A new organizing initiative called “GE Trees Fall” launched with a four day GE trees action training camp  outside of Asheville North Carolina, over September 24th to the 27th. Following the camp, activists converged on the world headquarters of ArborGen in Ridgeville, SC on Monday September 28th, resulting in two arrests.
Photo Gavin Bauer
Ruddy Turnstone, GJEP’s GE Trees Campaigner and I were arrested during the protest, which demanded ArborGen tear down their wall of secrecy surrounding their GE tree research and development, and pointed out that resistance to GE trees is growing, with more than a quarter of a million people signing on to letters and petitions rejecting GE trees, and protests against GE trees on six continents in 2015 alone. 
These sign ons and protests mark a rapidly growing concern about the dangers of GE trees and the threats they pose to the environment and to people’s health. ArborGen is developing genetically engineered loblolly pine trees with no federal oversight, no public input, no independent risk assessments and no method for the public to receive information.
Photo: Gavin Bauer
The four-day action camp was held in the US Southeast because the region is considered ground zero for GE trees in the US, due to ArborGen’s GE loblolly pines. In January of 2015 it was revealed that the USDA had made the unprecedented decision to give GE tree company ArborGen the green light to pursue commercial development of genetically engineered loblolly pine trees with no government oversight, no environmental or social risk assessments and no ability for the public to give input or obtain information–including neighboring landowners.
Orienteering and comms training at the action camp. Photo: Petermann
“The native forests of the Southern US, some internationally recognized as biodiversity hotspots , are already under dire threat,” explained Danna Smith, Executive Director of Asheville-based Dogwood Alliance. “Between the growing export of our forests as wood pellets to Europe to burn for electricity and the threat of an expanded domestic biomass industry, we are already losing our forests at an incredible rate. The absolute last thing our forests need are genetically engineered loblolly pine plantations.”
The action at ArborGen exposed their secret research and pointed out the potentially serious risks presented by these GE loblolly pine trees.
Pine trees, for example, are well known for heavy pollination. What will be the impact on people’s health from inhaling genetically engineered loblolly pine pollen–especially people suffering from pollen allergies?
How far will this pollen spread? What happens when they contaminate other pines? What will be the impact on animals or insects that try to use or live among these trees–such as woodpeckers, songbirds, deer or turkeys? How will the soil be changed? What about the water? How much forest will be cut down to make room for these new and unproven GE loblolly pine plantations?
These questions are not being answered. ArborGen is barreling ahead with plans for their GE loblolly pine trees with no concern to the damage they may cause, only to the money they could make, with the total collusion of the USDA.
The USDA cited new technologies for engineering trees as the rationale for not regulating ArborGen’s GE loblolly pines, but scientists at Oxford-based EcoNexus explain “Any attempt to engineer genomes by invasive methods can cause unexpected and unpredictable effects. For example, “cisgenesis” – a genetic engineering technique that uses genes from the same species – is still genetic engineering and is therefore subject to unexpected and unpredictable effects caused by the genetic engineering process itself, and not by the trait or sequence inserted. New techniques to genetically engineer plants and animals, such as so-called DNA scissors (nucleases) and interventions in gene regulation, raise additional concerns.
The next phase of “GE Trees Fall” will commence in mid-October, when GE tree organizers and scientists from several organizations will tour the Pacific Northwest, another key region for GE trees development in the US. This tour will travel through the US states of Oregon and Washington and into British Columbia, Canada over the course of two weeks, stopping in more than a dozen locations to discuss the social and ecological dangers of genetically engineering trees. Several of these events will be held in locations where GE trees research is actively underway.
Our arraignment is scheduled for November 4th. Information on actions people can take to support the protest and help stop GE trees can be found here.
Anne Petermann is the Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project and the Coordinator of the International Campaign to STOP GE Trees. She has been working on the problem of GE trees since first learning of them in 1999.
1] The Genetically Engineered Trees (GE trees) Action Training Camp was organized by Global Justice Ecology Project, and including the participation of Indigenous Environmental Network and Dogwood Alliance.
2] in 2015 alone, 269,867 people globally signed petitions rejecting genetically engineered trees:
a) Credo Petition to the USDA calling for rejection of ArborGen’s GE loblolly pines signed by 151,806 people: http://act.credoaction.com/sign/GMO_trees
b) Rainforest Rescue Petition rejecting GE eucalyptus trees signed by 101,511 people in 2 months from March 2015 through May 2015
c) GE Free New Zealand sign on letter against GE trees in New Zealand signed by 16,550 people in 2 monthshttp://www.stopgetrees.nz
3] Maintaining species in the South http://www.seesouthernforests.org/discover-southern-forests/benefits/biodiversity