FAQ

Below are some explanations related to concerns that may be felt surrounding the petition.

What is biotech?
The term is used in many ways.  For this petition it means trees intentionally modified using scientific principles and advanced DNA analysis methods.  The modifications can include any trait including pest resistance and improved carbon sequestration, and be small tweaks to natural genes or the science-guided addition of new genes to solve important problems not readily addressed by traditional breeding methods.

Why is this petition needed?
Few in the public or scientific communities know that there is a sweeping yet artificial barrier to research, or that choosing “sustainably certified” forestry or forest products can actually be in opposition to scientific research that employs some of our most advanced technologies—especially at a time when forests are under serious and growing stresses.  The goal is to inform the public and broader scientific community that such ideological barriers exist and to help inform certifiers that these barriers should be promptly reviewed for removal.    

Does this petition promote biotech trees over other options?
That is not the goal. Often other methods will be superior or more efficient than biotech in achieving a particular objective, but not always. The aim of this petition is simply to remove historic barriers to scientific research that are no longer relevant or accurate today, and are in fact counterproductive to the environment and society. By removing these barriers, certification systems would allow the tools of biotechnology to be fully available to help trees become as productive and stress resistant as possible wherever and whenever it makes sense to do so.

Will biotech trees take over wild forests?
There is no evidence to suggest biotech trees will take over wild forests. Furthermore, developing such a tree would be extremely unlikely from a technical standpoint, and would go against the core outcome this petition is trying to achieve. History shows that even with highly genetically modified crops provide benefits to society that far outweigh unplanned presence in some places. Many forests are under existential threats due to spreading pests and climate change and are in need of biotech or other novel genetic solutions to help them survive and thrive. With wise choices and use we believe that the benefits of biotech trees will outweigh their unintended effects or spread if they ever do occur.

Aren’t biotech trees dangerous?
Studies have already shown that biotech trees are stable and predictable, and provide the traits they are intended to deliver. They are not dangerous or unpredictable. Biotech use in agriculture over recent decades covers billions of hectares, and millions benefit daily from biotech-produced medicines such as insulin. Biotech methods have been well studied and found to be comparable to normal breeding practices in their safety and predictability. There is simply no credible evidence that biotech trees are harmful to people, animals, or ecosystems.

Won’t biotech trees just add to corporate wealth at the expense of smallholders?
It is the restrictions placed on biotech tree research that make it more likely that benefits from biotech trees will accrue to large corporations. This is true because the increased cost to accomplish the research, from regulations and certification system bans, can only be surmounted with great effort and financial investment. Allowing more innovation in biotech tree research to occur will incentivize efforts that can find use by a wider range of tree growers. Continuing these bans will only ensure that the technology is used by those who can afford it and profit from it.

Will biotech trees be weaker if lignin content is modified?
There are already trees growing in the wild that have reduced lignin content compared to other trees of the same species. These naturally selected varieties have similar characteristics of strength except they grow faster. Any tree whose lignin, or any other characteristic, is modified will be done to meet specific objectives without sacrificing critical growth and survivability needs.

Won’t biotech trees mean more forest plantations are grown instead of natural forests?
No. Many factors are part of a decision to grow a forest plantation, but whether a tree is biotech, clonal, or conventional will not change the overall decision to grow a forest plantation. Furthermore, organizations from the United Nations to the World Wildlife Fund’s New Generation Plantation platform have shown that forest plantations are a powerful tool in reducing the pressure on tropical forests and reduces the demand for illegally logged wood.