winds (lower lignin content
makes trees weaker), trees and plants adapted to
local environments (impacted by alien trees
resistant to cold, salt or drought), intact soils
and sufficient water (depleted by fast-growing
trees) In addition, genetically engineered tree
plantations are likely to be developed where
biologically diverse forests now stand, following
the trend of monoculture plantations that have
replaced native forests around the world.

This indicates that GM trees are not beneficial
for global forest biological diversity. It is
also clear that those genetic modifications are
being carried out for industrial and not
environmental reasons and, if released, would
result in industrial plantations with low
biodiversity, largely devoid of other living
organisms, thus effectively depleting forest
biological diversity.

This leads to the main question: Can genetically
modified trees have a negative impact on global
forest biological diversity?

The main threats are:

- Substitution of diverse forests by genetically
modified tree monocultures. This is already
happening with "conventional" tree monocultures
(oil palm, eucalyptus, pines, acacias, and
gmelinas) and there is no reason to believe that
it would be different with GM trees. On the
contrary, corporations like ArborGen have
postulated that pulp from plantations of GM trees
could bring in considerably higher profits than
pulp from conventional monocultures, indicating
that corporations intend to rapidly implement
large scale industrial GM tree plantations.

- Contamination of non-GM trees of the same
species or genus. This contamination is
particularly dangerous in the case of the most
widespread plantation tree-eucalyptus -whose many
species have the capacity to hybridise and could
therefore be easily pollinated by GM eucalyptus.
It is also dangerous in other plantation species
such as pines, poplars and acacias. In China, the
only country where GM trees are planted on a
commercial scale, contamination of native poplar
trees has already been documented.

- Contamination of related tree species. Tree
pollen can travel very long distances and could
contaminate non-GM trees both of the same species
as well as other related species in entire
regions and countries. This would mean that
native trees might acquire the genetically
modified traits of GM trees. For instance, they
might become resistant to insects, i.e. produce
toxins, thus resulting in the depletion of
certain insect populations and dependent plant
and animal species. The "solution" of developing
flowerless trees creates false confidence in the
supposed safety of the technology and runs the
risk of passing on any of the modified genes to
trees in the wild - if sterility were to fail in
just one single tree in one year.

- Trees with less lignin (and higher cellulose
content) would be more prone to pest attacks, and
potentially increased windfalls, and would rot
more quickly, altering soil structure and
releasing CO2 more quickly, thus contributing to
climate change. Decomposing forest dead wood
provides an essential habitat for a high
diversity of flora and fauna. Disturbing the rate
of wood decomposition would have a dramatic
effect on species populations, the consequences
of which have not been studied. These trees would
also show altered characteristics during storm,
flooding and possibly drought.

- Contamination of forest ecosystems and other
habitats with GM trees via seed. Trees produce
abundant fruit and seed, often capable of
travelling long distances either carried by air,
water, animals and human activities. Trees
genetically engineered for faster growth, salt
tolerance, short daylight adaptation or cold
tolerance could out-compete common pioneer
species or populate rare or marginal habitats
previously uninhabitable to trees.

- Impacts on the livelihoods of indigenous and
local communities. The environmental release and
commercial use of GM trees in industrial GM tree
plantations would provide no goods to local
communities, and would impact on their
traditional use of forest resources, including
fruit, seed, insects, animals, honey, and fibres.
In the long run, contamination of native tree
species could wipe out most of the resources they
depend on.

- Many studies have been done on the potential
human health impacts of GM crops and the risks
involved are manifold. Few risk assessment
studies apply specifically to trees and though
they are likely to share similar risks to plant
crops, trees are also know to have other specific
areas of concern when genetically modified. The
longevity of trees makes the necessary
multi-generational risks assessment studies
impossible to carry out in the short-term. Yet it
is known that aberrations of intended gene
expression may only become apparent when studied
over several generations. Unexpected gene
expression is known to have occurred in elm
trees, for example.

- Increased contamination of soils, water and air
from toxic herbicides used in conjunction with
herbicide-resistant trees, or inhalation of
pollen from insect-resistant trees could have
serious impacts on the health of indigenous and
local communities.

- There are significant likely impacts on women
and indigenous peoples, the traditional
caretakers of biodiversity. In many communities,
women are the ones who think in terms of
generations. It is women in rural and indigenous
communities who will bear the greatest burden of
the impacts of GM tree plantations, just as they
currently bear the brunt of the impacts from
conventional monoculture tree plantations. Women
and children will likely bear the brunt of any
human health consequences of GE trees, for
example resulting from inhalation of large
quantities of Bt toxin from the pollen of
insect-resistant Bt trees.

In conclusion, GM trees have no role to play in
the conservation of global forest biological
diversity and, on the contrary, are likely to
reduce forest biodiversity, with attendant social
consequences. The high risks indicated by the
available though incomplete science show that the
technology could result in the extinction of
forest plant and animal species with severe
negative impacts on biodiversity.

We therefore urge the Convention on Biological
Diversity to move forward from the current
recommendation to Parties to take a precautionary
approach, to a mandatory decision declaring an
immediate ban on the release of GM trees.

Yours sincerely,

Ana Lucía Bravo
Accion Ecologica

Carlos A. Vicente
Accion por la Biodiversidad

Javier Baltodano/ Isaac Rojas
Forest Program/ Friends of the Earth International

Miguel Lovera
Global Forest Coalition

Anne Petermann
Global Justice Ecology Project

Henk Hobbelink
GRAIN

Brian Tokar
Institute for Social Ecology

Elizabeth Bravo
Network for a GE Free Latin America

Orin Langelle
STOP GE Trees Campaign

Ricardo Carrere
World Rainforest Movement

If you wish to sign on to this letter, please send a message to
STOP GE Trees: mailto:info@stopgetrees.org before November 15th!

_______________________________
Information from:

STOP Genetically Engineered Trees Campaign
http://www.stopgetrees.org
mailto:info@stopgetrees.org