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The Big Picture

Center for Food Safety

Monoculture tree plantations are nothing new: as of 2008, there were 43 million acres of pine plantations in the U.S.[1]  However, introducing GE trees will increase the demand for these plantations as paper and biomass companies envision larger profits.  This puts pressure on our native forests, the climate, our food supply, and people who depend on the vitality of forest ecosystems.

Biotechnology companies are trying to drum up support for GE trees by claiming that GE tree plantations can be helpful in replenishing our nation’s forests, combating climate change, and providing development opportunities for local communities.  None of these claims are true.

Tree plantations are not forests: They have nowhere near the biodiversity or natural forests and depend on applications of pesticides and fertilizers to continue to grow.  GE tree plantations are not reforesting anything; they are replacing forests.  GE tree plantations are simply the next stage of industrial agriculture.

GE tree plantations will exacerbate climate change: If the U.S. decides to substitute even a small percentage of fossil fuels for biofuels, it will require a massive amount of land.  A 10% reduction in gasoline and diesel fuels will require 43% of our current cropland to be converted to biofuel production.[2]   To devote enough land to biofuel production without completely jeopardizing food production, forests and grasslands would also need to be converted, meaning that there will be a net negative climate impact.  Monoculture-style GE tree plantations sequester merely one fourth of the carbon of native forests.[3]  The removal of natural, old tree forests to clear space for new GE trees releases significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, a cost that cannot be mitigated by the planting of young trees.  Highly volatile GE eucalyptus and pine plantations risk dumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere through frequent and devastating forest fires.  Preserving and maintaining the health of existing forests would go much further in slowing climate change and reducing carbon outputs than GE tree farming ever could.

GE tree plantations will marginalize communities in the U.S. and abroad: The proliferation of GE trees will also have negative consequences for local communities.  GE crops that contaminate natural crops and wild plants cause irreparable harm to biodiversity and billions of dollars in lost markets and reputations for farmers.  Monsanto and other biotech companies who own the patent rights to GE seeds sue farmers whose crops show traces of GE content.  Similarly, if GE trees are approved and planted, transgenic contamination will be unavoidable, contaminating relatedtrees on private property and on public lands.  Landowners, just like farmers, would become patent infringers.

In the developing world, communities are being pushed off their land or forced into converting agricultural land into tree plantations.  In the Lumaco district of Chile, pine and eucalyptus plantations have gone from 14% of land in 1988 to 52% in 2002.[4]  This shift in land use has not brought about better conditions for locals; 60% of the population lives in poverty.[5]  Similar trends are occurring throughout South America and will only worsen as demand for biofuel from GE trees increases. 

 

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[1] Scot Quaranda, “Don’t Log the Forests for the Fuel,” A Position Paper on the Potential Environmental and Economic Impacts of the Cellulosic Ethanol Industry in the Southern United States,” Dogwood Alliance (2008), available at http://pressroomda.greenmediatoolshed.org/sites/default/files/Forest4Fuel08.pdf

[2] Renton Righelato and Dominick V. Spracklen, “Carbon Mitigation by Biofuels or by Saving and Restoring Forests?” Science 317 (2007): 902, available at http://www.unece.lsu.edu/biofuels/documents/2008Oct/bf08_08.pdf

[3] World Resources Institute, “Keeping it Green: Tropical Forestry Opportunities for Mitigation Climate Change,” (March 1995).

[4] Alfredo Seguel, “The Chilean forestry model and the Mapuche,” (December 28 2005), available at https://periodicoelsurco.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/el-modelo-forestal-chileno-y-la-destruccion-de-ecosistemas-y-comunidades/.

[5] Global Justice Ecology Project, Global Forest Coalition, and STOP GE Trees Campaign, “GE Trees, Cellulosic Biofuels & Destruction of U.S. and Global Forests,” available at http://www.globaljusticeecology.org/files/GE%20Trees%20and%20cell%20eth%20brief.pdf.

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