Environmentalists Are Urging the USDA to Reject This Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Tree
by Chelsea Harvey (The Washington Post) A genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus tree is moving closer to receiving approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, amid concerns about the tree’s possible negative effects on the environment.
The USDA has proposed lifting restrictions on commercial production of the trees, based on a draft environmental impact statement that concluded the trees pose few significant environmental risks. Planting the trees would “either not differ or may be slightly worse from those caused by the cultivation of planted plantation pine,” the report said.
Brazil approved a genetically modified eucalyptus, created by biotechnology company FuturaGene, for commercial growth two years ago. But this would become the first genetically engineered tree approved for commercial use in the United States.
The announcement comes six years after forestry and biotechnology firm ArborGen filed a petition for deregulation with the USDA, and more than a decade after it began field testing the trees in the United States.
The USDA has projected in its environmental impact statement that about a million acres of pine plantations could be replaced with the eucalyptus trees, if it wins approval.
The company suggested that the genetically engineered trees could help feed global demand for biomass energy at a time of growing concern about climate change.
But environmental groups say the tree uses excessive amounts of water, increases wildfire risks, and could turn into an invasive species.