During a yacht tour to Fort Sumter, which was the kick-off event for a conference on fast growing timber plantations and forest biotechnology, activists confronted conference participants by unfurling banners after the cruise disembarked. One banner read "ArborGen: No GE Trees or Plantations in US South or Brazil" and a second banner in Portuguese translated into "Eucalyptus Plantations Are Not Forests." A third Spanish banner read "We demand protection for native forests and respect for the Mapuche people."
"This is our first shot over the bow of the timber industry and corporate researchers," stated Johnny Lankenship. "We are uniting with our brothers and sisters in South America to stop the destruction of native forests by tree plantations and genetically engineered trees."
The industry conference was organized by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations and co-sponsored by Summerville, SC-based ArborGen. ArborGen leads the world in research into genetically engineered trees and the IUFRO will be organizing another similar conference next week in Chile.
ArborGen works in both in the US South and in Brazil. Massive tree plantations in Chile and Brazil have forced indigenous people off of their land, leveled huge areas of forest, caused sickness in nearby villages and increased global warming. Using genetically engineered trees would worsen these impacts.
Tree plantations hold up to 90 percent less species diversity than the native forests they replaced, leading many to label them as "green deserts." Moreover, a plantation containing genetically engineered trees poses the high risk of genetic contamination of the surrounding natural forest with traits such as weakened structural integrity and cellular pesticide production. In fact, wild poplar trees throughout China have already become polluted by genetically engineered tree plantations.
Popular industry theories claim plantations will help address climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This ignores the fact that tree plantations absorb a quarter of the CO2 as intact natural forest. Furthermore, tree plantations are logged at an early age thereby releasing the stored CO2.
"We are in an ecological crises now! Climate change is here and deforestation is a massive contributor to this rolling catastrophe," said Jean Wald. "It's too late to tinker with bogus solutions. Plantation forestry is a serious problem and GE trees will make it that much worse. Add the social consequences of plantations and there is no more justification for them."
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