ArborGen received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to plant a quarter million genetically modified eucalyptus trees in an effort to increase paper production, according to an Associated Press report.
According to the report, ArborGen is a South Carolina-based biotech joint venture between International Paper, MeadWestvaco and Rubicon, and plans to plant the altered eucalyptus trees in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana.
Eucalyptus trees are ideal for paper production because of the high quality pulp they produce. They also have a faster growth rate than hardwoods. According to the article, ArborGen said using the altered eucalyptus could produce more timber with less land use, allowing native forests to be conserved. The trees can grow 25 feet a year and be ready for felling within three years, according to the report.
Although other, non-altered eucalyptus trees have not proved invasive in test nurseries in Florida, critics have voiced concerns about the plan. The article quoted a biologist on the Sierra Club’s genetic engineering committee who cited lack of evidence of the benign nature of the trees as a concern, while the Global Justice Equality Project argued that the trees use considerable water resources and could spread north beyond the testing plantations.
An expert in eucalyptus trees hired by ArborGen said that while the introduction of the genetically modified trees poses the risk that it could transfer its genes to other trees, the eucalyptus is relatively efficient in its water use and is not particularly flammable.
The trees have been modified to survive in colder climates than their native habitats. The test will help determine how far north the modified trees can survive.