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On Wed, 7/1/09, Center for Food Safety

office@centerforfoodsafety.org

The biotechnology firm ArborGen has asked the USDA for permission to conduct 29 field trials of genetically engineered “cold tolerant” eucalyptus trees in the U.S. For the first time in history, this massive experiment, which is on the verge of being green-lighted, will literally be using nature as the laboratory to test more than 260,000 genetically engineered trees. Scientists across the U.S. are voicing concerns over this proposal.

As it did with GE alfalfa, USDA failed to conduct and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to comprehensively address all the relevant issues related to the proposed eucalyptus field trials. Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina have created pollen models that show tree pollen traveling from a forest in North Carolina for over 1,000 kilometers northward into eastern Canada. A study published in the New Physiologist found pine pollen 600 kilometers from the nearest pines. Scientists researching sterility in trees have admitted that 100 percent guaranteed sterility in GE trees is impossible. This evidence implies that if GE trees are released into the environment, widespread and irreversible contamination of native forests cannot be prevented.

Contamination of natural trees by GE eucalyptus could pose a severe environmental threat. Eucalyptus grow well in warm climates, so engineering them to tolerate cold temperatures removes the only barrier to their unrestricted spread. In some places where eucalyptus have been introduced, they are well known for escaping and colonizing native ecosystems. For example, eucalyptus is listed as an invasive species and a costly plant pest in California. The spread of these plants into the wild through seeds and plant matter is highly likely, and the impacts on native ecosystems from this invader are largely unknown. Additionally, one of the experimental GE tree varieties is a known host for cryptococcus gatti, a fatal fungal pathogen whose spores cause meningitis in people and animals. More