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The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and GE trees

The global threat of genetically engineered (GE or genetically modified) trees is closer than ever. Ironically, it could be the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – the organization that describes itself as “the original pioneers of forest certification,” and claims to “promote the responsible management of the world’s forests”3 – that may open the door to the commercialisation of GE trees.

The Forest Stewardship Council has launched a “Genetic Engineering Learning Process” (GELP) that proposes to directly overseeing selected field tests of GE trees. FSC is developing its own “governance model” or “participation framework” of “safeguards” that it will ask companies to comply with when they run these field tests. However, the FSC Board has yet to decide if this process will move ahead to Phase Two. At the October 2022 General Assembly, FSC members were presented with a draft participation framework for the learning process. Read CBAN’s letter to the FSC Board re: The need to stop the Genetic Engineering Learning Process, November 2, 2022

Take Action

December 2022 – March 2023: For more than twenty years, a core policy of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been a prohibition on the commercial use of genetically engineered (GE or genetically modified) trees in its certification program – but this important ban is under threat.

FSC members! Consider writing to the FSC Board. In March 2023, the Board will decide if the “Genetic Engineering Learning Process” has a future.

Background resources:

Background

For more than twenty years, a core policy of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been a prohibition on the commercial use of genetically engineered (GE or genetically modified) trees in its certification program – but this important ban is under threat.

FSC’s ban on GE trees is necessary to protect the future of our forests. FSC’s prohibition exists because the risks and uncertainties associated with GE trees are too many, and the stakes are too high. The release of genetically engineered trees would threaten forests and forest ecosystems, and impact many local communities and Indigenous peoples.

FSC prohibits FSC member companies from using GE trees for commercial purposes, in certified or non-certified areas. However, FSC allows associated companies to conduct research field tests of GE trees in non-certified areas, a decision that has already allowed companies to advance their GE trees development.

Now, FSC has launched a “genetic engineering learning process” that proposes to directly overseeing selected field tests of GE trees. FSC is developing its own “governance model” of “safeguards” that it will ask companies to comply with when they run these field tests.

The impacts of FSC decisions:

  • If FSC oversees field tests of GE trees, FSC would be implicated in any direct or indirect negative environmental impacts of these field experiments, as well as any social, economic and cultural impacts.
  • FSC’s “learning process” is a first step towards accepting GE trees. FSC says the learning process will help them to discuss whether or not FSC should allow member companies to commercially plant GE trees (in non-certified areas). This policy change could immediately result in companies growing GE trees on a commercial scale and it would open the door globally to the widespread, dangerous release of GE trees.

Background briefing: The Forest Stewardship Council is Opening the Door to the Global Release of Genetically Engineered Trees, August 2022 .

New Report! Our new report discusses the role of the FSC in the global fight over genetically engineered trees. The Global Status of Genetically Engineered Tree Development: A Growing Threat, September 2022, in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

FSC Policies on GE

The FSC “Policy of Association” defines six “unacceptable activities” that FSC associated organizations and their corporate groups need to avoid in both certified and non-certified operations. One of these unacceptable activities is the “introduction of genetically modified organisms in forestry operations.”

FSC’s rules on use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

FSC Principles & Criteria (FSC-STD-01-001 v4-0): FSC’s Principles and Criteria are very clear on the issue of GMOs, excluding their use within the boundaries of FSC-certified forestry operations. The current version 4-0 states unequivocally that “use of genetically modified organisms shall be prohibited”. Equal considerations apply to the approved version 5-0 which is supposed to take effect from 2016 onwards wherein criterion 10.4 states: “The Organization shall not use genetically modified organisms in the Management Unit.”

FSC Policy “FSC Interpretation on GMOs” (FSC-POL-30-602): The FSC Policy on GMOs clarifies that research into GMOs must not take place in FSC certified forests. Relevant field trials, however, are permissible by FSC-certified operations if they are conducted in non-certified areas.

FSC Policy for Association (FSC-POL-01-004): FSC’s Policy for Association states that, “FSC will only allow its association with organizations that are not directly or indirectly involved in…. e) Introduction of genetically modified organisms in forestry operations.” Introduction is to be understood here as commercial deployment and is considered unacceptable not only by a certified organization but also by any majority ownership related parent or subsidiary company.

In summary, FSC certified organizations may only conduct research into GMOs but must not use them in any form commercially, whether within or outside the boundaries of their certified management units.

Past Developments

November 17, 2021 – FSC proposal to engage in GE tree field testing activities is a threat to forests and FSC: “The proposal to lead a learning project on GE trees that would involve FSC oversight over field trials is a shocking development in the history of FSC. If embarking on this “learning project on genetic engineering outside certified areas” and endorsing expanded field testing, FSC would not just be opening the door globally to future commercial growing of GE trees but actually piloting this outcome.”From the November 17, 2021 joint letter to the FSC from by the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), Argentina; Huni Kui Peoples’ Federation of Acre, Brazil; Indigenous Environmental Network; Ecoropa; Global Forest Coalition; Biofuelwatch; Global Justice Ecology Project; and the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

The FSC “Policy of Association” defines six “unacceptable activities” that FSC associated organizations and their corporate groups need to avoid in both certified and non-certified operations. One of these unacceptable activities is the “introduction of genetically modified organisms in forestry operations.” However, the proposed draft (V3 Draft 4) would change this text to “introduction or use of genetically modified trees for purposes other than research (which can include field trials), such as for commercial purposes”

This change would formally allow for GM tree research by FSC associated organizations. It would also change the prohibition from GMOs, to a GM trees. There is an FSC consultation on this and other questions that ends December 3. Non-FSC members can participate. Visit https://consultation-platform.fsc.org/ to create a profile online. You will then be provided with the consultation documents in English and Spanish.

FSC Consultation Documents:

  1. FSC Policy for Association
  2. Procedure for Disclosure Requirements for Association with FSC
  3. Crosswalk
  4. Frequently Asked Questions re: FSC Policy for Association
  5. Summary of consultation questionnaire
  6. Consultation report (May/June 2021)

Documentos de consulta en español: