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Foresters says gene editing valuable against climate change

A forest industry leader is calling for serious public debate on the advantages of using gene editing to combat wilding pines and in the broader context of fighting climate change through carbon sequestration.

Forest Owners Association President Peter Weir says the Royal Society’s just released report on gene editing should be taken seriously by anyone concerned about the state of the environment.

‘The Royal Society has highlighted the problem of wilding conifers, where, despite the millions of dollars spend on a control programme, these tree weeds continue to spread from old farm shelter belts, old catchment board soil conservation plantings and from old state forests, onto land where they are not wanted, including our native forests.”

“If the fertility was switched off in these trees through a gene edit, then not only would the spread of wildings from new plantations be curtailed, but as the Royal Society quite rightly points out, the tree would divert more energy into growing wood. That adds to the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere and helps combat climate change,” Peter Weir says.

He says the current regulatory regime around gene editing in the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act is one of the most restrictive in the world.

“Not only that, the view of the Environmental Protection Authority, which administers the Act, is that there should be a zero-risk oversight, and that is contrary to the expressed view of the High Court in 2011.”

“There is some research already on sterile wildings. But we are caught with an EPA requirement that the experimental trees are destroyed as soon as the cones appear, so we can’t confirm we are producing sterile trees. But without that proof we are not going to be allowed to release them. That is crazy.”

“If the EPA persist in its attitude that the risks of not conducting a particular piece of research and using the result are irrelevant, then the government has an obligation to direct the EPA as an Agent of the Crown to balance risks of gene editing against the risk of not researching that gene editing.”


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