Genetic extremism overstates risks

CORVALLIS - Amid increasing acts of vandalism and protests against the use of genetic engineering in forestry, a group of scientists said this month in a professional journal that scare tactics used by environmental extremists must yield to a more careful analysis of the issues based upon science.

The safe and careful application of biotechnology to forestry, they said, holds the potential for trees that grow faster, reduce the burdens placed on native forests, may lessen the use of some chemicals, and can help to meet the increasing demands for wood pulp, building materials and renewable energy.

Their commentary, a statement that was ratified by 99 percent of the voters from a recent meeting of International Union of Forestry Research Organizations, was published in the December issue of Nature Biotechnology.

"There is overwhelming consensus among scientists that biotechnology can be used safely and should move forward," said Steven Strauss, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University and co-author of the paper.

"As with any new technology, there are some concerns that we should deal with, both scientific and ethical," Strauss said. "But they are not major problems, and both the scientific community and industries have been working to address them for a number of years."

By contrast, Strauss said, some environmental groups have suggested that genetic engineering, in forestry and elsewhere, is rife with unknowable risks and looming ecological catastrophe.

The World Wide Fund for Nature, for instance, in November called for governments around the world to enact a moratorium on the commercial use of genetic engineering in forestry. And just last week, vandals making reference to "Frankentrees" in one communiqué - caused some damage to laboratories in Washington state doing gene research on trees.

"Some opponents of this science, based on little or no scientific evidence or knowledge, have elevated gene research to F

Contact: Steven Strauss
Oregon State University

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