ArborGen is a company that develops genetically engineered (GE) trees. It is a joint collaboration between International Paper, MeadWestvaco, and New Zealand's Rubicon Ltd. that, in August 2009, was "seeking permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to sell the first genetically engineered forest trees outside China," according to Bloomberg, and in May 2010 received permission from the USDA to plant "260,000 genetically engineered hybrids of eucalyptus trees at 28 test sites in seven southeastern states."
- 1 Genetically Engineered Tree Controversy
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Genetically Engineered Tree Controversy
USDA Will Not Regulate GE Loblolly Pines
The USDA has made clear that it will not regulate ArborGen's new genetically engineered Loblolly Pine.
According to the Center for Food Safety, this "failure to regulate a GE tree is unprecedented. Other known GE forest trees in the U.S. are being grown in USDA-regulated field trials, and none has been approved for commercial planting. USDA regulation is important because it ensures that risk assessments are carried out to determine whether or not the GE tree will harm the environment before a decision on its commercialization."
The Center for Food Safety is also concerned that "the ArborGen GE loblolly pine contains novel genes that are currently undisclosed. Seeds and pollen of GE loblolly pine travel over a distance of many miles, and will disperse the novel genes well beyond any ArborGen GE field test site or plantation into natural forests where GE trees could potentially survive and spread."
Biologist Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch agrees and adds, "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. 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."
ArborGen sought and received confirmation from the Biotechnology Regulatory Services of the USDA in 2012 that its GE Loblolly Pine would not be regulated because, as it told the USDA, "loblolly pine is not a plant pest, the genetic components used in the development of these new loblolly pine varieties come from fully classified organisms, and no plant pests were used for the transfer of DNA to loblolly pine." The USDA told the company that its new GE trees do not need "to be regulated under 7 CFR part 340."
ArborGen Seeks Permission to Plant "Frankenforests" of GM Eucalyptus Trees
According to Bloomberg, through this venture, International Paper "plans to remake commercial forests in the same way Monsanto Co. revolutionized farms with genetically modified crops." Rubicon investor David Knott is quoted as saying, "This could take off faster than Monsanto." Bloomberg reports that "ArborGen's eucalyptus would become the first engineered forest tree sold in the U.S., where disease-resistant plum and papaya trees already are permitted, according to a USDA database. China has planted about 1.4 million biotech black poplars since commercialization in 2002."
"Engineered eucalyptus trees could be an ecological disaster, bringing increased fire risk and extraordinary water consumption to a new environment," according to Neil Carman of the Sierra Club. "Easier-to-pulp trees will be weak, and hurricanes will spread their pollen and contaminate native forests, he said."
"These are Frankenforests," Carman said. "You are tampering with Mother Nature in a big way by putting genetically engineered trees out there."
When the USDA requested public comments on ArborGen's request to plant GM Eucalyptus trees in 2013, over 30,000 were submitted in opposition.  Global Justice Ecology Project reports that 10,200 were entered by their organization along with the STOP GE Trees Campaign; "21,431 were submitted by the Center for Food Safety[;] and 5,344 were submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity. Only 4 of the comments were supportive of the release of GE eucalyptus trees."
USDA Grants Permission
According to The Memphis Commercial Appeal, "In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow the planting and flowering of 260,000 genetically engineered hybrids of eucalyptus trees at 28 test sites in seven southeastern states." These trees were developed by ArborGen. Eucalyptus, not native to North America, "typically do not survive freezing temperatures. ArborGen has aimed to engineer hybrids that survive freezing weather and are sterile. International Paper is interested in developing plantations of the fast-growing Australian hardwood throughout the southeastern U.S. to provide pulp for making paper and raw materials for biofuel refiners."
Center for Biological Diversity Sues to Block Field Tests
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and four other environmental organizations "challenged the approvals in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that they violated federal environmental regulations and decision-making rules."
"On Oct. 6, U.S. Dist. Judge K. Michael Moore ruled against the environmentalists on every count. He rejected the argument that the large number of plantings allowed amounted to commercialization, then dismissed several of the environmentalists' objections as irrelevant to a process for allowing limited scientific tests."
Communications director for the Center for Biological Diversity, Mike Stark, is quoted as saying, "We'll wait until the next stage of the regulatory process and intervene there," and "said the next step would be to wait until the USDA takes up ArborGen's petition to deregulate the genetically engineered eucalyptus hybrid. Deregulation would allow anyone to plant the hybrids anywhere without regulatory review."
Anne Petermann, Executive Director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and the coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign, "said that International Paper has said it wants to plant 42 million acres of eucalyptus forest in the southeastern U.S. Since eucalyptus trees take up twice as much water as do pine trees, that would reduce the water levels of nearby streams by 20 percent while layering the ground with highly flammable leaf litter and depriving native wildlife of food, she said."
Collaboration with Mendel Biotechnology
ArborGen partners with Mendel Biotechnology "to improve stress tolerance in selected tree species." Mendel is a plant biotechnology research firm that does contract work for Monsanto, Bayer CropScience and BP, among others. It is a private corporation. headquartered in Hayward, California.
GE Trees in Sweden
In October 2004, Mendel and SweTree Technologies announced a joint venture to "exploit the value of certain transcription factor (TF) genes within the $750 billion forestry field, among them the Hercules gene. The collaboration includes a research effort to validate certain Mendel lead TF genes for the forestry field as well as a commercial effort to advance identified products.
