American Lands Alliance Urges the Clinton Administration to Place a

wafcdc at wafcdc at
Tue Jul 25 15:22:57 EST 2000

From: "wafcdc at" <wafcdc at>
Subject: American Lands Alliance Urges the Clinton Administration to  Place a Moratorium on Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees Until  Their Environmental Safety Can be Assured


For further information:  Faith T. Campbell, 202-547-9120 or
phytodoer at, 

American Lands Alliance Urges the Clinton Administration to Place a
Moratorium on Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees Until Their
Environmental Safety Can be Assured

In May, the Clinton Administration announced an interagency review of the
safety of genetically engineered organisms.  In a report released today,
Genetically Engineered Trees: Questions Without Answers, American Lands
concludes that GE trees pose severe risks to the environment --
significantly greater than do engineered annual crops -- and commercial use
should be postponed.   

"The regulatory safety net and supporting research program are not capable
of ensuring the safety of this technology," said Faith T. Campbell, Ph.D.,
director of American Lands' Invasive Species Program. "This is not just
because they are underfunded but also because they involve too narrow a
range of scientific disciplines."   

"There is no consensus that this highly risky technology -- genetic
engineering -- will provide the best solution to such oft-cited challenges
as ensuring adequate wood supplies, maintaining forest-based industries in
North America, and improving protection for natural forests and
biodiversity," said Campbell.  

At present, no genetically engineered trees are being grown commercially in
either the United States or Canada.  However, considerable research is under
way in an effort to develop "better" trees -- for example, trees with
reduced lignin that would be easier to process into paper; or to "simplify"
management -- by increasing tolerance for herbicides or by manufacturing
their own insecticide.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued
permits for close to 300 experimental plots; Canadian authorities have
issued permits for four.

"Americans may be surprised to learn that regulation of most GE organisms
ceases when they are approved for commercial use -- which is just when the
danger is greatest that the 'novel' genes might 'escape' to the wider
environment," said Campbell, author of the report.  "The risk of genes'
escaping is particularly high when scientists are experimenting with native
tree species -- as is happening in the United States and Canada.   Wild
relatives will be growing near any plantations of transgenic trees; if the
plantations are not managed under very strict regulations, pollen or seeds
will move out into the environment.  No one knows what the impacts could be
from such an 'escape'."

If trees are engineered to produce insecticides, the result might be to
disrupt food webs that support birds, amphibians, and fish that feed on
insects.   While that impact might initially be confined to the plantation,
if the genes 'escape' to nearby forests, the effect could be much broader.
Alternatively, insects considered to be pests might develop resistance to
the insecticide and then be harder to control.  Forests in National Forests
and National Parks might suffer increased damage by such "super pests".

American Lands also found that scientific information is inadequate to judge
either the likelihood of ecological damage stemming from use of genetic
engineering in trees or the extent of any such damage.  To evaluate these
risks requires study by interdisciplinary teams made up of ecologists, field
biologists, geneticists (including experts in conservation genetics,
traditional breeding methods, and population genetics), tree physiologists,
and silviculturists (applied forest ecologists), as well as the GE
practitioners who now conduct most of the research.

"For these reasons, American Lands expands on the Worldwide Fund for
Nature's 1999 call for a world-wide moratorium on approving new uses of
genetically engineered organisms -- especially GE trees," said Campbell.
"We seek not just additional research, but debate on and adoption of a
coherent strategy to ensure their safety."  This strategy must include new
regulatory power over GE organisms approved for commercial use and a system
for responding to an emergency.  Research programs should be expanded, as
well as funded and managed independently.  Finally, the research program
should attempt an objective evaluation of the potential contribution of GE
technology and other methods for solving the various supply, access, and
other problems confronting forest management in the future.

The report recommends creation of an interagency Genetically Engineered
Organism Council made up of the three agencies now charged with regulating
these organisms -- USDA APHIS, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the
Food and Drug Administration -- as well as agencies responsible for
protection of our environment and living natural resources.    A parallel 
non-governmental advisory body should be established to involve critics of
genetic engineering technologies as well as scientists independent of both
camps.  The Council and advisory committee should be charged with developing
a broad management strategy.  The precedent for this council is that
established in 1999 to address the similar challenges posed by invasive
alien or exotic species.

"American Lands calls on corporations and international funding entities to
honor a moratorium on planting GE trees commercially until adequate research
and regulatory bodies are in place," said Campbell.

Copies of the report can be obtained from American Lands' web site at; or from Faith Campbell,
mailto:phytodoer at; 

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Steve Holmer
Campaign Coordinator

American Lands 
726 7th Street, SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
202/547-9213 fax
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