Posted on 09 November 1999
A new report launched today in London by WWF, the conservation organization, reveals that a rapidly increasing number of genetically modified (GM) trees are being planted without proper controls around the world. This poses a serious threat to the global environment.
Gland, Switzerland - A new report launched today in London by WWF, the conservation organization, reveals that a rapidly increasing number of genetically modified (GM) trees are being planted without proper controls around the world. This poses a serious threat to the global environment.
The WWF report, called "GM Technology in the Forest Sector" (1), warns that commercial GM tree production could begin within the next 2 years, probably in Chile, China, and Indonesia, funded principally by private capital from industrialised nations. This might happen despite inadequate regulations and inadequate research into the environmental impact of GM trees.
WWF's study, the first to look at the wider environmental and social impacts of GM trees, concludes that the risk of genetic pollution is high. Other threats to the environment include possible new super-weeds. There could also be unintended impacts on non-target species when GM trees are engineered for pest resistance and herbicide tolerance.
"WWF is calling on governments worldwide to declare a global moratorium on the commercial release of GM trees until enough research has been conducted and proper safeguards have been put in place, " said Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, Head of WWF's Forests for Life Programme. "It is far too early to judge whether biotechnology can make a safe and effective contribution to the forest sector." (2)
Apart from such a moratorium, WWF calls for strengthened regulations for field tests, which examine the long term environmental impacts of GM tree species, and a watertight and robust Biosafety Protocol within the Convention on Biodiversity that serves as the foremost international agreement on GMOs. WWF also demands the start of a comprehensive programme of research on which credible decisions can be based, and the launch of an open public debate on the future of GM technology.
Since 1988, there have been 116 confirmed GM tree trials in 17 countries using 24 tree species - 75 per cent of which are timber-producing species. The majority (61%) of all GM tree trials are carried out in the USA and Canada while France has the greatest number of GM tree trials in Europe. Recently, however, there has been a dramatic increase in both the number of GM tree trials worldwide and the tree species tested (3).
Current regulations impose tighter restrictions in the industrialised countries where GM tree trials are usually controlled by research institutions and by governments. But, in Latin America, Africa and South East Asia, where there is often little or no regulation, GM tree trials are being driven by the private sector, and notably those multi-nationals that wish to invest in genetically modified organisms (GMO) but are restricted by regulations in developed countries.
For more information, please contact:
Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, Head of Forests for Life Programme, WWF International, tel.: +41 (0)79 653 20 71 (mobile); e-mail: email@example.com ;
Francis Sullivan, Director of Programmes for WWF-UK, tel.: +44 831 372 864; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ;
Olivier van Bogaert, Press Officer, WWF International, tel.: +41 22 364 95 54; e-mail: email@example.com
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The WWF report, and a summary version can be downloaded from the Forest For Life Campaign's website: www.panda.org/forests4life
2. WWF's Forests for Life Campaign promotes:
- The establishment and practical realization of an ecologically representative network of protected areas covering at least 10 per cent of the world's forests types by the end of the year 2000.
- The independent certification of at least 25 million hectares of well managed forests by June 2001, focusing on key timber producing countries.
Currently there are over 17 million hectares certified by the Forests Stewardship Council in 32 different countries. All FSC is GM free.
3. Countries with confirmed field trials of GM tree species are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, UK, USA, Uruguay, South Africa. In 1998, there were 44 new trials and, in the last three years, the number of trial tree species doubled.