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Neil J. "These are Frankenforests," Carman said. "You are manipulating Mother Nature in a big way, putting genetically modified trees out there."
International Paper, the world's largest paper pulp company and paper manufacturer, plans to revolutionize forest plantations in the same way that Monsanto Co. revolutionized agriculture with GM crops.
International Paper ArborGen with MeadWestvaco Corp. and Rubicon of New Zealand Ltd. are seeking permission from the US Department of Agriculture to sell the first genetically modified trees to be produced outside of China. The transgenic eucalyptus trees to be introduced are designed to survive frost in the southern US.
Opponents are concerned that foreign genes could pollute natural forests
"There is potential to exploit once these trees are approved," said David Knott, who manages $ 1.3 billion as CEO of Dorset Management in Syosett, New York. He said he increased his investments in Rubicon to 70.5 million shares this year to bet on ArborGen because it has a large landowner client base with little competition. "This could make it grow faster than Monsanto."
Monsanto's GMO seeds, first herbicide-tolerant soybeans, introduced in 1996 and insect-resistant corn the following year, account for 88 percent of the area planted with GMOs last year. Monsanto's seed sales quadrupled from 2002 to $ 6.4 million last year. ArborGen may reach annual sales of $ 500 million in 2017 while Monsanto is estimated to be able to sell about $ 25 million that year, said Stephen Walker, director of asset management at Goldman Sachs JBWere Ltd. (New Zealand), which owns Rubicon shares
The Animal and Plant Agriculture Department of the Sanitary Inspection Service may approve the sale of GM freeze-tolerant eucalyptus trees by the end of 2010. The company is also developing trees that are easier to graze and grow twice as fast, Wells said. , a former Monsanto executive who has a Ph.D. in agronomy.
ArborGen eucalyptus would become the first engineered forest tree to be sold in the US, where disease resistant plum and papaya trees are already licensed, according to a USDA database. China has planted about 1.4 million GM black poplars since commercialization in 2002.
GMO eucalyptus trees could be an ecological disaster because of the increased fire risk and extraordinary water consumption in a new environment, said Neil J. Carman, in Austin, Texas, a member of the Sierra Club's genetic engineering committee. These trees will be weak, and hurricanes will spread their pollen and pollute native forests, he said.
"These are Frankenforests," Carman said. "You are manipulating Mother Nature in a big way, putting genetically modified trees out there."
The group obtained a court order in 2007 requiring the Monsanto company to recall the alfalfa plants once from the market, while the USDA reviewed their environmental impact more thoroughly, and Carman said that a similar strategy can be used against the modified trees. .
ArborGen says that the genes won't spread because trees grow in plantations, not forests, and are designed to be sterile in reduced pollen production.
About 4 percent of the world's 8.5 billion hectares of forests are plantations, and 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of new plantations are added annually, according to the United Nations. .
"It is through forest plantations and increased productivity that native forests can be protected. We pursue products that we know are environmentally safe," said Wells of the ArborGen company.
ArborGen, based in Summerville, South Carolina, was created in 2000 by three partners who shared research projects and intellectual property rights. The company sells some 300 million conventional tree seedlings a year to 2,000 customers in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
Rubicon gets most of its value from ArborGen, one of two companies it owns. International Paper and Mead, the latter carton maker, are so large that their 33 percent stake in ArborGen represents little revenue for them.
The papermakers' primary interest in ArborGen is its potential to develop modified trees, such as cold-resistant eucalyptus. Now this becomes more important as the US begins to make biofuels from wood, which may double the harvest in the southern US, said International Paper, in a June 9 letter to the USDA.
The parallels with Monsanto are not a coincidence. Wells, 54, spent 18 years with that company, including the time when modified soy was introduced in Brazil. ArborGen Chief Scientific Officer, Maud Hinchee and James Mann, vice president of business development, also worked at Monsanto's St. Louis headquarters.
According to the Rubicán update, the ArborGen company will be able to charge 20 times more for its transgenic trees than for its cheaper plants and two to three times more than for its best conventional products.
ArborGen became the world's largest producer of seedlings, with its own channel for commercializing transgenic technology when it bought the assets of its parent companies in 2007, Wells said. Other companies working on the development of modified trees are FuturaGene Plc in the UK and SweTree in Sweden, but they are not yet pursuing permits for commercial sales.
Monsanto's research on genetically modified trees is limited to a Brazilian collaboration in eucalyptus and citrus trees with Alellyx SA, a company that Monsanto acquired in November after the project began.
The fastest growing trees
ArborGen's plan is to seek approval in the US to sell a pine that matures in 18 years instead of 26. In Brazil, ArborGen plans to seek approval for eucalyptus that mature in four years, instead of seven, and eucalyptus with less lignin.
The extraction of lignin, a brown polymer that hardens trees, is one of the most expensive processes in making pulp, said Graeme P. BERLYN, a professor at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at the University of Yale.
He added that there is a small chance that some modified trees will produce pollen and contaminate conventional relatives. Stocks contaminated with low lignin characteristics can be weak and vulnerable to breakage.
While ArborGen awaits approval to sell cold-tolerant eucalyptus trees, it is also seeking permission from the USDA to expand its field trials from 57 acres to 330 hectares, primarily in Texas, Florida and Alabama.
ArborGen is working with different species of eucalyptus that have become pests in California. According to the USDA, GM trees are unlikely to become invasive species in the southern U.S. The environmental assessment of the expanded field tests drew thousands of criticism against the USDA's conclusion that the research represents a negligible risk.
The proposal is to plant 260,000 experimental trees. According to the Sierra Club, this corresponds to commercial approval. If the field tests pass, the Sierra Club can sue the Department of Agriculture for a further study, known as an environmental impact statement, he said.
In 2007, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco ordered the USDA to conduct such an evaluation of Monsanto's Roundup Ready alfalfa and blocked sales after the Sierra Club and organic farmer groups challenged the approval of the plant. The USDA has not yet issued an evaluation of ArborGen's application to trade modified eucalyptus.
Some environmental groups oppose ArborGen. Jim Hightower on behalf of the Organic Consumers Association said that: "Genetically modified eucalyptus trees are extremely invasive, flammable and have an insatiable thirst for groundwater." OCA supporters submitted nearly 7,000 comments against ArborGen's recent petition.
This approval of ArborGen opens the way for the company to sell 275 million transgenic seedlings in 2018. The company's argument is that more and more land will be needed to feed the growing population, for the production of biofuels, to which a new competitor is added: the common cardboard box.
NETWORK FOR A GMO-FREE LATIN AMERICA - RALLT
Valeri Oliver. Giving Trees - International Paper Turns To Biotechnology To Grow A Better Box. Business Tennessee, USA. 01.01.2010
Jack Kaskey. International Paper Treads Monsanto’s Path to ‘Frankenforests’. August 28, 2009.