More than a quarter of a million genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees exported from New Zealand stand to shred New Zealand’s clean, green brand and risk large-scale health and environmental damage, according to the Soil & Health Association of New Zealand.
ArborGen, the (GE) tree research and development giant, which is one third owned by New Zealand company Rubicon (formerly Fletcher Challenge Forestry), is trying to plant 260,000 GE cold tolerant eucalyptus trees in 29 so called “field trials” in 7 different US states. These trees will be able to flower and set seed, and while not permitted to be field trialled in New Zealand have been developed in and exported from New Zealand. They are derived from the hybrid of Eucalyptus grandis X Eucalyptus urophylla.
Submissions to the United States Department of Agriculture’s regulatory authority Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) close July 6.
ArborGen and Rubicon have a collaborative GE tree development contract with Crown Research Institute Scion, formerly known as Forest Research Institute. Rubicon has stated that it wants commercialisation of GE forests in New Zealand to have less regulatory impediments.
The development is part of a drive to commercialise a new source of hardwood trees for the US South pulp and paper industry, and the cold-tolerant variety also as a raw material for second-generation wood derived biofuels. Arborgen currently has US government funding for research and development of biofuels. However there is international concern with the use of wood for bio-fuel because of the destructive impacts on biodiversity and on rural and indigenous communities worldwide. GE eucalypts from New Zealand have also been exported to Brazil.
“Such plantings would not be accepted by New Zealanders, but big New Zealand business combined with proven sloppy Scion scientists are prepared to take big risks globally,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“Scion and Rubicon’s involvement with large-scale GE brings shame to New Zealand’s clean, green GE-free reputation.”
“The government must stop the export of genetically engineered plants, animals and products from New Zealand. A clean, green brand does not include products of genetic engineering or participation in planting of new global weeds.”
US environmentalists are also expressing serious concerns, as one parent line of the GE eucalypt hybrid being trialed is a known host for a fatal fungal pathogen CRYTOCOCCUS Gattii. This pathogen has been found in the US and can cause fatal fungal meningitis in people and animals that inhale its spores. It is believed that creating extensive habitats for the fungal pathogen is dangerous and foolhardy.
In California, eucalypts often out-compete native plant species and are now widespread throughout the coastal and southern parts of the state. Authorities spend millions annually to eradicate these invasive trees.
New Zealand’s Rubicon is keen for ArborGen’s GE cold tolerant eucalypts to be commercialised in a wide range of new regions, allowing them to flower and set seeds. The cold-tolerance is bred in to the GE eucalypts to allow greater geographic spread where they can outperform other species native to those regions.”
“The wilding pine scenario in New Zealand should alert anyone with concerns for biodiversity about the risks of Rubicon and ArborGen’s current US application,” said Mr Browning.
At last year’s UN Convention on Biological Diversity the New Zealand government voted against suspending GE tree plantings while more conclusive proof of environmental safety occurred.
“Scion has already shown serious negligence with its own GE pine field trial last year and then made misleading claims about the trial’s environmental outcomes. Those in charge of the GE pine tree field trial at Rotorua were continuously in breach of consent conditions and international obligations, for the trial’s duration.”
Research conducted by Columbia University (4) has found eucalyptus to be a great threat to ecosystems. The US Forest Service has also reported on the ability of eucalypts to suppress the growth of other plants and their increased fire risk. (5) Duke University scientists have created pollen models that show tree pollen travelling for over 1,000 kilometres from a forest in North Carolina northward into eastern Canada. (6)
“With the serious risks of genetic engineering, Rubicon, Scion and Arborgen are being reckless and damaging to New Zealand primary production, tourism and manufacturing’s best value trading brands – clean and green and 100% Pure. Just as Nuclear Free has resonance with New Zealanders and our international customers alike, so does GE Free, with New Zealand polls consistently showing almost 70% opposed to GE,” said Mr Browning.
“New Zealand Corporates and Crown Research Institutes need to be more responsible and share the clean green vision.”
Soil & Health has a vision of an Organic 2020 with a motto of Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People, and is active in seeking genuinely sustainable solutions for New Zealand production and environment.