June 5, 2007
Straight to the Source
Alyx Perry, WildLaw-- Southern Forests Network, 828.277.9008
Neil Carman, Sierra Club--512.472.1767
Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project--802.482.2689
"USDA Must Reject Permit for Engineered Eucalyptus Trees," Campaign Demands
The STOP GE Trees Campaign is demanding the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) reject a request by ArborGen to allow a field trial of genetically engineered eucalyptus to flower and produce seeds. The Campaign wants to ensure APHIS destroys the Baldwin County, Alabama field trial before it produces seeds to prevent escape of the GE eucalyptus.
"This would be a precedent-setting decision. It is the next step toward permitting full-scale plantations of non-native genetically engineered eucalyptus plantations," stated Eva Hernandez of the Dogwood Alliance. "Eucalyptus plantations would devastate our southern forests. They deplete ground water and exacerbate drought conditions. They are extremely flammable and could cause massive wildfires-even worse than the recent wildfires in Georgia and Florida. None of these concerns was even mentioned in APHIS's evaluation of ArborGen's eucalyptus field trial-it was completely inadequate. We demand that APHIS prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement to address these serious concerns," she continued.
"It is extremely important that these trees not be permitted to flower and produce seeds," stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club. "ArborGen has taken eucalyptus, a species already widely known for its invasiveness and fast growth, and extended its range by making it cold tolerant. This means the seeds from these trees could invade areas all around the South-especially because the field trial is in an area that is historically heavily impacted by strong storms that could spread the seeds widely. GE eucalyptus could become the new kudzu," he continued.
Dr. Rachel Smolker, a research biologist, working with Global Justice Ecology Project identified a potential health threat from eucalyptus. "Eucalyptus have been found to host a pathogenic fungus that causes a fatal fungal meningitis in people exposed to it," she cautioned. "The spores of this fungus can remain dormant for long periods and have been found around the world where eucalyptus have been introduced. The establishment of plantations of GE eucalyptus in the Southeast US could become a major health threat," she added.
"APHIS is under pressure from ArborGen to approve this field trial quickly because, according to public records, the GE eucalyptus trees will begin flowering in early summer," stated Orin Langelle, Coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign. "APHIS received over 400 comments and documents in response to this field trial, but we are extremely concerned that they are going to rubber stamp ArborGen's request because the trees are ready to flower. These trees pose a very real threat to the South, and it is critical that concerns be addressed," he argued.
The Union of Concerned Scientists requested an extension to the deadline for comments on the GE eucalyptus, which ended on May 21, citing concerns that there was insufficient time to properly evaluate the Environmental Assessment, especially since ArborGen had refused to reveal the details of the engineered traits. APHIS rejected the UCS request.
ArborGen petitioned APHIS in 2006 for permission to extend their GE Eucalyptus field trials to allow flowering and seed production in 355 GE Eucalyptus hybrid trees grown on 1.1 acres in Baldwin County, Alabama close to the Gulf of Mexico. APHIS recently accepted public comments on the Environmental Assessment in which they recommend approval for the field trials.
The STOP GE Trees Campaign is a program of Global Justice Ecology Project and includes thirteen member groups such as Sierra Club, Dogwood Alliance, Southern Forests Network, WildLaw, Rainforest Action Network and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.