BioDev 2000 GE (Mutant) Trees Workshop

John Cawston rewarewa at
Sun Apr 9 00:02:49 EST 2000

Karl Davies wrote:

> 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
> (ACERCA) (
> 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.

Trees are what, 50% carbon?

I thought it was well established that trees sequester carbon. So that a
hectare growing 10 cubic meters per annum is pulling 5 m/3 carbon out of the

>  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.

I distrust this. Trees pull nutrients from well down the soil layers and
deposit same on the surface through leaves/needles. In New Zealand, we are
well into our third and forth generation of managed tree crops. Yields are
increasing. Each 30 years, softwoods like P radiata are increasing their
yields from 500 m/3/ha to 700+m3/ha and this on poor soils. Of course,
improved selection for growth factors  are playing a major part in the tree
breeding programme, but, in general, and in our situation, yields are
improving. IMO, due mainly to the organic buildup of previous crops.

The same scenario can be seen in NSW, Australia. Spotty eucalyptus forest,
once cleared and remnant vegetation pushed into windrows, shows 50% superior
height and diameter growth on new crops in or near the windrows.

Similarly, I think, (on NZ knowledge), there is a strong co-relationship
with thinning and tree growth. The faster the growth, the quicker is the
potential return of nutrients to the soil.

> 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.

I'm not disagreeing, but I would like to see some evidence that this is a
significant problem.


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