GM trees that prevent pest disease tied up in regulation, anti-GMO attacks

| | August 24, 2015
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U.S. researchers say it has become “virtually impossible” to plant genetically modified trees in any part of the world. They argue that the GM trees are desperately needed to deal with forest diseases and pests. What they term “misguided” concerns about genetic engineering have slowed progress to a crawl. But environmental campaigners say the technology is risky and the long-term safety unproven.

GM trees were developed amid hopes that they could tackle persistent problems such as pest infestations and that fast-growing strains would be developed for commercial companies.

Earlier this year a rapidly growing variety of eucalyptus was approved for use in Brazil – these trees can produce 20 percent more wood than conventional varieties. But approval only came after almost 10 years of field trials.

Researchers say delays are paralyzing technology at a time of increased threat to forests, that there is too much concern over genetic engineering methods and not enough focus on the problems they solve.

“With global climate change and the spreading of pests, it’s rather urgent we have all the tools we can bring to bear,” lead author Dr Steven Strauss from the University of Oregon told BBC News. “It’s just a pity that this tool is off the table and is locked in some vault.”

GM regulations were developed for short-cycle crops like maize. Trees take decades to grow and live longer, and during trials they must be isolated from other species. All this adds hugely to the expense.

Behind the tough regulations, the authors argue, are concerted efforts by green groups to limit the technology. “I used to belong to a lot of these groups,” said Dr Strauss, “and I question what they are doing.”

The research has been published in the journal, Science.

Read full, original post: Genetically modified trees are being ‘strangled’ by red tape

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