GMO Trees: Substantial promise but serious obstacles to commercialization


This paper assesses the potential of transgenic trees to generate substantial financial returns in an environmental where there are substantial investment costs in research and development, deregulation and deployment. The formidable obstacles and in addition to the usual research and development costs, include the costs of obtaining requisite intellectual property rights. Also, there are substantial costs to achieve deregulation, and some evidence of deregulatory slowdown in the U.S., and cost of product deployment. The product deployment costs are likely to be higher than for other products, e.g., traditionally improved seedlings, due to substantial and widespread opposition (stigma) to GE in general and transgenic trees particular. As with all trees, the payoff time (harvest) is delayed longer than most other investments and the financial returns adversely affected by the delay. Additionally, the financial costs and benefits may vary substantially by country and region. Some evidence suggests that deregulation costs may vary substantially by country. Additionally, the perceived “stigma” costs are likely to vary greatly among regions thereby providing better opportunities in some markets than others. If deployment depends upon the financial and economic returns, one might expect widespread adoption among some countries, e.g., China and Brazil, where the net benefits are large, and little or no adoption among countries where the net benefits are small, e.g., countries of the EU. However, at this time the final success of GE trees remains to be witnessed. Although some firms have withdrawn entirely from the area of tree GE research, other firms continue to invest substantial sums in tree GE development presumably anticipating eventual payoffs. It remains to be determined whether the technology ultimately is broadly accepted, accepted only regionally or fails globally.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • ANDERSON, J. A. and M. K. LUCKERT (2004): “Financial analysis of hybrid poplar: Is intensive forest management a viable option for priority zoning in boreal regions?” WORKING DRAFT, Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta, October.

  • BAILEY, R. (1997): “American Chestnut Foundation.” Center for Private Conservation. CEI, Washington, D.C.

  • BOWYER, J. L. (2004): “Changing realities in forest sector markets,” Unasylva, vol. 55, no. 219, pps. 59-64.

  • CARLE, J., P. VUORINEN and A. DEL LUNGO (2002): “Status and Trends in Global Plantation Development,” Forest Products Journal, July/August 2002, vol. 52, No. 7, pages 1-13.

  • CARSON, M. and CHR. and S. WALTER (2004): “The Future of Forest Biotechnology.” In: Forest Biotechnology in Latin America, edited by R. KELLISON, S. MCCORD & KEVAN, M. A. Gartland. March, pps 13-40.

  • CHAIX, G. and O. MONTEUUIS (2004): “Biotechnology in the Forestry Sector,” chapter 2 in Preliminary review of biotechnology in forestry: including genetic modification, Forest Genetic Resources Working Papers, Forestry Department, FAO, Rome, December.

  • CLIVE, J. (2004): Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/ GM Crops: 2004, http// (Accessed May 25, 2005).

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Secretariat (2006): Ref: SCBD/STTM/RK/MG/VA/54726.

  • CropBiotech Update (2005): EU count: Austria can’t ban GM planting. October 7,; on behalf of; CropBiotech Net [],

  • CropBiotech Update (2006): Brazil’s National Biotech Strategy Unveiled. July 7, 2006.

  • CropBiotech Update (2006a): Brazil: Curtailing Research and Technological Innovations. July 14.

  • DIFAZIO, S. P., G. T. SLAVOV, J. BURCZYK, S. LEONARDI and S. H. STRAUSS (2004): Gene flow from tree plantation and implications for transgenic risk assessment. In: CHR. WALTER and M. CARSON (eds.). Plantation forest biotechnology for the 21st century. Kerala, India: Research Signpost.

  • DOTY, S. L., Q. T. SHANG, A. M. WILSON, A. D. WESTERGREEN, L. A. NEWMAN, S. E. STRAND and M. P. GORDON (2000): Enhanced metabolism of halogenated hydrocarbons in transgenic plants containing mammalian cytochrome P450 2E1. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sciences 97(12): 6287-6291.

  • EL-LAKANY, M. H. (2004): Äre genetically modified trees a threat to forests? Unasylva 217, vol. 55. (2004/2) pps 45-47.

  • FAO (2004): “Agricultural Biotechnology” in The State of Food and Agriculture: 2003-04, Rome

  • FAUSTMANN, M. (1995): “Calculation of the Value which Forest Land and Immature Stands Possess for Forestry,” reprinted in the Journal of Forest Economics, 1. pp.7-44.

  • FENNING, M. and J. GERSHENSON (2002): Where will the wood come from? Plantation forests and the role of biotechnology. Trends Biotechnol. 20: 291-295.

  • GOLDMAN, M. L. (2003): Legal perspective on the transgenic papaya licensing program. Paper presented at conference, Modifying Reproduction in Urban Trees, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, February 12-23.

