APHIS announces today the availability of a Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a proposed field release of a genetically engineered variety of Eucalyptus.
This action by APHIS is not a determination of nonregulated status for GE Eucalyptus by the Agency. Rather, it is a response by APHIS approving a field test permit application request from the developer of the GE Eucalyptus. From 2002-2011, APHIS has issued numerous authorizations to ArborGen LLC for the importation and field testing of GE eucalyptus trees in the southeastern United States. ArborGen is currently growing GE eucalyptus on 28 research sites in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, and the current permits allow flowering on up to 330 acres across 27 of the 28 sites. These field trials have been approved by APHIS under strict permit conditions designed to prevent the movement of the regulated GE traits outside of the field test sites. Developers of new GE products typically conduct field trials under approval by, and conditions set by APHIS, for some time before either concluding field trials, or petitioning APHIS for a determination of nonregulated status for the GE product.
On February 21, 2011, APHIS received a permit application from ArborGen, LLC for a controlled field release of genetically engineered Eucalyptus hybrids in six small locations in four southern US states, totaling 14.7 acres. In comparison to previous permits issued to ArborGen, this permit would authorize ArborGen to conduct field trials at a few new locations, evaluate new traits, and allow flowering of trees at one location. The purpose of the field release is to assess the effectiveness of gene constructs intended to confer cold tolerance, to test the efficacy of genes introduced to alter lignin biosynthesis, growth rate, and flowering. In response to this new permit application from ArborGen, LLC, APHIS prepared an environmental assessment to consider whether there will be any significant environmental impacts resulting from authorization of the new field trials.
On February 10, 2012, APHIS published a draft of the environmental assessment for public comment for 30 days; 246 comments were received by APHIS. APHIS has reviewed all of the comments and concluded in its final EA that there will not be a significant impact to the quality of the human environment resulting from authorization of the field trials. APHIS also concludes that the strict permit conditions imposed by APHIS will effectively limit the reproductive capabilities and establishment of this GE Eucalyptus outside the confined field trial locations, and reduce the possibility of unintended exposure from moving GE Eucalyptus trees. APHIS has determined that it is appropriate to issue a FONSI based on its conclusions in the final EA. APHIS will conduct inspections of the field trials to ensure compliance with the required conditions.
Permits authorizing the field trials will be issued once the notice of availability of the final EA and FONSI is published in the Federal Register next week.
To view the final EA and FONSI, click the links below: