The Biological Politics of Genetically Modified Trees
joint Cornerhouse / EcoNexus publication
The processes through which genetically engineered trees are being developed are profoundly biased against social arrangements which promote and rely on biological diversity. These processes are also riven by dilemmas and destructive tendencies which chains of technical refinements, no matter how long, are likely to be powerless to overcome. Tackling the challenge GM trees pose means tackling the industrial and bureaucratic tradition which seeks the radical simplification of landscapes. That entails alliance-building with groups working against or outside that tradition, from seed savers to communities battling encroachment of industrial tree farms on their land.
In these respects, the issues raised by GM trees are similar to those raised by GM crops. Yet in many ways, genetic modification in forestry is an even more serious issue than genetic engineering in agriculture. Trees’ long lives and largely undomesticated status, their poorly understood biology and lifecycles, the complexity and fragility of forest ecosystems, and corporate and state control over enormous areas of forest land on which GM trees could be planted combine to create risks which are unique. The biosafety and social implications of the application of genetic engineering to forestry are grave enough to warrant both an immediate halt to releases of GM trees and renewed attention to the social, historical and political roots of the tree biotech boom.