Activist Groups Slam Brazil’s Approval of GM Trees

Activist Groups Slam Brazil’s Approval of GM Trees

It is being called an illegal decision for Brazil’s government to have approved genetically modified (GM) eucalyptus trees for commercial growth. Activist groups from Brazil say that the decision violates national law, but they will also fight the decision in court.

The Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) formally approved a biotech industry request to release genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees last week.

The request was put forth by FuturaGene, a company owned by a Brazilian paper company called Suzano.

Genetically modified tree trials have been conducted since at least 1988 by numerous companies.24 different GM species have been planted in at least 17 different countries – often without public awreness.

According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the trees pose a serious threat to the global environment, and there have been inadequate studies conducted to know the true results of planting GM trees. For starters, the pollen from GM trees can travel up to 600 kilometers, infecting other non-GM trees through cross-pollination.

The GM eucalyptus are meant to mature faster so that the paper company can boost profits. They represent the first approval for commercial release in all of Latin America.

Activists are exploring legal avenues to stop the commercial release of these trees that could devastate the biosphere.

Specifically, in an email from CTNBio member Paulo Paes de Andrade to the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, he was told that the decision to approve GE trees was already made, and that the meeting which was held to formally approve them was just a technicality. FuturaGene had clearly garnered Brazil’s rubber stamp without considering the long-term possibility of wiping out entire non-GM tree groves, and other ecological damage.

World Rainforest Movement’s International Coordinator, Winnie Overbeek, explained:

 “CTNBio’s approval of GE eucalyptus trees was no surprise. Over the years, CTNBio has made many decisions in favor of releasing GMO crops in Brazil, ignoring – as also happened in this case – protests and valid concerns from a wide range of groups of society. They also ignored protest letters signed by more than 100,000 people.”

 “The Commission systematically disregards the precautionary principle, including the urgent need for detailed studies of the various impacts of this dangerous technology, even though this violates the 2008 decision on GE trees made by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD), to which Brazil is a signatory.”

FuturaGene says that the possibility for seed contamination is “highly unlikely” but according to Geneticist Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, co-Director of EcoNexus and member of the Federation of German Scientists:

 “Regulation of GE trees at a national level will not be sufficient. The large-scale dispersion of reproductive material means GE trees are likely to cross national borders, and even continents given the extent of human activity, trade and travel.”

“A review of the scientific literature shows that currently there is insufficient data and understanding for meaningful risk assessments of GE trees. Both scientific literature and in-field experience show that contamination by and dispersal of GE trees will inevitably take place. The CBD decision was taken in the understanding of the risk to global forest ecosystems – and this is an international matter, both scientifically and judicially.”

Among other concerns if GM trees are widely planted is the effect it would have on the families that produce honey in the regions where the GM eucalyptus would be planted. If their honey is contaminated with GM pollen, it would be unfit for international distribution.

In an effort to overturn the decision to allow FuturaGene to plant their toxic GM trees, the Brazilian Forum to Combat Agrotoxins, coordinated by the Public Prosecution Service and with participation of relevant groups and civil society, government and academia, warned that CTNBio has repeatedly violated the National Brazilian Policy of Biosafety.

The coalition of groups organizing to stop GE eucalyptus, are also stressing the many worldwide actions that have taken place against legalizing GE eucalyptus.

Numerous activists have mobilized to condemn the release during a public hearing on FuturaGene’s request last September in Brasilia.

Most recently, 300 peasant farmers occupied a meeting meant to decide FuturaGene’s fate for planting GM trees, and more than 1000 women met at critical locations throughout Brazil to denounce FuturaGene’s illegal actions.

Brazilian Embassies and Consulates on five continents acted against the release of the GE eucalyptus of FuturaGene.

It is clear the world doesn’t want genetically modified trees. There are much safer ways to make paper.