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The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed lifting restrictions on the commercial production of a genetically engineered, freeze-tolerant eucalyptus tree. The tree poses few significant environmental risks, the USDA says, although environmentalists argue the tree uses excessive amounts of water, increases wildfire risks and could become invasive. If approved, the tree, developed by the forestry and biotechnology firm ArborGen, would become the first genetically engineered tree approved for commercial use in the U.S. Brazil approved a GM eucalyptus for commercial growth two years ago. ArborGen says the trees could help feed global demand for biomass at a time of growing concern about climate change. Eucalyptus trees, which are native to Australia, grow quickly and can be harvested in less than a decade. But in the southeastern U.S., the winters get too cold for conventional eucalyptus. The GM trees are capable of withstanding colder temperatures; their cultivation, says ArborGen, could help ease the demand for hardwood. It is unclear when the final decision on the trees will be made. The USDA is considering public comments and must also confer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the potential impact of the trees on wildlife.NEXT ARTICLE
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