Release: Public Comment Period Closes on Genetically Engineered Chestnut

Groups Across North America Oppose Release of Genetically Engineered Trees 

New York – On Oct. 19th the initial public comment period by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the petition for deregulation of Darling 58 genetically engineered (GE or genetically modified) American Chestnut closed.

Historically, there has been strong public opposition to GE trees, a trend which continues to be seen with the current proposal. The public comment period closed with 109 organizations, representing millions of members, officially opposed to the proposal to plant Darling 58 in forests. 123,426 individuals have also registered opposition to the genetically engineered American Chestnut. More than 400 organizations have previously endorsed a full global ban on the release of all GE trees into the environment.

Today, representatives of five organizations opposing the deregulation of Darling 58 spoke at a virtual press conference: Anne Petermann–International Coordinator, Campaign to STOP GE Trees; BJ McManama–Campaign Organizer, Indigenous Environmental Network; Scot Quaranda–Communications Director, Dogwood Alliance; Dana Perls–Food and Technology Program Manager, Friends of the Earth; and Lucy Sharratt–Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

The representatives spoke against the attempt by researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) to gain regulatory approval for “Darling 58,” a GE American Chestnut for unrestricted planting in North American forests, making it the first genetically modified organism (GMO) designed to spread into ecosystems.

Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project: “There are no long-term risk assessments of the impact of these GE trees on ecosystems. This would be an irreversible experiment. The Precautionary Principle mandates that before such an irreversible action is taken, it must be proven safe.  There is no evidence that the GE American Chestnut tree is safe in forest ecosystems over time. Corporate backers like Monsanto, ArborGen, and Weyerhaeuser view the chestnut as a ‘test case’ to overcome widespread public opposition to GE trees. They are hoping to open the door to other GE varieties like poplar and pine designed for industrial plantations.”

Dana Perls, Friends of the Earth: “The release of genetically engineered chestnut trees could have irreversible and unpredictable impacts on vulnerable forest ecosystems. This biotech proposal is part of the decades long agribusiness agenda to maximize profits and control of nature at great cost to our health and the planet.”

BJ McManama, Indigenous Environmental Network: “Today, there remain large areas of traditional and treaty lands on which much is forested and managed as sovereign territory of many different Native American Peoples. These forests are not only a source of economic self-determination but hold great cultural significance to include sacred sites where the trees are an element of sustenance, knowledge, and familial identity. Every living being within the forests is related in some form and nothing within these lands lives in isolation, therefore changing or altering the original instructions of any one or any part of these elements threatens the natural order established over millennia.”

Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance: “The Southern US is global ground zero for the forest products industry, and we see genetically engineered chestnut trees as this industry’s sneaky way of opening the floodgates for frankentrees that will harm forests, biodiversity, and local communities across the region. Our natural forests that support wildlife and the economic sovereignty of rural communities will rapidly be replaced with tree plantations for wood pellets, paper, and more, leaving environmental and climate injustice in their wake.”

Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network: “We do not accept the risk of contamination into Canada from a US release of this GE tree. If the US approves this GE tree then it needs to be fully contained to the US range of the American Chestnut. We’re concerned that tracking the plantings and progeny of Darling 58 in the US will fall apart over time.”

Links of Interest:

For more information or to schedule interviews with any of the speakers contact Steve Taylor

+1 314 210 1322  [email protected]

2 Responses to “Release: Public Comment Period Closes on Genetically Engineered Chestnut”

  1. Your opposition to GE trees is unfortunate and misinformed. Recall that ordinary chestnut trees in North America were accidentally extirpated by the unfortunate accidental introduction of the blight. This of course was not regulated and had a devastating impact on America’s chestnuts due to their susceptibility to this disease. Why is it that you oppose scientists’ attempt to reverse some of that damage by creating a chestnut tree that is resistant to this disease? Are we just supposed to throw up our hands and say we are not allowed to make an effort to reverse the damage we caused-or that we are only allowed to use the most cumbersome, non-transgenic methods to do so? All you do is raise unjustified fears without providing any solution to the blight that destroyed chestnuts. You also fail to provide any explanation why we should fear GE poplar or pine-wouldn’t it be better to farm trees so we could avoid cutting down natural forests?

    • Scot Quaranda

      Unfortunate introductions are the name of the game. We see the genetically engineered chestnut tree as the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The chestnut was an iconic Southern U.S. species that dominated our landscape over 100 years ago and then was lost to the blight. It profoundly impacted our heritage, culture, and nature in our region. So of course we want chestnuts back, but not as frankentrees that will normalize society’s opinion of GE trees. The cumbersome, non-GE methods can and must work. By messing with nature here, it will then be ok to alter the genetics of species in our region to make them fast growing, herbicide resistant, cold tolerant, produce less lignin and so much more that if that pollen mixed with natural species could wreak havoc on our forests. Instead of more tree plantations which are not forests, we need to reduce our use of single use packaging, recycle more, and change the way we view forests.


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