Genetically Engineered Trees


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Genetically Modified Trees- The ultimate threat to forests

A World Rainforest Movement Publication

Reports and Information
Inadequate federal regulation
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Stop GE Trees Campaign
Forest Guild Position on GE Trees

Recent media coverage:

Down in the forest, something stirs

Wisconsin Public Radio     Requires RealPlayer

Carbon trading and GE trees rapped at UN conference

Trespass: Genetic Engineering as the Final Conquest

The impact of test-tube trees on the woods

Tweaking tree genes on horizon

More media...


Genetically engineered trees are already in the field for research purposes. In the U.S. over 60% of the field testing of GE trees is occurring in the South, with South Carolina accounting for nearly 50% of all field releases. Scientists are focused on pine and poplar trees- trees that are fundamental to our native forest ecosystems. We have already seen dire impacts from GE farm crops, which are not native to U.S. ecosystems and do not interbreed with native plants. We face much more damaging impacts from forestry applications since these are focused on native tree species that will have direct impacts on the makeup of our forests.


GE trees will inevitably contaminate native forests by interbreeding with wild trees. This will lead to irreversible changes in fundamental ecosystem processes and will affect forests’ ability to support wildlife, provide clean air and water, and produce valuable forest products.

  • Gene drift in agriculture has occurred rapidly- A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that seeds of traditional varieties of corn, soybeans, and canola are pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences derived from transgenic varieties. Transgenically derived DNA was detected in 50 percent of the corn, 50 percent of the soybean, and 83 percent of the canola varieties tested. These crops have been in production for less than a decade.

  • Gene drift in forests can be expected to occur more rapidly because tree pollen travels on a much larger scale and trees permeate the landscape at higher frequency than farm crops. Scientific modeling has indicated that pollen from trees can be expected to travel up to 1,000 kilometers.

  • We are facing long-term impacts resulting in widespread occurrences of sterility, lack of lignin, and pesticide production in pine and poplar trees in the wild. This will lead to an inability of contaminated forests to reproduce, produce food for wildlife, and produce marketable timber.

Contamination of forests will have extreme consequences for forestland owners because it will lead to the erosion of property rights and economic losses.


  • U.S. courts have decided that when a landowner’s property is contaminated by GE seed or pollen that the affected crop becomes the property of the corporation that developed the crop. This would effectively illegalize regeneration in stands of contaminated trees (trees that have been pollinated by GE trees). Farmers whose crops were contaminated by GE varieties have been successfully sued for patent infringement.

  • GE in native tree species is focused on reducing the production of lignin (the material that makes timber strong and rigid). This makes GE trees easier to use for papermaking, but useless as sawtimber, which provides the most profitable market for landowners. Genetic contamination will make some forests incapable of producing marketable timber.

GE technology will increase both negative impacts associated with monoculture forestry and concentration of the forest products industry.

  • Patenting of engineered crop plants is designed to give corporations greater control over the means of production. In agriculture, this has translated to farmers being unable to continue to save seeds, property destruction when land is contaminated by GE crops, and prosecution of landowners whose land is contaminated.

  • If corporations successfully use this technology to increase production efficiency, private forestland owners will be at a larger disadvantage in the market.


Corporations and scientists are engineering trees with no regard to the dramatic impacts that they will have on ecosystems, society, and private landowners. There has been an unscientific lack of rational debate about the fundamental questions involved in manipulating forests for the purpose of industrial production. 


  • Scientists have not made a case that there is a pressing need for this technology.

  • The industry argues that we will and should be increasing consumption of paper and wood products without consideration of the need to reduce wasteful consumption or the fundamental carrying capacity of our natural resources. 

  • There is a lack if scientific honesty about the unavoidable occurence of gene drift, the true impacts of GE in agriculture, and the impossibility of assessing the long term impacts of gene drift.

  • There has been only negligible effort to even begin documenting the risks associated with this technology, and current regulations are grossly inadequate.

  • The public’s interest is last on the agenda for the industry. GE trees are already growing in the field, and the industry has now arrived at the question of how to “sell” this technology to the public and landowners. There has been no genuine effort to address what is best for society as a whole.