Viewpoint: ‘Circumventing evolution’ with genetically modified trees puts ecosystems at risk

That many forests in the United States are suffering health crises is not in question. Much of this troubling condition, however, has come as a result of human activities. The global trade in wood chips, raw logs and live trees has imported invasive plants, disease and insects. Over-logging and soil compaction make natural forest regeneration difficult. And acid rain from Midwest smokestacks kills off the mountaintop forests of the Northeast.

The use of biotechnology in forests, as the National Academies is examining, is yet another ill-conceived human intervention likely to add to, not alleviate, forest health crises. The body is debating the intentional release of trees genetically engineered in ways that could never occur in nature, with no knowledge of the long-term social or ecological risks.

The risks of tampering with the genes of trees are unknown and unknowable. Yet the GE American chestnut is planned for release into forests with the intention of contaminating wild trees with their engineered pollen. The goal: replace wild American chestnuts with engineered ones.

Attempts to promote forest health by circumventing evolution and genetically engineering trees, however, is bound to fail, with potentially irreversible impacts on the very ecosystems they ostensibly are intended to help. Any real strategy to address forest health crises must confront the underlying causes and include impacted communities in the decision-making process.

Editor’s note: Rachel Smolker is a co-director of Biofuelwatch and is on the board of Global Forest Coalition. Anne Petermann is executive director of Global Justice Ecology Project and coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. Rachel Kijewski is a GE trees campaigner for Global Justice Ecology Project and a member of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees Steering Committee.

Read full, original post: The forests are in crisis but biotechnology is not the solution

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Click the link above to read the full, original article.

4 thoughts on “Viewpoint: ‘Circumventing evolution’ with genetically modified trees puts ecosystems at risk”

  1. Attempts to promote forest health by circumventing evolution and genetically engineering trees, however, is bound to fail, with potentially irreversible impacts on the very ecosystems they ostensibly are intended to help.

    And how exactly does one ‘circumvent evolution’?

    Wouldn’t that be agriculture, replacing native ecosystems with fields? What about humans over the ages selecting mutant plants and animals that probably wouldn’t have survived for long in the wild but are better for food production? What about the previous several decades when breeders bombarded seeds and plants with high doses of radiation and again selected out mutants to propagate for food? Aren’t all of those human interventions ‘circumventing evolution’?

    As to those ‘potentially irreversible impacts’ – what does that even mean? What’s the probability of – or even the significance of – some ‘irreversible impact’ that might come from adding one or a few additional genes with known properties to the tens of thousands of genes already present in a plant genome? Put that in the context with the thousands of genes that get shuffled around in a typical plant hybridization scenario.

    While almost anything is possible, we need to consider what is probable. Humans have been growing GMO crops for a quarter century. Have any of them spread outside the farm anymore than their sister non-GM crops? How is making a once prolific and magnificent tree resistant to an invasive disease going to upset some ‘natural balance’ that itself is the consequence of that invasive disease having destroyed that same species of trees in the first place?

    Yes our forests in places are ‘unhealthy’ because of human activity. But the horse left the barn long ago and we aren’t going back to some pristine utopia with a world now full of people. Humans have this amazing ability to learn from their mistakes and then innovate to make improvements. Failure comes when we recognize our mistakes but then do nothing to rectify them.

  2. Thanks to GLP for sharing ‘the diversity of opinion’ from anti-technology posts. However, I’ll reluctantly resist the temptation to shoot the sickly fish in this barrel.

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