#Science & Technology
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

Genetic engineering (GE) and gene editing technologies have become widely adopted in crop plants offering alternative avenues to enhance plant health, productively and quality. Academic and applied GE research has also been ongoing in a number of forest tree species over the past decades and, in a few cases, long term field trials have been completed demonstrating the safety of GE technologies and genetically modified (GM) trees produced by these technologies. Scientific consensus and available evidence clearly indicate that natural and planted forests are already experiencing severe challenges due to rapid climate change, severe weather events and increased pest and pathogen loads. At a time when sustainable alternatives are desperately needed to transition away from a fossil carbon economy to a renewable, bio-based economy, forestry and forest product industries urgently need options to respond to the above mentioned challenges. Conventional tree breeding alone may not provide the required agility to ensure sustainable forest production in the coming decades.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forbids the use of genetically modified (GM) trees in FSC certified forests and products. However, research on genetic engineering (GE) of trees, including field testing, is permitted under clear conditions and with appropriate safeguards. FSC member companies have recognized the value of genetic engineering and gene editing technologies and have started investing in GE research. Commercial use of GM trees may be inevitable. The FSC will therefore have to consider whether it should play an active role in defining conditions and setting safeguards in order to allow associate companies to move beyond GE research, even if it happens outside of certified areas.

The FSC has invited public sector and academic researchers to share their expert opinions on existing safeguards and control mechanisms for the application of GE in forestry, in order to guide the FSC in deciding whether it should be engaged in a trial project for for associated use of GM forestry outside of FSC certification. This would include the development of conditions and safeguards that could be adopted when FSC associates seek to commercially deploy GM trees outside certified forests and products.

We, the undersigned, urge the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to allow responsible research and associated use of gene edited or genetically engineered trees by FSC certified companies. We are a global consortium of academic and public sector scientists who work in tree biology and biotechnology from diverse perspectives, and toward a wide variety of scientific and technology goals. We offer the following observations in support of research and associated use of GE trees.

EXTENSIVE SAFEGUARDS ARE IN PLACE. As your safeguards document clearly shows, there are already multiple ways in which FSC already imposes strict safeguards for the potential issues raised by GM trees.

GM REGULATIONS IN MOST OF THE WORLD ARE VERY STRONG. The government regulations under which field research and commercial decisions are made are extremely rigorous in most of the world; FSC does not need to duplicate them.

ALLOWING COMPANIES TO USE GM TREES ON NON-CERTIFIED LANDS WOULD PROMOTE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT. For tree science to proceed, it is essential that laboratory studies can be validated and extended by analysis of trees in natural and plantation growing environments. Innovations promoting the health, productivity and resilience of forest trees are desperately needed.

THERE HAVE BEEN DECADES OF RESEARCH THAT SHOW GE TECHNOLOGY IS SAFE AND CAN PROVIDE USEFUL TRAITS IN TREES. GE is not new for plants or trees, FSC’s decision is based on decades of studies, with diverse types of trees and traits, from all over the globe.

THE CLIMATE EMERGENCY DEMANDS ACCELERATED RESEARCH TO PROVIDE SOLUTIONS, WHICH SHOULD NOT BE IMPEDED BY NON-SCIENTIFIC BARRIERS TO CERTIFICATION. Our natural and planted forests face unprecedented decline as a result of rapid climate change, extreme weather events and pest and pathogen challenges. GE is a major technology that is being used in numerous crops and trees to produce plants that can better resist the stresses associated with these challenges. A precautionary approach demands that the responsible development of such solutions are facilitated by FSC, not impeded.

WE HOPE THAT FSC WILL RISE ABOVE THE POLITICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL NOISE that is so prominent in this area and put science, and this advice from public sector scientists, at the top of its considerations with respect to policies for GE trees.

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The Allow use of GE technology in forest trees petition to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was written by International Tree Biotechnology Community and is in the category Science & Technology at GoPetition.