NO to genetic engineering in our forests!

DNA in the forest Genetically engineered chestnut trees are a threat to nature. (© Paul Hartley & mevans / istockphoto.com - Collage RdR)

The biotech industry wants to make genetic engineering acceptable by touting it as the key to saving endangered species. In reality, it it is unleashing a massive, irreversible experiment with unforeseeable consequences for the environment. We can’t let this go ahead – tell the US Department of Agriculture to say NO to Frankentrees!

Call to action

To: US Department of Agriculture – Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS)

“Releasing fertile, GMO American chestnuts into the wild is a massive, irreversible experiment with unforeseeable consequences. It must be stopped.”

Read letter

The biotech industry has a plan:

The chestnut blight – a fungal disease – nearly wiped out the American chestnut in the early 20th century, leaving only a few adult trees in the eastern United States and Canada. Researchers have created a genetically engineered chestnut that is resistant to the blight. Now, they want to get the trees out of the lab and into forests as quickly as possible.

Now, they want to release the modified tree to spread thoroughout its former habitat – and declare genetic engineering to be the savior of the forest. This would be the first time a fertile GM plant is released into the wild, and once it's out there, there will be no way back.

It would be huge, irreversible experiment with an unknown outcome.

Forests are highly complex communities of life, and there are no long-term studies on how genetically modified trees interact with diverse ecosystems, insects, birds and other wildlife. There is absolutely no way to foresee the unintended consequences of such a release into the wild.

The biotech industry wants us to believe that this as a noble struggle to protect an iconic species, not the ruthless pursuit of business interests. Once this dangerous precedent has been set, the industry is unlikely to face much resistance when introducing other genetically engineered species. The floodgates will be wide open.

COVID-19 is showing us the consequences of disrespecting nature in no uncertain terms – and yet researchers still want to play around with the very blueprint of life.

We need to protect our environment, not tamper with the genetic makeup of trees.

Please sign our petition and tell the US Department of Agriculture to reject this dangerous experiment with our environment – we need to draw the line right here.

Back­ground

The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) was one of the most common forest trees in the eastern United States and Canada until the first half of the 20th century, when the chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica), a parasitic fungus, almost completely wiped it out. Asian chestnut species are immune to the blight, but their American cousins are not.

According to a recent study, around 450 pests that damage or feed on trees have been introduced to US forests due to the growth in international trade and travel. It would be impossible to fight all of these threats using genetic engineering.

The College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse has been working on genetically manipulated American chestnuts for around 30 years. Dr. William Powell and Dr. Chuck Maynard inserted a sequence from the wheat genome into chestnuts, causing it to produce the enzyme oxalate oxidase. This neutralizes the oxalic acid of the fungi.

The genetically engineered trees would not stop at the US border, but would also spread to eastern Canada.

The research and development of the GMO chestnut was funded by companies such as ArborGen, Monsanto (now Bayer) and Duke Energy.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are responsible for ensuring the safety of this tree before it is planted in forests. Neither authority has any experience in this. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has has issued a warning to this effect in its 2019 Forest Health and Biotechnology report. Meanwhile, the USDA has funded researchers to permit them to conduct risk assessments of their own trees.

Letter

To: US Department of Agriculture – Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Researchers are currently seeking approval to release fertile, genetically engineered American chestnuts into natural forests.

The scientists see a future of forests filled with genetically modified trees, and approving their plan would set a disastrous precedent.

The American chestnut tree would be the first genetically engineered tree species to be approved in the United States and the first fertile GMO plant to be released into a natural ecosystem. Future GMO plants could then be approved with little to prevent their uncontrollable spread.

Corporations and researchers have been seeking permits for GMO trees in industrial plantations for years. The overwhelming public rejection of genetic engineering has so far prevented them from going ahead. They now want to bypass the public’s distrust by using the Trojan horse of “forest restoration”.

However, you cannot “restore” a natural ecosystem with designer trees.

No long-term studies are available on the ecological and social risks of genetically modified American chestnuts in forests. Indigenous peoples, First Nations, cities, counties and farmers who want to remain GMO-free would be at risk. The sovereignty of indigenous peoples would be violated and the livelihood of chestnut farmers threatened. The unintended consequences are truly unforeseeable.

For all of these reasons, I am adding my voice to the individuals and organizations calling for the rejection of these and all other genetically manipulated trees. We call on you to stop this massive, irreversible experiment with our forests.

Yours faithfully,

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