Certification for gene-edited forests

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Science  23 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6455, pp. 767-768
DOI: 10.1126/science.aay6165

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  • Can forest certification afford gene-edited trees?
    • Fritz Kleinschroth, Postdoc, Ecosystem Management Group, ETH Zurich
    • Other Contributors:
      • Jaboury Ghazoul, Professor, Ecosystem Management Group, ETH Zurich

    In their letter to Science, Strauss et al. (1) promote the potential benefits of gene-editing (GE) technologies in forest production, and urge certification bodies to accommodate such technologies in the 13% of certified forests globally. We do not argue against the value of GE, but question why it is not developed and tested in some part of the 87% of the forested lands that are not certified. Moreover, while GE might be a scientifically rational technology, the credibility of certification rests on consumer choice, which remains uneasy with the concept of GE.

    Certification bodies such as FSC and PEFC are receptive to scientific results, but also sensitive to consumer expectations. Genetically modified organisms raise concerns among environmentally conscious populations, especially in Europe, where people are worried, rightly or wrongly, about ecological and social risks. While this perception may change over time, forcing GE into certification systems risks alienating an already skeptical public. Forest certification has an important role in fostering dialogue about sustainable forestry practices, but it does not have the power to change the public opinion about a potentially controversial issue. We therefore question the value of implementing GE in certified forests given existing public concern.

    We additionally expect that the benefits of GE will be most relevant in the plantation sector, yet only 9% of FSC’s global certified area in 2017 is plantations,...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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