BioDev 2000 GE (Mutant) Trees Workshop

Karl Davies karl at
Fri Apr 7 20:58:19 EST 2000

Posted to alt.forestry, bionet.agroforestry, saf-news, nefr-list.  These
notes are also on the web at

BioDevastation 2000 Conference
Genetically Engineered (Mutant) Trees Workshop
March 26, 2000

Orin Langelle, Native Forest Network (,
Action for Community and Ecology in the Regions of Central America
Mick Petrie, Native Forest Network (
Alvaro Gonzalez Gervasio, World Rainforest Movement
Ricarda Steinbrecher, Women's Environmental Network

Orin Langelle

Many eucalyptus plantations in Chiapas Mexico now use mutant tree
material.  New propagation technologies have made these trees easy to
produce.  The primary market is for pulp for paper to be used in the
maquilladoro factories further north in Mexico.  Most tree selections
are Roundup-Ready and/or Bt toxic.

Part of the purpose of NAFTA was to open up Mexico and other southern
countries to transnational paper companies for planting mutant trees.
Community land titles were handed over to corporations for them to use
as they chose.

Intellectual property rights protected by NAFTA and the WTO allow paper
companies to patent their mutant trees and thereby protect their
investments in them.

The US pulp and paper industry is rapidly going mutant.  International
Paper, Westvaco and other corporations have allied themselves with
Monsanto to produce herbicide-tolerant trees for international markets.
Shell Oil, BP and Toyota are also on the scene planting mutant trees for
carbon credits.

Alvaro Gonzales

New mutant plantations are displacing indigenous peoples.  Plantations
are on former agricultural land and on cutover forest land.  Non-mutant
trees are also being planted on a large scale.  Mutant trees are the
most recent extension of industrial forestry.

They're mostly pulp plantations: eucalyptus and oil palm (particularly
in Southeast Asia).  There are also carbon sink plantations being used
for pollution/carbon offsets.  There's no scientific basis to the claims
that these plantations really do offset carbon emissions.  Some teak and
other hardwoods are being planted too, but not so much because there's
still a lot left in native forests.

Rapidly growing trees rapidly deplete soils.  Whole tree harvesting
leaves little organic material to go back into the soil.  It's likely
that after a few rotations of these trees, soils will be drastically
reduced in their abilities to support any kind of plant growth.

Mick Petrie

There has been a huge increase in the amount of mutant tree research
worldwide over the past few years.  Most of it is by Monsanto and by
joint venture companies, such as IP-Monsanto, ForBio-Monsanto and other
new ventures.

The $400 billion global annual wood trade is the driving force.  NAFTA
and the WTO have helped to facilitate this trade and the creation of the
joint ventures by reducing regulation, by opening up national markets,
by protecting proprietary technologies.

US consumers use 800 pounds per year of paper products.  Consumers in
other nations use considerably less, but the huge demand is driving the
planting of mutant plantations in many third world/southern nations.

Herbicide tolerance is the primary area of research at this time.  Most
of this research is driven by Monsanto, which has identified the enzymes
that block susceptibility to its glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide.
Herbicide tolerant trees allow heavy use of Roundup to control
competition with weeds during the trees' early development.

Bt production is also very important.  Trees engineered with Bt have the
toxic product of the bacteria in all cells.  Ingestion of the toxin by
soil micro-organisms has been shown to kill these life forms as well as
the insects that eat leaves and twigs.

Low lignin content is a high research priority because one third of the
dry weight of wood is lignin, which cannot be used by the pulp industry.
Of course lignin gives trees their rigid structure.  This has led to
fears of "wobbly mutant trees."

Rapid growth is another desirable trait for obvious reasons.  Some
eucalypti are ready for harvest in as little as 4-5 years.    But these
trees deplete soil nutrients very rapidly, and they can even negatively
impact local hydrological regimes.

Bioremediation is another research focus, to develop trees that will
remove toxic metals and other pollutants from the soil.  Some studies
have indicated that these trees may simply move the metals from the soil
into the air through trees' leaves.  But even if the trees do sequester
the metals, what's to be done with the wood?

Sterilization techniques have been sought to calm down the public about
concerns that the above traits will move into wild species through
horizontal gene transfer.  As yet, these efforts have been
unsuccessful.  But if successful, these ventures will produce trees that
will have no flowers or seed, and will be barren for insects, birds and
other animals.

The solution to all the problems of mutant trees is quite simple, but
quite difficult: 1) Prohibit patenting of any and all life forms.  2)
Force biotech corporations to prove no harm from their inventions.

Ricarda Steinbrecher

Mutant research is being done on approximately 35 different tree
species.  Some species are relatively easy to mutate, such as poplars.
But most other species are more difficult to mutate.  Mutant methods are
moving ahead quickly.

Trees are much more difficult to mutate than other plants because
different genetic traits make them susceptible to different insects and
diseases at different stages in their developments.  Also, trees are
subject to more stresses over longer periods of time than other plants.
Unlike annual plants, they have to withstand cold winter temperatures,
drought and/or dry growing sites, ice/snow/wind storms.

Cloned plantations are prone to devastating losses due to insects and
diseases because, even though they may be engineered to withstand
certain stresses, such as attacks by certain insects or diseases, there
are always other insects and diseases cannot be anticipated.

Research results indicating problems with mutant trees have been
censored by university and corporate researchers.  One prominent
university researcher is known to have publicly warned a PhD student
against publishing research results that would have been harmful to the
interests of the researcher's corporate sponsors.

Anti-Mutant Tree Campaign

Greenpeace, Native Forest Network and Rainforest Action Network are all
working on papers describing the dangers of mutant trees.  These papers
will be available soon.

An international conference on mutant trees should be organized as soon
as possible.

Lawsuits should be initiated, particularly against those corporations
that are selling Bt toxic trees because of their potential for damage to
beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms.

Boycotts of mutant paper products should be initiated.  Sources of
non-mutant paper should be identified and supported.

Test plots of mutant trees should be identified through Freedom of
Information Act requests to all universities that may be involved in
this research.

Internet web sites should be set up to provide information.  Forestry
and environmental newsgroups and listservs should be used to disseminate

Web Sites

The Orchard of Dr Moreau...

The Next GM Threat: Frankenstein Forests
The Ecologist July 1999
By Hugh Warwick

MUTANT TREES ON THE HORIZON a BAN report on genetically engineered trees

By the Bioengineering Action Network

GM Technology in the Forest Sector
A Scoping Study for WWF
Forestry-biotech joint ventures

Genetically Engineered Trees
By Keith Parkins September 1999

Supertrees: ForBio of Australia is engineering better trees.
The potential gain is enormous.
August 10, 1998
By Bob Johnstone

Gene science takes to the trees
By Robert Gottliebsen

"Firms Work on Building a Better Tree, Pine Clones"
Tim Friend
USA Today
December 20, 1997

Karl Davies, Practicing Forester

Northeastern Forestry Reformation List Server

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