News from the Stop GE Trees delegation to Chile

FOA’s senior forestry officers Jorge Meza and Hivy Ortiz Chour receive the WRM letter. Photo: Orin Langelle // Langelle Photography

Biofuelwatch researcher Keith Brunner is currently in Chile with a delegation from the international Campaign to Stop Genetically Engineered Trees. Biotechnology companies are aiming to develop GE trees as feedstocks for biofuels and biomass burning, among other uses. Follow along with the delegation at 

Tuesday (21st March) was the International Day of Forests, declared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Here in Chile, we joined a delegation to hand deliver a letter to the FAO signed by 200 organizations, calling on the agency to change its misleading forest definition. This definition, which has been used as the blueprint for over 200 national and international forest definitions since 1948, is vague enough to allow for monoculture tree plantations to be considered forests – a loophole which the plantations industry has readily exploited.

Elizabeth Diaz from World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in Uruguay and Lucia Cuenca from Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales (OLCA) in Chile led the delegation to the FAO’s regional office for Latin America, located in a wealthy neighborhood in Santiago.

As expected, the delivery was an underwhelming event. Jorge Meza and Hivy Ortiz Chour, FAO’s senior forestry officers for Latin America, accepted the letter. The officers expressed that while the impacts of tree plantations are unfortunate, the FAO definition derives from years of consultations with a diversity of stakeholders.

The obvious issue here is that there is a tremendous power differential between a multinational forestry corporation seeking to maximize profits and a grassroots organization fighting to defend rights to land, food and water from monoculture tree plantations. They have diametrically opposed interests – and given the FAO’s unwillingness to change its definition after years of grassroots pressure, it’s clear which side the agency falls on.

The FAO also drew broad criticism yesterday from social movement organizations concerned about its 2017 theme of “Forests and Energy,” which appears to be a thinly concealed advertisement for large-scale bioenergy. These organizations, including Biofuelwatch and Global Forest Coalition, sent the FAO an additional letter denouncing its conflation of wood for basic cooking and heating needs with industrial-scale bioenergy – an energy source that studies are showing is no better than coal for the climate. With Northern demand for biomass increasingly incentivizing land grabbing in the South, it’s entirely inappropriate that the UN agency charged with supporting food and agricultural activities has decided to ally itself with the bioenergy industry.