Viewpoint: Activists aim to block GM chestnut tree by hyping potential risks and ignoring real benefits

no ge trees en
Credit: Global Justice Ecology Project

For more than 30 years, the American Chestnut Foundation (ACF) has been engaged in a privately financed program …. to produce an American chestnut tree that retains essentially only the blight resistance genes from the Chinese chestnut tree.

More recently, the ACF has been collaborating with researchers at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) to use modern biotechnology to endow American chestnut trees with blight resistance. To that end, the researchers have added a gene from wheat that produces the enzyme oxalate oxidase that breaks down the oxalic acid the fungus uses to attack chestnut trees. It works; the added gene does indeed protect American chestnuts from the blight.

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Related article:  Infographic: Are genetically engineered crops less safe than classically-bred food?

Now the ACF and ESF researchers are officially petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to …. allow the blight-tolerant bioengineered trees to be planted without restriction as part of restoration programs.

However, a coterie of anti-biotech activists organized as The Campaign to STOP GE Trees are opposing the petition to the USDA. To justify their opposition to blight-resistant genetically-engineered American chestnuts, the campaigners …. assert that since researchers do not know absolutely all of the possible consequences of planting blight-resistant American chestnut trees, then none should be planted. Perplexingly, the activists ignore the glaring fact that we do know what the deleterious ecological and economic consequences of having no blight-resistant chestnut trees have been.

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