Brazil to decide on whether to approve world's first GM eucalyptus trees

The company planning to plant the trees says they mature more quickly than their existing counterparts and produce 20 per cent more wood

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The Independent Online

The world’s first commercially planted genetically-modified trees may be approved in Brazil, when officials rule on the safety of a newly engineered variety of eucalyptus.

Brazilian-owned company FuturaGene is seeking permission to plant the trees, which it says mature more quickly than their existing counterparts and produce 20 per cent more wood.

If the country’s regulator, the Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), gives a green light to the company’s plans, products from GM trees could be on the market within six years.

Campaigners have warned of unknown environmental consequences, including the demands on water supplies made by the trees’ more rapid growth, and the effect on eucalyptus honey, which represents 25 per cent of the honey produced in Brazil.

 

Greenpeace also warned that as trees live much longer before being harvested than other GM crops that are already grown commercially, they pose “long-term environmental threats to ecosystems rich in biodiversity”.

FuturaGene, which is owned by Suzano Pulp and Paper, submitted the request last year and said the trees’ faster growth would bring benefits including “environmental and socio-economic gains through higher productivity using less land, and therefore overall lower chemical inputs and lowered carbon release”. It claims that more land would be available for food production or conservation as a result. The company was responsible for the first trial of genetically modified poplar trees in China.

A meeting of CTNBio last month to discuss approval for the trees was postponed after it was interrupted by 300 protesters, and there have been further protests against the trees around the world this week. Catiane Cinelli, a member of the Rural Women’s Movement, said each faster-growing tree would consume an extra 25 to 30 litres a day of water, adding: “We are again calling attention to the danger of green deserts.”

After the first meeting was postponed, 1,000 women from the Landless Workers’ Movement occupied FuturaGene labs, destroying seedlings of the GM trees, known as H421.

Ruddy Turnstone, a campaigner with Global Justice Ecology Project and the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, said: “These weeks of protest against GE trees in Brazil demonstrate the renewed commitment of organisations, activists and social movements around the world to ensure that GE trees are never legalised.”

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