Front Porch Blog

GM Trees: The debate continues

The debate over genetically modified plants is moving beyond the fields and heating up under the forest canopy. Scientists are experimenting with increasing levels of BT (a naturally occurring pesticide) in trees, increasing trees’ resistance to herbicides, reducing levels of lignin (the substance which promotes rigidity) in trees, and making trees sterile. Each of these characteristics will have devastating consequences on the environment, says Petermann. Scientists are also working on creating sterile GE trees to prevent pollination of native trees; however, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is nearly impossible to control gene flow through pollen and seed dispersal – even at a 95 percent success rate. As Petermann points out, “the sterilized trees are producing nothing, and the other 5% are still sending out tainted genes—it’s a lose-lose situation.” … the UN did recommend that the precautionary approach be used with GE trees. The application of the precautionary principle would mean that GE technology must be proven safe and necessary before being used. Canada and the United States argued against the recommendation. The United States has a large stake in biotechnology, with 150 test plots conducting over two thirds of the world’s GE tree research.

News notes are courtesy of Southern Forests Network News Notes





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