Public Comment on Darling 58 American Chestnut Closes

Public Comment on Darling 58 American Chestnut Closes

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 are 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 U.S. 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:

  • Forest Health and Biotechnology: Possibilities and Considerations A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
  • Biotechnology for Forest Health? The Test Case of the Genetically Engineered American Chestnut A report and factsheet produced by the Campaign to Stop GE Trees
  • The forests are in crises but biotechnology is not the answer Editorial featured in The Hill
  • 10-minute interviews with Anne Petermann-Global Justice Ecology Project & Campaign to STOP GE Trees; Bj McManama-Indigenous Environmental Network; Lois Breault-Melican-former President of the TACF MA/RI chapter; Dr. Rachel Smolker-Biofuelwatch.


Communications contact: Erin Jensen, (202) 222-0722, [email protected]

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