Engineered trees host deadly fungus

Regarding the Oct. 16 article, “Fatal fungus creeps south into Washington” about Cryptococcus Gattii:

Earlier this year, the Global Justice Ecology Project launched a campaign to address the emerging threat of the large-scale, unsustainable, environmentally and socially destructive production of biofuels. One of the major threats we uncovered revolves around plans by ArborGen (a major genetically engineered tree corporation) to develop huge plantations of genetically engineered Eucalyptus throughout the South.

Eucalyptus is one of the hosts of C. Gattii. In particular, Eucalyptus Grandii, one of the species being engineered, is a documented C. Gattii host.

Corporations are sinking billions into ethanol plants, and are looking at genetically engineered trees and microbes for future supplies of so-called “cellulosic ethanol.”

The Global Justice Ecology Project and others are calling for a serious look at the long- and short-term consequences of the replacement of our dependence on fossil fuels with a new dependence on the massive production of biofuels. Our work on the biofuels issue centers on the link between biofuels and GE trees, forest destruction and displacement of indigenous communities from their ancestral lands.

In the U.S., we are especially concerned about the possible human health impacts of releasing a huge number of trees known to be potential hosts to a deadly fungus.

In May we issued an urgent action alert against ArborGen’s request for a USDA permit for a test plot of flowering GE eucalyptus trees. In July, the USDA approved this permit, allowing ArborGen to grow GE eucalyptus in Alabama.

Dr. Joseph Heitman, director of the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis at Duke University Medical Center, and an expert on Cryptococcus, is among those who shares our concern on the potentially deadly threat of creating large-scale plantations of a tree that can host a deadly fungus.

Phiona Hamilton-Gordon

Global Justice Ecology Project

Hinesburg, VT

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