  • HINCHEE, M. (2003): Personal communication, April 28, Summerville, NC. HANCOCK, J. F. and K. E. HOKANSON (2004): Invasiveness of transgenic vs.. exotic plant species: How useful is the analogy. In: The Bioengineered Forest, S. STRAUSS and

  • H. D. BRADSHAW, editors, Resources for the Future, Washington, DC. SAAA (2005): EU Council fails to lift illegal bans on GM products. Crop Biotech Update, July 1. .

  • JAFFE, G. (2005): “Withering on the Vine: Will Agricultual Biocrops Promises Bear Fruit?” Center For Science in the Public Interest, February 2, pps14, (Accessed August 5, 2006).

  • MANN, C. C. and M. L. PLUMMER (2002): „Forest Biot Edges out of the Lab.“ Science, vol. 295, pps: 1626-1629.

  • MCLEAN, M. A. and P. J. CHAREST (2000): The regulation of transgenic trees in North America. Silvae Genetica 49(6): 233-39.

  • MLYNAROVA, L. and J.-P. NAP (2006): “Transgenic Plants that Make non-transgenic Pollen.” In: ISB News Report, pps 8-9. (Accessed August 5, 2006).

  • NIGHTINGALE, P. and P. MARTIN (2004): “The Myth of the biotech revolution,” in TRENDS in Biotechnology, Vol. 22, No. 11, November.

  • Pew (2004): “International Agreements: The WTO and the Biosafety Protocol.” Accessed September 24, 2004.

  • PRAY, C. (2005): “Registration Requirements and Their Costs and Implications: Lessons fro LDCs” Paper delivered to a meeting on the Economics of Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnologies, March 11. Arlington, VA.

  • PULLMAN, G. S., J. CAIRNEY and G. PETER (1998): Clonal Forestry and Genetic Engineering: Where We Stand, Future Prospects, and Potential Impacts on Mill Operations. TAPPI Journal 81(2).

  • ROTTMANN, W. H., L. M. KLESS and S. CHANG (2005): Acceleration of Flowering in Sweetgum Using LEAFY. (accessed 6/01/05).

  • ROTTMANN, W. H., R. MEILAN, L. A. SHEPPARD, A. M. BRUNNER, J. S. SKINNER, C. MA, S. CHENG, L. JOUANIN, G. PILATE and S. H. STRAUSS (2000): “Diverse effects of overexpression of LEAFY and PTLF, a poplar (Populus) homolog of LEAFY/FLORICAULA, in transgenic poplar and Arabidopsis.” Plant Journal 22: 235-246.

  • SEDJO, R. A. (2005): “Global Agreements and U.S. Forestry: Genetically Modified Trees,” Journal of Forestry, April/May.

  • SOHNGEN, B., R. MENDELSOHN and R. SEDJO (1999): “Forest management, Conservation and Global Timber Markets.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 81: 1-13.

  • STRAUSS, S. H., A. BRUNNER, V. B. BUSOV, C. MA and R. MEILAN (2004): “Ten Lessons from 15 Years of Transgenic Populus Research.” In: Forest Biotechnology in Latin America, Proceedings from the Workshop Biotecnologia Forestal, editors R. KELLISON, S. MCCORD & M. A. KEVAN, Gartland. 2004. PPS 97-106.

  • SU, X., S. BING-YU, H. ZHANG, Q. LIE-JIAN, H. and Z. Xianghua (2003): Advances in tree genetic engineering in China, Paper submitted to the XII World Forestry Congress, Quebec, Canada. September.

  • TOTHOVA and OEHMKE (2005): Biotechnology and Club Behaviour in Agricultural Trade. In: R. E. EVENSON and V. SANTANIELLO (eds.). International trade and policies for genetically modified products. Wallington, UK: CABI Publishing, CAB International.

  • TRAXLER, G. (2005): Presentation on “Agriculture Biotech” to FAO, June 29, 2005. Rome.

  • WALTER, CHR. and S. KILLERBY (2004): A global study on the state of forest tree genetic modification. In: Preliminary review of biotechnology in forestry: Including genetic modification. Forest Genetic Resources Working Papers. Rome: Forestry Department, FAO, Chapter 3.

  • WANG, H. (2004): “The state of genetically modified forest trees in China.” Chapter 4 in Preliminary review of biotechnology in forestry: including genetic modification, Forest Genetic Resources Working Papers, Forestry Department, FAO, Rome.

  • WELLS, B.: President, ArborGen. Personal conversation. Summerville, S.C. July 20, 2006.

  • WILLIAMS, C. G. (2004): Genetically modified pines at the interface of private and public lands: A case study approach. Paper presented at USDA Forest Service, January 12, Yates Building, Washington, DC.

  • XU, Z., M. T. BENNETT, R. TAO and J. XU (2004): “China’s Sloping Land Conversion Program Four Years on: Current Situation and Pending Issues”, International Forestry Review 6(3-4): 317-326.


Journal + Issues