by Will Bennington, for Global Justice Ecology Project

The USDA is accepting public comments on a request by GE tree company ArborGen to commercially sell hundreds of millions of freeze tolerant genetically engineered eucalyptus trees annually for vast plantations across Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Government approval of GE eucalyptus trees would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to the legalization of GE versions of native forest trees, including poplar and pine, which would inevitably and irreversibly contaminate native forests with destructive GE traits, devastating forest ecosystems and wildlife. Once GE trees escape, there is no way to call them back.

On February 22, the US Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding a petition to deregulate [legalize] the commercial sale of ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus. If ArborGen’s request is approved, GE eucalyptus will be the first commercially available genetically engineered forest tree in the US.

This EIS represents the first time APHIS has ever prepared a full EIS for a GE or GMO organism without being forced to by litigation. The fact that APHIS is voluntarily preparing this EIS indicates that the agency is aware of both the potentially severe environmental impacts these GE trees will have and the overwhelming public opposition to them.

Eucalyptus trees are not native to the US and are a documented invasive species (check out this fact sheet on GE eucalyptus).  They are also highly flammable and known to deplete ground water. The freeze tolerant GE eucalyptus trees will be able to survive in regions too cold for their non-GE relatives.

The only way to stop GE trees from invading and contaminating native forests is to ban the commercial release of GE trees before it is too late.

Global Justice Ecology Project and the Campaign to Stop GE Trees is calling on people everywhere to submit comments to the USDA, telling them that GE freeze tolerant eucalyptus plantations pose and unprecedented threat to forest and wildlife in the US and around the world.

Please tell the USDA to reject ArborGen’s request to commercially sell billions of GE eucalyptus trees.

Submit comments to the USDA/APHIS hereand/or

Sign the STOP GE Trees Campaign petition to the USDA demanding a ban on GE trees! 

The USDA comment period includes two online public meetings on the GE eucalyptus trees on Wednesday, April 17 from 7:00-9:00 PM EDT, and Thursday, April 18 from 4:00-6:00 PM EDT. Go to www.APHISVirtualMeetings.com to register for these public meetings.

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST GE TREES AND EUCALYPTUS PLANTATIONS!

From May 26-June 1, industry leaders, scientists and policy makers will meet in Asheville, NC for the Tree Biotechnology 2013 Conference. The conference will discuss current and future applications of GE trees, such as large-scale plantations of GE eucalyptus trees in the southern United States, from South Carolina to Texas.

The STOP GE Trees Campaign is mobilizing events and protests in Asheville calling for a ban on the release of GE trees into the environment.  To be alerted to updates on this situation and get involved in these events or the campaign to stop GE eucalyptus trees, email will@globaljusticeecology.org or go to nogetrees.org

Background:
 Non-GE eucalyptus plantations already have devastating impacts all over the world. Based on these documented impacts, GE eucalyptus plantations in the US will likely cause:

* Clearcutting of biodiverse forests for conversion to industrial GE eucalyptus plantations–called “green deserts” due to their devastating impacts on biodiversity;

* Invasive spread of GE eucalyptus trees into native ecosystems–eucalyptus are already a documented invasive species in Florida and California;

* Increased danger of firestorms-Eucalyptus contain a highly volatile oil and are explosively flammable;

* Displacement of wildlife that cannot use the non-native eucalyptus trees for habitat or food;

* Contamination of soils and groundwater with toxic agrochemicals used on the plantations;

* Worsening of Drought-Eucalyptus have deep tap roots, monopolize ground water and dry up soils;

* Worsening of climate change through the destruction of carbon rich native forests for carbon poor plantations.*

Global Justice Ecology Project and the STOP GE Trees Campaign are mobilizing to fight this threat. View our 5 minute video on the impacts of timber plantations and GE trees.

To read the 580 page petition requesting deregulation of freeze-tolerant GE eucalyptus trees, click here