Canadian Forest Service Publications

Genetically engineered trees for plantation forests: key considerations for environmental risk assessment. 2013. Häggman, H.; Raybould, A.; Borem, A.; Fox, T.; Handley, L.; Hertzberg, M.; Lu, M.-Z.; Macdonald, P.; Oguchi, T.; Pasquali, G.; Pearson, L.; Peter, G.; Quemada, H.; Séguin, A.; Tattersall, K.; Ulian, E.; Walter, C.; McLean, M. Plant Biotechnol. J. 11:785-798.

Year: 2013

Available from: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35153

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1111/pbi.12100

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Forests are vital to the world’s ecological, social, cultural and economic well-being yet sustainable provision of goods and services from forests is increasingly challenged by pressures such as growing demand for wood and other forest products, land conversion and degradation, and climate change. Intensively managed, highly productive forestry incorporating the most advanced methods for tree breeding, including the application of genetic engineering (GE), has tremendous potential for producing more wood on less land. However, the deployment of GE trees in plantation forests is a controversial topic and concerns have been particularly expressed about potential harms to the environment. This paper, prepared by an international group of experts in silviculture, forest tree breeding, forest biotechnology and environmental risk assessment (ERA) that met in April 2012, examines how the ERA paradigm used for GE crop plants may be applied to GE trees for use in plantation forests. It emphasizes the importance of differentiating between ERA for confined field trials of GE trees, and ERA for unconfined or commercial-scale releases. In the case of the latter, particular attention is paid to characteristics of forest trees that distinguish them from shorter-lived plant species, the temporal and spatial scale of forests, and the biodiversity of the plantation forest as a receiving environment.

Plain Language Summary

Forests play a crucial environmental, cultural, social and economic role around the world. They are a source of goods and services and are under pressure because of the growing demand for lumber and various other forest products, the conversion of forests into agricultural land, and soil degradation and climate change. It is possible to produce more wood on less land through intensive forest management and highly productive silviculture. This silvicultural strategy covers tree improvement methods including the production of genetically modified trees (GMTs). However, the planting of GMTs continues to be a controversial issue and some concerns have been raised, particularly about potential hazards to the environment.

This article, prepared by an international panel of experts in silviculture, tree genetic improvement, forest biotechnology and environmental risk assessment, looks at how the environmental risk assessment used for genetically modified crops may be applied to genetically modified trees in plantations.

The authors emphasize the importance of distinguishing between environmental risk assessments for confined field trials and those associated with non confined environments or commercial crops. The fact that the life cycle of trees is longer than that of crop plants and that this has an impact on the spatio temporal scale of the assessment must be taken into account. The impact of a plantation of genetically modified trees on area biodiversity must also be considered.

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