Brazil Called upon to Block Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

By Valentina Leri

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS) – Forest protection, increased biodiversity and wildlife conservation are just a few of the promises made by proponents of genetically engineered (GE) plants. But campaigners are not buying these promises.

On Tuesday, environmental activists gathered in Brazilian consulates and embassies demanding that the government reject the proposal of FuturaGene, a biotechnological company, to legalize GE eucalyptus trees.
The action was taken as part of the Emergency Global Day of Action on Four Continents to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, organized by an international group of NGOs which have formed the The Campaign to STOP GE Trees. The campaign aims to protect forests, biodiversity, and support communities which may be threatened by the effects of GE plants in the environment.

Campaigners fear that the Brazilian Technical Commission on Bio-safety (CTNBio), which regulates genetically modified organisms in Brazil, will accept FuturaGene’s request for the legalization of industrial GE plantation, at a conference which will be held on 5th March in Brasilia.
International Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement, Winnie Overbeek, said in a statement: “CTNBio does not have sufficient research on the serious impacts that approval of GE eucalyptus trees could cause to render a decision,” adding that CTNBio held only one public meeting, back in September 2014 in Brasilia, which showed the insufficiency of the existing studies on the issue.

“Existing non-GE eucalyptus plantations are already causing serious conflicts over access to land, and living conditions of communities surrounded by them have been destroyed. Approval of GE eucalyptus trees will worsen these problems,” Overbeek concluded.
As opposed to the negative picture painted by environmentalists, FuturaGene claims that, “Technology developed by FuturaGene could position Brazil as a new model for the plantation forestry industry. This innovation provides benefits in the social, economic and environmental spheres.” However, activists insist on saying that introducing GE eucalyptus trees plantation would simply worsen the impact on the environment, biodiversity, and indigenous and local communities worldwide.
Anne Petermann, International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, said, “Industry requests to legalize GE Trees are not just being decided in Brazil, but in the U.S. also. And companies in other countries would like to develop GE trees.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has had the same proposal put to them by a different GE tree company, ArborGen. “Today’s day of action shows once more that people around the world reject genetically engineered trees and Brazil must also,” Petermann added. In November 2014, a group of experts, scientists, agronomists, indigenous peoples and foresters met in Paraguay to discuss the rejection of all GE trees, even those in field trials. Recently, this committee has finalised a declaration, the Asuncion Declaration, which has been submitted to the CTNBio.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin