Opinion & Analysis

The Forest Dialogue’s Genetically Modified Trees (GMT) Initiative
Gary Dunning (Executive Director) · The Forests Dialogue (TFD)

“The GMT questionnaire was ground-breaking in the sense that for the first time a collection of civil society actors developed a comprehensive list of critical questions on GMTs that a group of leading forest and biotechnology companies agreed to answer… let alone make public. It may be just a start but to me it demonstrates the power of this type of platform to yield tangible progress on controversial topics, such as GMTs.” – Gary Dunning, Executive Director, The Forests Dialogue.

zoom (© FSC A.C.) © FSC A.C.The application of biotechnology to commercial plantation forestry – or Intensively Managed Planted Forests (IMPF) – is a controversial topic. In 2011, TFD’s Steering Committee identified the debate around genetically modified trees (GM trees) as a significant conflict point for forest stakeholders, thus leading to the development of TFD’s Initiative on GM Trees focused on stakeholder engagement and information sharing.

To date, TFD has convened two “Scoping Dialogues” and an “Information Sharing” Meeting on the topic. The Scoping Dialogues – held in New Haven, USA (November 2011) and Gland, Switzerland (October 2012) – were designed to build shared understanding on a range of issues and perspectives on GM trees and to identify key areas of agreement and disagreement. Participants represented a diversity of interests including social and environmental NGOs, companies leading in the development of GM tree technology, consumer goods companies, forest rights holders including Indigenous Peoples, forest certification bodies and research institutions.

Read more about TFD’s Initiative on GM Trees, including meeting summaries, presentations and other outputs from these Scoping Dialogues here.

TFD’s Report on Company Responses to the GMT Questionnaire

Given the outcomes of the Scoping Dialogues and recommendations from participants in those meetings, TFD refocused its efforts on information sharing among key stakeholders. One of the important challenges identified during the Scoping Dialogues was the lack of information about GM tree development. TFD set up a meeting to begin to try to address that. In fall 2013, TFD convened an information-sharing session in the UK. Underpinning this information-sharing session was the creation of a civil-society-driven list of questions directed to the companies leading the development of GM tree technology. The first of its kind, the questionnaire contained over 40 questions ranging across environmental, social, policy and technical issues related to GM trees. The five participating companies (Fibria, Stora Enso, International Paper, Meadwestvaco, Suzano) agreed to answer all the questions and share those answers publically. The Questionnaire including the full company responses can be accessed on the TFD website here.

TFD plans to continue discussions related to GM trees as long as there is a demonstrated need for a platform to do so and support for it in the broader forest stakeholder community.

About The Forests Dialogue (TFD)

The Forests Dialogue (TFD) was created in 1998 to contribute to the conservation and sustainable management of forests and improved livelihoods by helping people engage and explore difficult issues, find collaborative solutions and make positive changes. TFD dialogues are designed to build relationships and to spur collaborative action on the highest priority issues facing the world’s forests. Based at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, USA, TFD has convened over 60 international dialogues on 13 different forest-related themes, engaging more that 2,000 different stakeholders since its first dialogue on Forest Certification in 2002. Among other themes, TFD works on REDD+, Illegal Logging, Intensively Managed Planted Forests (IMPF), Investing in Locally Controlled Forestry (ILCF) and Food, Fuel, Fiber and Forests (4Fs). Learn more about TFD through their website and follow them on Twitter @ForestsDialogue.