15/07/2010

Misleading Claims for GE Trees Donít Add Up

 

Claims made to justify an application by Scion for 4000 GM trees, are based on misinformation and spin, and deliberately ignore the threat it presents for New Zealand, and existing alternatives that should be given urgent support.

The Governmentís relentless pursuit of investor-funds for biotech ignores the under-funding of schemes needed to fight the existing problem of wilding pines will further harm the forestry industry. The advent of GE pine trees will almost certainly lead to the loss of insect and bird species and have further effects if GE spread pollen contaminates the existing pine and crop forests.

The information Scion is presenting to ERMA is misleading and severely compromises their scientific integrity. A Scion spokesperson erroneously stated that pine pollen only travels 300 centimeters. Many publications over the years have reported viable pine pollen spread up to 60 kilometers.

The latest research by Claire Williams (2010) confirms that pine pollen travels up to 41 kms in as little as 3 hours in moderate wind speeds. However if there is turbulence the pollen can travel the distance in 45 minutes reaching altitudes of 610 metres. The pine pollen remains viable for 24 hours and is able to germinate. New Zealandís high winds and inclement weather will ensure the GE pollen will spread far and wide if the field trail was allowed, and this threat cannot be ignored.

One pine anther has millions of pollen grains and novel GE pollen grains could be an even more serious cause of seasonal allergies than conventional trees already are. There is further risk in trying to reduce the problem using GURTs (genetic use restriction technology) colloquially called terminator technology, which has been rejected by the international community as unethical and a threat to ecosystems.

Foresters and the building industry should be extremely concerned at seductive-sounding plans to genetically engineer pine trees for faster growth, reproductive alterations and lignin changes. All these changes have the potential to create an ecological disaster from the increased susceptibility to disease, the unknown effects of GE pollen spread and the poor quality of a fast growing tree.

The building industry will not be able to use the timber as the wood will be too soft unless it has undergone the highest tanalising treatment, further adding toxic chemicals to the working and living environment.

"Scionís GE trees are being spun into the climate change issue, but this is fundamentally deceptive as GE cannot work without sacrificing the integrity of the environment," said Claire Bleakley of GE Free NZ in food and environment.

"As a government CRI, Scion must not be allowed to rape and pollute the land, kill off insects and birds motivated by money and based on the flawed scientific evidence they are using. GE pines are not sustainable and will create serious damage. It will be our children and future generations who will be left to live with the consequences."

Scion overlooks the many other trees that already have the beneficial traits they purport to be seeking, and can be planted now. Earlier this week Radio New Zealand reported an unsustainable over-harvest of New Zealandís forests for export to China. Why cannot the millions of tons of tree waste be treated and used for biofuel today?

Economists are recommending that New Zealand in its isolation to world markets should focus on sustainable, quality, high-end products and GE is no such thing.

ENDS:

Claire Bleakley - 06 3089842 / 027 348 6731

Jon Carapiet - 0210507681

References:

Williams, C. G. (2010). Long-distance pine pollen still germinates after meso-scale dispersal.American Journal of Botany 97(5): 1-11. DOI: 10.3732/ajb.0900255

Scion press release on up coming field trial application to ERMA
http://www.scionresearch.com/general/news-and-events/media-releases/2010-media-releases/scions-upcoming-field-trial-application-to-erma

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