New Internationalist

Unpopular poplars

July 2009

Environmentalists oppose the genetically engineered poplar trees for the production of cellulosic ethanol or industrial biofuel.

Since the time of Bruegel, poplars have been a defining feature of the Belgian landscape. Some recent additions, however, are provoking a storm of international protest. In May the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) planted an outdoor field trial of poplar trees genetically engineered specifically for the production of cellulosic ethanol or industrial biofuel.

Environmentalists want the trials stopped. ‘Genetically engineered trees that can spread their pollen for hundreds of kilometres should be classified as an alien invasive species,’ insisted Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project Executive Director. ‘They can contaminate native forests with dangerous and unnatural traits that can cause extensive damage to forest biological diversity.’

Using trees to produce agrofuels is rejected on the grounds that the quantity of trees needed will lead to the creation of plantations that will displace indigenous and forest-dependent communities.

In a letter to the Belgian Government, a coalition of environmental and indigenous groups said: ‘GE trees cannot be part of the solution to climate change. Not only will GE trees themselves worsen climate change, the use of wood to manufacture liquid fuels will massively increase global deforestation levels.’

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This column was published in the July 2009 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 424

New Internationalist Magazine issue 424
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