"SweTree Technologies is a research and development company that specializes in biotechnology for tomorrow's forest and agricultural industries. SweTree Technologies provides technologies and products for the seedling and forestry industry, fibre based industries such as pulp, paper and packaging industry, and for niche areas of the agricultural biotech business. SweTree Technologies main interest is in genes that improve the growth of trees and their wood and fibre properties. The company is associated with 45 renowned research leaders in plant and forest biotechnology residing in several universities in Sweden. SweTree Technologies AB was founded in 1999 by a joint initiative between the foundation of technology transfer (Teknikbrostiftelsen) in Umea and the company Woodheads AB."
In March 2007, the two companies announced plans to extend the collaboration to include "a research effort to validate Mendel TF genes for the forestry field as well as a commercial effort to advance identified products." "We are very happy with the results from our first collaboration with SweTree which identified significant, beneficial traits in Poplar trees for the tested genes from Mendel," CEO Neal Gutterson said. "The forest industry has already shown interest in certain genes from the project," according to Mats Johnson, CEO of SweTree Technologies AB.
As of January 2015:
- Andrew Baum, President and Chief Executive Officer, Member of Board of Directors
- John Radak, Chief Financial Officer
- Warren A. Banner III, Vice President of Manufacturing (former Director of Varietal Manufacturing)
- John Pait, Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Product Development
- Gregory L. Mann, General Manager of Australasian Operations
- Gabriela Bassa, General Manager of Brazilian Operations
- Leslie Pearson, Ph.D., Director of Regulatory Affairs
- Michael W. Cunningham, Ph.D., Director of Product Development
- S. David Wolfe, Director of Human Resources
- Kathy Parker, Director of Financial Planning and Analysis
As of 2011:
- Barbara H. Wells, Ph.D., former President and Chief Executive Officer 2002-2012
- Geoffrey P. Clear, former Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
- David M. Nothmann, former Vice President of Business and Product Development
- Maud A. W. Hinchee, Ph.D., former Chief Science Officer
- Nancy M. Hood, former Director of Public Affairs and Sustainability
- Kellie Gypin, former Director of Portfolio Management
2011 Broadbank Court
Ridgeville, SC 29472
Cathy O. Quinn, Manager of Communications & Public Affairs
Office Phone: 843.851.4143
Articles and Resources
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- Peter Downs, Court loss won't stop environmentalists' battle against modified-eucalyptus trees, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 23, 2011
- Tom Levitt, "Public sector should develop GM crops for seed companies, says leading researcher," The Ecologist, August 1, 2011
- Jack Kaskey, International Paper Treads Monsanto’s Path to ‘Frankenforests’, Bloomberg, August 28, 2009
- Jack Kaskey, International Paper Treads Monsanto’s Path to ‘Frankenforests’, Bloomberg, August 28, 2009, accessed November 9, 2011 Cite error: Invalid
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- Peter Downs, Court loss won't stop environmentalists' battle against modified-eucalyptus trees, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 23, 2011, accessed November 11, 2011
- Center for Food Safety, New Genetically Engineered Tree To Avoid Federal Oversight Completely,January 26, 2015.
- Biofuelwatch,Outrage Over US Secret Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees, Biofuels Watch, January 29, 2015.
- Les Pearson, ArborGen, Inc.: Inquiry on Regulatory Status of Their Loblolly Pine Trees Genetically Engineered (GE) for Increased Wood Density Without Plant Pest Sequences,September 14, 2012.
- United States Department of Agriculture, Biotechnology Permits: 7 code of Federal Regulations part 340,As revised May 1997.
- Micheal Firko, USDA APHIS BRS, APHIS BRS Response Letter to ArborGen, Inc. Regarding Their Loblolly Pine Trees Genetically Engineered (GE) for Increased Wood Density Without Plant Pest Sequences, August 28, 2014.
- United States Department of Agriculture, ArborGen Inc.; Availability of Petition, Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for Determination of Nonregulated Status of Freeze Tolerant Eucalyptus Lines, and Notice of Virtual Public Meetings, Regulations.gov, April 29, 2013
- GJEP Staff, US Public Overwhelmingly Rejects Genetically Engineered Trees, Global Justice Ecology Project, April 30, 2013.
- Mendel Biotechnology, "Strategic Partners," corporate website, accessed November 9, 2011
- Mendel Biotechnologies, 2009 Annual Report, corporate annual report, May 15, 2010, accessed November 9, 2011
- Tom Levitt, "Public sector should develop GM crops for seed companies, says leading researcher," The Ecologist, August 1, 2011, accessed August 2, 2011
- Mendel Biotechnology, Inc., Bloomberg BusinessWeek, accessed November 9, 2011
- Mendel Biotechnology and SweTree Technologies, Mendel Biotechnology and SweTree Technologies will jointly exploit the value of certain genes in forestry: Collaboration agreement to investigate the Hercules and other transcription factor genes' function in trees, joint press release, October 29, 2004, accessed November 9, 2011
- Mendel Biotechnology and SweTree Technologies, Mendel Biotechnology and SweTree Technologies extend their collaboration to jointly exploit the value of more than 100 genes in forestry, joint press release, March 14, 2007, accessed November 9, 2011
- ArborGen, Management, corporate website, accessed January 29, 2015.
- Barbara Wells, Forbes, accessed January 2015.
- Executive Profile: Geoffrey P. Clear, Bloomberg Businessweek, accessed January 2015.
- Executive Profile: David M. Nothmann, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, accessed January 2015.
- ArborGen, ArborGen Partners with University of Florida to Advance Pine-based Biofuels as Part of $6.3 Million DOE ARPA-E Grant, corporate press release, October 4, 2011.
- ArborGen, ArborGen Hires New CEO, corporate press release, March 14, 2012.
- Kellie Gypin, LinkedIn profile, accessed January 2015.