(NaturalNews) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has quietly given a green light to the world’s first genetically modified (GM) tree species, recommending that its developer pursue unregulated commercial cultivation of the artificial plant without safety testing or a proper environmental impact assessment.
Though experts warn that the GM tree will spread its contaminated pollen for hundreds of miles, the USDA, in a secret letter exposed by Center for Food Safety scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman, says regulation isn’t necessary. According to the USDA, ArborGen’s GM loblolly pines don’t represent a pest threat, and thus aren’t under its jurisdiction.
“APHIS has determined that loblolly pine itself is not a plant pest, no organisms used as sources of the genetic material to create the trees are plant pests, and the method used to genetically engineer the loblolly pine does not involve plant pests,” reads the letter. “Therefore APHIS does not consider the trees… to be regulated under 7 CFR part 340.”
Loblolly pine pollen travels hundreds of miles; GM variety will contaminate all native pines
Loblolly pines are native to 14 southeastern U.S. states and are grown in tree plantations all around the world. Their pollen is known to travel exceptionally long distances, which means native, non-GM pines will more than likely be affected by their planting, forever polluting the global pine stock with untested genetic materials.
“If these GE loblolly pines are released on a large scale in the US, there will be no way to stop them from cross contaminating native loblolly pines,” warned biologist Dr. Rachel Smolker from the group Biofuelwatch.
“This is deliberate, irreversible and completely irresponsible contamination of the environment with unknown and possibly devastating consequences. Forest ecosystems are barely understood, and the introduction of trees with genes for modified wood characteristics could have all manner of negative impacts on soils, fungi, insects, wildlife, songbirds, and public health. And all this for short term commercial profit.”
USDA thwarting GMO oversight by redefining what constitutes a “plant pest”
This decision by the USDA represents a substantial shift in the way GMOs are regulated (or not) in the U.S. The agency has basically created its own industry-favoring loophole by narrowing the definition of what constitutes a “plant pest.” By doing this, the USDA is thwarting its responsibility in protecting environmental health.
“The USDA’s chosen interpretation of the law it is charged with applying to GE organism oversight has… been irresponsibly narrow, leading to weak regulation that ignores many types of actual and potential environmental harm from these crops,” wrote Gurian-Sherman.
“The agronomic and environmental harms of genetically engineered crops can be indirect, such as competition from resistant weeds or the loss of pollinators, and other animals and insects, loss of soil fertility, associated pesticide impacts, transgenic contamination effects, and so on.”
The implications of wide-scale GM loblolly plantings include all of these things, and yet the USDA is deliberately turning a blind eye to this very real threat, pretending it doesn’t exist. And with no regulatory oversight whatsoever on the GM trees, it will eventually become impossible to differentiate between GM and non-GM varieties, further threatening both domestic and international trade.
The Campaign to STOP GE Trees, an international alliance of organizations mobilized to protect forests and biodiversity, is currently working with several other conservation groups to stop GM loblolly pines from ever being planted. The group has assured the public that action will be taken “to ensure these trees are never planted.”
Written by Ethan A. Huff
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