"Genetically engineered chestnuts and other trees are an unnecessary, undesirable, and hazardous product of the techno-obsessed mindset that assumes genetic codes are like Lego sets that can be engineered to our specifications," said Rachel Smolker, a member of the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, in a statement issued today. "The impacts of these engineered chestnuts will be completely unpredictable."
"Completely unpredictable" Really? I can think of a lot of positive impacts from restoring a keystone species throughout its natural range". Show me some verifiable facts and figures on the cons, then I'll do my own cost:benefit analysis. BTW, I looked at the Global Justice website and noticed that the link to their "fact sheet" was broken.
After 25 years of research, scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry announced last month they had created a new strain of blight-resistant American chestnut that could restore the once-abundant tree to the forest. Researchers said they had inserted a wheat gene that could help chestnuts withstand the blight that wiped out up to 5 billion of the trees in the United States.
The Global Justice Ecology Project has also criticized the SUNY-ESF research, saying it had been supported in part by corporations who want to profit from genetically engineered crops, including Monsanto and ArborGen.
"A look at the partners and funders of this program at SUNY ESF over the years reveals some very disturbing bedfellows," said the group's executive director, Anne Petermann, in an article titled "This Holiday Season say NO to GMO Chestnuts."
Most, if not all organizations, have "bedfellows" that others may find "disturbing", including the Global Justice Ecology Project.
ESF's American Chestnut Research and Restoration Project website lists Monsanto and ArborGen as donors.
Who do folks think fund a lot of today's research? And why wouldn't a company want to fund research that they could benefit and make a profit from? Does that automatically make it "bad"? Government funding of research has been on the decline for years - we get what we paid for.
The latest criticism follows a letter to the editor to Syracuse.com last month, in which Martha Crouch, a biologist with the Center for Food Safety, said release of the tree in the wild is premature.
Not for me - I've been waiting 30 years
"The researchers' dream could become a nightmare if something goes wrong," Crouch wrote. "Genetically engineered trees will be difficult to recall once they spread."
First, I hope the American Chestnut does in fact spread someday, even if the solution isn't ideologically perfect. Second, from a realistic viewpoint It would take decades for the initial thousands of outplanted trees to become established and reach a reproductive capacity that could result in any significant regeneration. If, in that time, sound science reveals that GMOs are too hot to handle, it shouldn't be that difficult to eradicate the measly number of GE chestnuts that are on the landscape. I have some hungry deer and livestock on our farm that would gladly help with the effort. In the meantime, I'm not going to lose sleep worrying about this scenario. I feel that my time would be better spent worrying about the wheat gene in question "contaminating" the environment via, say, wheat plants. But as far as I can tell, this is a single, naturally-occurring gene found throughout the world already in the form of many millions of acres of many trillions of wheat plants. Those numbers are too large for me to comprehend, so I'm going to take this off my list of issues that currently keep me awake at night - at least until Hollywood makes a movie about it.
One Washington Post columnist has come to the defense of the SUNY ESF research, saying the restoration of the tree could provide an important source of food in the nutrient-rich nuts -- the kind that used to be roasted like in that Christmas song.
"It wasn't created for personal profit or for the benefit of corporations or farmers," wrote columnist Tamar Haspel. "It contributes to a wholesome, healthful diet. And it's intended solely for the public good."
The SUNY-ESF project needs the approval of several federal agencies before trees could be planted in the wild. That process could take five years, said the lead researchers, Charles Maynard and William Powell. In the meantime, SUNY ESF is seeking tax-deductible donations to plant up to 10,000 chestnut trees.
Sign me up!