Saturday, September 5, 2009

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Genetically Modified Nightmares For the Wild

By Ozge Uraz

GMO or GEO refers to the organisms whose genetic material is altered through engineering processes. Basically these processes include using DNA molecules of various sources, to create and transfer into organisms novel genes.

Biotechnology has been used in many areas such as biological and medical research, agriculture and forestry. Such technology is found to be rather promising for realizing and increasing desired traits, increasing productivity and quality, restoring certain diseased or damaged tree species, toxic cleanup and bioremediation.

However, despite these advantages, Roger Sedjo, the director of RFF's forest economics and policy program, admits that "just as in agriculture, biotechnology and transgenics are controversial topics in forestry." I concur with his precaution: GE plants and trees planted in open space convey the possibility that the new genes spliced into them will interfere with natural forests. Genetic technology should therefore be restricted to indoors, with containment, and should not be mixed with wildlife.

A significant number of such GE trees are known to have been developed to resist insects, such as two poplar species that were commercialised in China. Alerting effects are also detected on the soil. GE trees can affect the bacteria, earthworms and soil respiration. The leaves of GE trees planted along a water sourse can enter the waterways and we still do not have enough data to foresee its consequences for the aquatic life.

The U.S. government, with more profit oriented motives, is setting to approve a request from ArborGen, the genetically engineered (GE) tree R&D company owned by International Paper, for permission to plant over 250,000 GE eucalyptus trees in seven southern U.S. states.

ArborGen genetically modified the tissue from Brazilian eucalyptus trees in its laboratories in New Zealand, to increase the amount of cellulose and alter the species in such a way to tolerate cold. The engineered eucalyptus were brought to USA and were cloned. Thus 260,000 GE eucalyptus will be planted in open forests of seven US states, namely Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, if the final approval will be given.

This genetically-engineered, non-native tree that is dangerously invasive, flammable, and need a lot of water. Camila Moreno, an attorney and Global Justice Ecology Project staff consultant in Brazil, points that "In Brazil, eucalyptus plantations are known as 'green deserts' because they do not allow anything else to live (...)". It is not hard to see that it will definetely be gambling with the ecological balance. As, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the statutory adviser to the Government of United Kingdom and international nature conservation has advised, invasive species:

"will alter the genetic pool (a process called genetic pollution), which is an irreversible change."

Ozge Uraz, is the co-founder and community manager of Ecofuture Community for a Sustainable Future, a hub for the environmentally conscious, want to share and get informed on from the advantages of solar energy, to animal rights and vegetarianism, from ecological architects to green food and cooking.

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