Anti-GMO tree protestors arrested at conference for exercising free speech rights

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: eucalyptus trees, Tree Biotechnology Conference, GMO

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(NaturalNews) A handful of bold patriots was arrested at the recent Tree Biotechnology Conference 2013 in Asheville, North Carolina, which took place from May 26 to June 1, for exercising their right to free speech. Reports indicate that at least three demonstrators among hundreds trying to raise awareness about the threat of genetically-modified (GM) trees were "brutally" detained by police for disrupting the event, which is sponsored by a company currently pushing for approval of GM eucalyptus trees.

According to EcoWatch, at least three demonstrators were arrested for trying to wrap a bus full of conference attendees with genetically engineered (GE) caution tape. The bus was intended to take its passengers to the grandiose Biltmore Estate in Asheville that evening for a fancy dinner, but dozens of protestors banging pots and pans and making references to "Franken-trees" while mimicking zombies obstructed its departure, which led to the arrests.

Inside the meeting, other protestors deliberately disrupted a speech by Belgian tree engineer Wout Boerjan entitled "Engineering trees for the biorefinery." These protestors effectively delayed the talk for at least 20 minutes, using the time to help raise awareness about the fact that GM trees will greatly damage delicate forest ecosystems, particularly in the southeastern U.S. where they are intended to be planted on large tree plantations, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"We took dignified action today to directly confront the growing corporate control over our seeds, forests, and communities," said farmer and professor Steve Norris, one of the demonstrators, as quoted by "We are sending a crystal clear message to the GE tree industry and its investors - expect resistance."

South Carolina-based ArborGen wants to blanket Southeast with GM eucalyptus trees

Of primary concern are efforts by South Carolina-based ArborGen, a GM tree company, to begin planting GM eucalyptus all over the southeastern U.S. ArborGen is a major sponsor of the Tree Biotechnology Conference, and the company is currently in the process of petitioning the USDA to grant approval for mass plantings of what many recognize as an invasive and highly destructive tree species, especially due to the fact that it is a GMO.

"We know that GE trees are a disaster for forests and biodiversity," said Laura Sorensen, another demonstrator who was arrested for speaking out at the conference. "With predictions of worsening extreme weather in our region, the last thing we need are highly flammable and invasive plantations of water-hungry eucalyptus trees. As a grandmother, I see no future in this for my grandchildren."

Reports indicate that the protests were the largest ever in the history of the conference, which takes place annually. They were so effective, in fact, that a field trip for conference attendees had to be canceled, which just goes to show how effective so-called civil disobedience can be in the face of gross injustices like GMO propagation.

"Trees should not be burned for fuel - this is a false solution to climate change," said a local Asheville resident and member of Katuah Earth First!, an organization working to stop ecological destruction. "Monoculture plantations for bioenergy are already displacing indigenous peoples and local communities all over the world, and they will have a major impact on rural livelihoods and biodiversity here in the U.S. South."

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