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By World Movement for Forests
The last Conference of the Parties (COP8) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted an important Decision (VIII / 19) by which it “recommends that the Parties adopt precautionary approaches when dealing with the issue of genetically modified trees”. Collection of signatures for the CBD to prohibit its release.
The last Conference of the Parties (COP8) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted an important Decision (VIII / 19) by which “Recommends that the Parties adopt precautionary approaches when dealing with the issue of genetically modified trees”
The Decision recognized “the inaccuracies [uncertainties] related to the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, including the long-term and transboundary impacts, of genetically modified trees on the biological diversity of forests at the global level, as well as the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities, and given the absence of reliable data and the capacity in some countries to carry out risk assessments and evaluate these possible impacts ”.
This is a very important step in the right direction, which needs to be supported to counteract the pressures that CBD will receive from the actors involved in the production and sale of genetically modified trees.
Since the COP 8 Decision invites everyone “to offer opinions and pertinent information to the Secretariat for inclusion in the evaluation”, several organizations have prepared a joint letter to be sent to the Secretariat that contains information and analysis on the subject and makes a call to the CBD to declare "immediately a ban on the release of genetically modified trees."
The letter ends by saying that: “GM trees have no role to play in conserving the biological diversity of forests, and on the contrary, they are likely to reduce biodiversity, with corresponding social consequences. The high risks indicated by the available science, although incomplete, show that the technology can result in the extinction of species of flora and fauna of the forest, with severe impacts on biodiversity "and urges the CBD to move" towards a mandatory Decision , immediately declaring the ban on the release of genetically modified trees.
* World Forest Movement - WRM
Text of the Letter to be signed to request that the CBD prohibit the release of genetically modified trees
If you want to sign this letter, please send a message to STOP GE Trees: [email protected] before November 15!
Secretariat of the CBD
Dear Mr. Djoghaf:
The undersigned wish to express their full support for decision VIII / 19 of the eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Forest Biological Diversity: implementation of the work program), which “Recommends that the Parties adopt precautionary approaches when dealing with the question of genetically modified trees ”.
We also support the rationale for making such a Decision, which states: “Recognizing the inaccuracies [uncertainties] related to the potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, including long-term and transboundary impacts, of genetically modified trees on the biological diversity of forests at the global level, as well as the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities, and given the absence of reliable data and the capacity in some countries to carry out risk assessments and assess these possible impacts… ”
As the Decision also “Invites Parties, other Governments and relevant organizations, including indigenous and local communities, as well as relevant stakeholders, to provide relevant views and information to the Secretariat for inclusion in the assessment,” we interested in contributing to this evaluation.
A look at the main lines of research on genetically modified (GM) trees that are currently being carried out shows a very narrow range of objectives:
- herbicide resistance
- insect resistance
- barrenness of trees
- less lignin and higher cellulosic content
- resistance to cold, salinity or drought
- faster growth
None of these characteristics can be seen as beneficial for the biological diversity of forests, which needs the accompaniment of flora species (which are impacted by herbicides), insects and the corresponding food chains (which are impacted by herbicides). trees resistant to insects), flowers and seeds (nonexistent due to the sterility of the trees), wood resistant to strong winds (the lower content of lignin makes the tree weaker), trees and plants adapted to local environments (which receive the impact of exotic trees resistant to cold, salinity and drought), intact soils and sufficient water (depleted by fast-growing trees).
Furthermore, genetically modified tree plantations are likely to settle where biologically diverse forests currently occupy, following the trend of monoculture plantations that have replaced native forests around the world.
This indicates that GM trees are not beneficial to global forest biodiversity. It is also clear that these genetic modifications are being carried out for industrial rather than environmental reasons and that if these GM trees are released, they will result in industrial plantations with low biodiversity and the disappearance of other living organisms. Thus, forest biological diversity is effectively reduced.
This brings us to the main question: Can GM trees have a negative impact on the biological diversity of forests?
The main threats are:
- Substitution of diverse forests by monocultures of GM trees. This is already happening with “conventional” tree monocultures (oil palm, eucalyptus, pines, acacias and melinas) and there is no reason to believe that this will be different if GM trees are used. On the contrary, corporations such as ArborGen have pointed out that considerably higher profits can be obtained from pulp obtained from GM tree plantations than from conventional monocultures, thus indicating that corporations are seeking to implement GM tree plantations on a large scale.
- Contamination of genetically unmodified trees of the same species or genus. This contamination is particularly dangerous in the case of the most widely used tree in plantations - eucalyptus - whose many species have the ability to hybridize and can therefore be easily pollinated by GM eucalyptus. The same danger also exists in the case of other widely planted species, such as pines, poplars, and acacias. In China, the only country where GM trees have been planted on a commercial scale, contamination of native poplars has already been documented.
- Contamination of trees of related species. Tree pollen can travel long distances and can contaminate non-GM trees, both of the same species, and other related species, in entire regions and countries. This would mean that native trees could acquire characteristics of GM trees. For example, they could become insect resistant, that is, produce toxins resulting in the decline of certain insect populations and dependent plant and animal species. The "solution" of growing trees without flowers creates a false confidence in the supposed safety of the technology and runs the risk of passing any of the modified genes to wild trees - if sterility were to fail in just one tree in a year.
- Trees with less lignin (and higher cellulose content) would be more exposed to pests, their fall would probably increase in the face of strong winds, and the decomposition of their wood would be faster, altering the composition of the soil and releasing CO2 more quickly, contributing in this way to climate change. Decomposed wood from forests provides essential habitat for a great diversity of flora and fauna. Altering the levels of decomposition would have a serious effect on species populations, the consequences of which have not yet been studied. These trees will also show altered characteristics during a storm, flood or drought.
- The contamination of forest ecosystems and other habitats with GM trees, through seeds. Trees produce abundant fruit and seeds, often capable of traveling long distances by air, water, animals, or human activities. Genetically engineered trees to acquire higher-growth qualities, tolerance to salinity, adaptation to shorter days or tolerance to cold, could eradicate common pioneer species, or populate unique or marginal habitats where trees previously could not develop.
The impacts on the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities. The release into the environment and the commercial use of GM trees in industrial plantations will not bring any benefit to local communities, and will negatively impact the traditional use of forest resources, including fruits, seeds, insects, animals, honey and fibers. In the long term, contamination of native tree species could wipe out most of the resources on which they depend.
- Many studies have been conducted on the possible impacts of GM crops on human health and the risks involved are multiple. Few assessment studies have been done specifically on trees, and while they probably share similar risks to agricultural crops, genetically modified trees are also known to raise specific issues of concern. The longevity of trees makes it impossible to carry out multi-generational evaluation studies in the short term. However, it is known that the occurrence of failures in the intended expression of genes can only become evident after having been studied over several generations. Unexpected genetic expressions have in fact occurred, for example, in the case of elms.
- Increased soil, water and air pollution from toxic herbicides used in conjunction with herbicide resistant trees, or inhaling pollen from insect resistant trees, can have serious impacts on the health of indigenous peoples and local communities.
- There are possible significant impacts on women and indigenous peoples, traditional stewards of biodiversity. In many communities, women are the ones who think generationally. It is women from rural and indigenous communities who will bear the brunt of the impact of GM tree plantations, just as they currently bear the hardest part of the impacts of conventional monoculture tree plantations. Women and children will also bear the brunt of any human health consequences of GM trees, for example as a result of inhaling large amounts of the Bt toxin from insect-resistant tree pollen.
- In conclusion, GM trees have no role to play in conserving the biological diversity of forests, and on the contrary, they probably reduce biodiversity, with corresponding social consequences. The high risks indicated by the available science, although incomplete, show that the technology can result in the extinction of forest flora and fauna species, with severe impacts on biodiversity.
We urge, therefore, the Convention on Biological Diversity to move from the current recommendation to the Parties to take “precautionary approaches”, towards a mandatory Decision, immediately declaring the prohibition of the release of genetically modified trees.
Ana Lucia Bravo
Carlos A. Vicente
Action for Biodiversity
Global Coalition for Forests
Global Justice Ecology Project
Institute for Social Ecology
World Forest Movement
Javier Baltodano / Isaac Rojas
Forests / Friends of the Earth International Program
Network for a GMO-Free Latin America
STOP GE Trees Campaign
If you want to sign this letter, please send a message to
STOP GE Trees: [email protected] before November 15, 2006!