GM trees excluded by Nordic forest group

Stora Enso woos ethical investment funds, commits not to make commercial use of new genetics

Nordic forest industry giant Stora Enso yesterday committed not to make commercial use of genetically modification (GM) technology for developing new tree varieties, marking the first such statement by a global player in the forestry sector. A spokesperson said the company felt it was "unnecessary to 'play God'" and didn't want to "underestimate the significance of ethical [investment] funds, which are gaining influence".

Stora's 1999 annual environmental report, published in Helsinki, notes that there could be risks involved in any uncontrolled spread of modified crops. It adds that "economic and social systems may also be threatened where fundamental biological processes are interfered with". However, the company stresses that it will continue to take an interest in basic GM research.

Although the company stresses that it will aim for totally GM-free tree production, it adds that it will be difficult to provide firm assurances to customers. To reduce the risk of contamination it is looking into ways to control raw materials it purchases from independent suppliers.

Use of GM technologies for tree breeding is less advanced than for some agricultural crops, but has excited similar interest for its potential to boost tree growth and alter wood chemistry. There have as yet been no field trials of GM trees in Nordic countries but some American and one New Zealand based forest industry company, and biotechnology firm Monsanto, have established a joint venture for genetic modification of forest trees. At European level, the Confederation of European Paper Industries is currently developing a position paper on the issue.

Follow Up:
Stora Enso, tel: +358 20 462 1380.

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