GM trees are being grown secretly in UK
by Redaktion (comments: 0)
GM production is in a strong public discussion. Now the focus is turning on trees.
GM Elms resistant to Dutch elm disease were planted 'somewhere in Dundee' (Scotland). But they won't say where. Could it be because of a damning UN verdict? Governments worldwide have issued an unprecedented warning about the greatest biotech hazards so far: GM trees. Trees modified to grow faster, yield better wood, produce whiter paper, resist pests and disease and tolerate herbicides are increasingly being cultivated. This is reported by the British newspaper “The Independent”.
The Government was forced to admit for the first time last week that GM poplar, apple and eucalyptus trees have been cultivated outdoors in Berkshire, Derbyshire and Kent.
The admission came after warnings about such trees from ministers from over 100 countries at a UN conference in Curitiba, Brazil. They urged a "precautionary approach" towards them after hearing that they could "wreak ecological havoc throughout the world's forests".
Some 16 countries around the world are developing GM trees, and more than a million have already been planted in China. At least 24 species, from papaya to silver birch, from olive to teak, have already been modified; the most commonly treated are poplar, pine and eucalyptus.
The process can speed growth: GM poplars can grow four times faster than traditional softwood trees used for timber and paper. It has also reduced their content of lignin, which strengthens trees but make the wood harder to pulp and whiten for paper.
Other modifications enable them to produce their own pesticides to fight off insects, to resist diseases and to enable them to endure heavy doses of herbicides so that plantations can be drenched to kill weeds without harming the trees.
A GM orange tree, developed in Spain, bears fruit after only one year of life, instead of six. Danish scientists have worked on modified Christmas trees, with a view to developing specimens whose needles do not fall off. And in the boldest suggestion yet, an American professor has suggested that trees could be modified to make the moon habitable by
growing "huge greenhouses over their heads".
But the ministers in Brazil were concerned that genes from the modified trees could spread great distances on the wind and across national boundaries. Tree pollen can travel up to 2,000 km. And, because trees can live for centuries, modified examples pose a long-term threat to the world's forests.Contamination by genes conferring fast growth, for example, could make some forest trees crowd out other species; genes that produce insecticides could decimate rainforest ecosystems, the richest on earth; and genes that reduce lignin could make trees more vulnerable to pests.
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
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