International Paper Growing Genetically Engineered “Frankenforests”
[social_buttons] I can’t believe what I read on Bloomberg.com, “International Paper’s ArborGen joint venture with MeadWestvaco Corp. and New Zealand’s Rubicon Ltd. is seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sell the first genetically engineered forest trees outside China.” What? International Paper? It can’t be? The world’s largest pulp and paper maker promotes itself as an environmentally responsible company, but now, it appears the company is following in the footsteps of Monsanto and genetically modified crops.
ArborGen’s eucalyptus trees are designed to survive freezes in the U.S. South. These genetically engineered tree plantations would give International Paper (IP) a competitive advantage by providing a supply of lower cost wood. ArborGen may boost yearly sales to $500 million in 2017 from $25 million by following Monsanto’s blueprint for commercializing engineered plants according to Bloomberg.com.
The similar strategies between Monsanto and ArborGen are not a coincidence. ArborGen Chief Executive Officer Barbara Wells is a former Monsanto executive who spent 18 years at that company, including four years introducing modified soybeans in Brazil. ArborGen Chief Science Officer Maud Hinchee and James Mann, vice president of business development, also worked at St. Louis-based Monsanto.
I can’t help feeling a little disappointed in IP. I believed the paper maker was honestly concerned about the environmental impact of its business operations. The company even published a series of brochures called the Down to Earth series to discuss environmental topics such as “Pixels vs Paper” and “Recycled vs. Virgin”. And now…Frankenforests? I always thought genetically modified anything was bad for us and the environment. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) recently reported a link between genetically modified (GM) foods and adverse health effects. Yes, I know. We don’t eat trees but playing around with Mother Nature seems like a bad idea to me.
So what are the risks? “Engineered eucalyptus trees could be an ecological disaster, bringing increased fire risk and extraordinary water consumption to a new environment,” Neil J. Carman, an Austin, Texas-based member of the Sierra Club’s genetic engineering committee, told Bloomberg.com. “Easier-to-pulp trees will be weak, and hurricanes will spread their pollen and contaminate native forests.”
While ArborGen awaits approval to sell cold-tolerant eucalyptus, it also is seeking USDA permission to expand a 57- acre test of the trees to 330 acres (approximately 260,000 experimental trees), mainly in Texas, Florida and Alabama. If the field tests are approved, the Sierra Club may sue the USDA to compel a more thorough study, known as an environmental impact statement.
Why wasn’t an environmental impact study done before growing the genetically engineered trees? And is IP as “green” as they would like us to believe? What do you think?
Photo: Phospheros on Flickr under a Creative Commons license.