Move follows global campaign calling on them to uphold their ban on genetically engineered trees
The Board of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world’s leading forest product certifier, decided at their March meeting to back away from a process that critics charge would have put forests at risk and would have opened the door to overturning FSC’s long-time core certification policy that prohibits the commercial use of genetically engineered trees.
“FSC is right to reject genetically engineered trees as a danger to forests,” said Kaitlyn Duthie-Kannikkatt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, which closely monitored the FSC discussions. “The field testing and release of genetically engineered trees pose unprecedented threats to forests, wildlife, and communities that live near them.”
The Campaign to STOP GE Trees is hailing this as a victory in forest protection. The FSC decided not to proceed with a project to oversee field tests of genetically engineered trees, called a “genetic engineering learning process”.
To date the only commercial-scale plantations of genetically engineered trees in the world are genetically engineered poplars planted in China in 2001. However, Suzano, a Brazilian-based pulp producer and FSC certificate holder, was given permission by the Brazil government in 2021 to commercially grow eucalyptus trees that are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate-based herbicides. Under FSC’s policy, Suzano will not be able to grow their genetically engineered trees commercially without first leaving the FSC, a move that could have a potentially significant impact on their markets.
Other genetically engineered trees currently being advanced face a similar hurdle. Timber from GE poplars or pines developed by the company Living Carbon could not be certified as sustainable under the FSC Policy, limiting their value in a market looking for “sustainable” wood and paper. Likewise, wood or other products from the Darling 58 genetically engineered chestnut tree currently being evaluated for deregulation by the US Department of Agriculture would be ineligible for FSC certification.
“This decision by the FSC to reject genetically engineered trees reflects the serious questions of ecology and science raised by this technology that have been glossed over in recent years by corporate interests,” said Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project, Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. “Here in the US, for example, even though genetically engineered trees pose significant social, ecological and economic risks, there is no protection offered by regulations as agencies are completely unprepared to assess those risks–either in the short-term or over the decades and millennia that genetically engineered trees could live and act upon the environment.”
More than 130 environmental and social justice groups from 34 countries, including 10 FSC members and GMWatch, signed a statement hosted by the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, calling on FSC to continue prohibiting the use of genetically engineered trees and to refrain from engaging with field experiments.
GMWatch congratulates all the groups working on this issue, including those of our readers who signed petitions and wrote to the FSC asking them to uphold their ban on genetic engineering.
 Forest Stewardship Council Board Decision, March 31, 2023: https://fsc.org/en/newscentre/fsc-genetic-engineering-learning-process-will-not-go-ahead