Just as silently as GMO foods were introduced into U.S. grocery stores, our homes and our bodies, with little public debate, disclosure or labeling, another genetically modified “breakthrough” is upon on. Just like food, this new biotechnology is not driven with the goal of improving the lives of people or protecting the planet, but to maximize profits. In this case, the profits of paper and lumber companies.
Trees are being genetically engineered/modified to make them able to tolerate toxic herbicides, grow faster, kill insects and have altered wood composition. The paper pulp industry has to remove lignin from wood pulp before it can be used to make paper, which is an expensive part of the process. So, the biotech industry is working to create trees with lower lignin content. The problem is, lignin is what gives trees their structural integrity. In addition, as the Sierra Club points out, other threats also exist, such as the risk of genetically modified trees interbreeding with wild trees, or becoming invasive, threatening native trees and potentially changing the character of our national parks and forests forever.
As Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch wrote eloquently in the Huffington Post, “Opposition to GE (generically engineered) trees makes sense for many reasons. First and foremost, there is little basis for confidence that these trees will “behave” as their makers proclaim. Like Frankenstein, they are likely to cause trouble. GE food crops have already taught us some lessons, from unanticipated problems. Those include the failure of engineered traits to be expressed consistently, and cross-contamination with wild relatives and evolution of resistant weeds and pests (in the case of herbicide resistance traits). The bottom line is that nature is messy and unpredictable.”
What’s even more concerning is that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently considering a petition from ArborGen, a leading biotech company that is run by a number of ex-Monsanto executives. The company is trying to commercialize genetically modified eucalyptus trees that can tolerate freezing temperatures, so that they can be grown in climates that can be too cold for normal eucalyptus. It will make paper production a lot more cost-effective, but at what cost?
If this concerns you, YOU can the following things NOW!
1. Learn how you can minimize your use of paper products.
2. Sign the Global Justice Ecology Project’s petition to ban genetically modified trees.
To learn more about genetically modified trees, watch the documentary below, which discusses how genetically modified trees may adversely impact ecological systems on a grand scale, with potentially catastrophic effects. The documentary is hosted by Dr. David Suzuki, author, academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist.
Image Source: John Tann/Flickr