Under the banner of promoting the ‘bio-economy’, scientists of the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) and Ghent University take part in a worldwide contest to genetically engineer trees in order to ease the conversion of wood into ‘biofuels’ or other products like plastics. Developers of genetically engineered (GE) trees claim these projects to contribute to a sustainable society.
Scientists are still very far from succeeding in making it happen; but if ever developed commercially, where are these trees going to be grown, to whose benefit, and what are the social and environmental impacts?
The everyday experience over the last decades of rural communities in South-America confronted with the expansion of tree plantations is very alarming. Already now, large scale tree plantations are resulting in land grabbing and land conflicts, soil depletion, disappearing biodiversity, large water uptake, enhanced use of pesticides, and forest fires. Apart from biosafety concerns, if GE trees are grown in the same way, this would only add to the social and environmental problems currently experienced. Another concern is that (broad) patent applications on GE trees, also by VIB, contribute to the privatisation of nature.
Promoting technology development to make tree-based commodities available for ever more expanding consumer markets, create moral dilemmas for the European and Belgian society, and for researchers in particular. What does it mean to live amongst monoculture tree plantations in South-America? What are the social and environmental impacts? How should these impacts be taken into account when public funding is allocated to new technology development? Are they taken into account in the GM poplar case? How do researchers engage with the dynamics of expanded commodity production and the concomitant challenges of sustainability and societal resilience? And, how can scientists work in solidarity with people around the globe?
A discussion with:
Joanna Cabello from the WORLD RAINFOREST MOVEMENT
Hanne Cottyn, researcher Commodity Frontier Initiative at Ghent University
Ruben Vanholme, researcher at VIB Flemish Institute Biotechnology
Intro & Panel:
Nina Holland, Corporate Europe Observatory / Field Liberation Movement
Barbara Van Dyck, University of Sussex / Field Liberation Movement
Organizers: Field Liberation Movement, Commodity Frontiers Initiative, Research Group Economies, Comparisons, Connections Ghent University
(Source of this information, and more, can be found here.)