trials of genetically
engineered trees exposed in Finland
- GE field trials do cause environmental and health hazards,
says the statement of Finnish Board of Gene Technology
Finnish bioindustry has been keen on genetically engineered trees. The research
has been seeking for methods to maintain transgenes in function, so the
production of cloned and sterile ge-trees could begin. Unfortunately, this has
been kept out of the public debate until now. A decrease in lignin amount of
trees in order to cut down the costs of pulp industry has been mentioned as one
key factor for the ge-tree research. However, wind fallen trees are already a
major problem in Finland and fibres with low lignin content can be produced in
fieldcrops. Finnish-based multinational forest company Stora Enso has announced
to avoid ge-trees and their research.
Peoples' Biosafety Association (PBA) has asked the Finnish Board of Gene Technology to give exact locations of all ge-field trials on the spring 2000. The Board of Gene Technology refused, even though the information is legally public. Biosafety Association took the case to the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland. The Board of Gene Technology still refused to give the information, explaining that scientists need to have privacy on test sites. The Board has given a statement signed by Pirjo Mäkelä. This statement explains that any unauthorized visit on ge-field trials might cause danger to environment and people's health and the sites should therefore be kept hidden.
The Supreme Administrative Court of Finland decided to move the case to Administrative Court of Hämeenlinna, which decided in favour of PBA. The Board of Gene Technology didn't provide the information but appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court again. PBA assumes this was done intentionally to prolong the case so much that the relevant tests were finished.
Finally, in February 2003, three years after PBA asked the information, the Supreme Administrative Court decided that the Board of Gene Technology should have given and still should give the exact location of ge-test sites as they are public by law.
However, the PBA wanted to demonstrate that the test sites are easy to find and therefore the Board of Gene Technology decision not to give the information was meaningless. We went on for a search and found the field trials of genetically engineered birches in Punkaharju and Viikki. Referring to the statement of the Board of Gene Technology, the sites were marked with warning signs reminding of the hazards of gene technology by the activists. It is also important to notice that the risk assessments for both field trials ignored the risk of horizontal gene transfer. The year and a half long discussion on publicity has therefore come to a conclusion and the real question about the future of these risky experiments can come in for a public debate. In any case, the Peoples' Biosafety Association considers genetically engineered tree-clones to be unnecessary for the development forestry, on which ecological aspects matters a lot.
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