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Environment: Judge orders U.S. Fish and Wildlife to find and eradicate genetically engineered plants in wildlife refuges

Battle over genetically engineered crops continues

Use of genetically engineered crops is widespread, but a judge blocks their use in wildlife refuges in the southeastern U.S.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — National Wildlife Refuge managers in the Southeast will have a tough job ahead, as a federal judge has ordered the agency not only to halt the planting of genetically engineered crops, but to eradicate those that have already been planted, as well as any stray plants that might escape.

The ruling is in response to a lawsuit by environmental and watchdog groups aimed at halting the use of genetically engineered crops in wildlife refuges. After finding in October that prior approval of GE crop planting violated environmental laws, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg directed the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to halt planting of GE crops under any of its cooperative-farming agreements throughout the ten-state Southeast Region.

The agency works with farmers to plant crops that help feed migratory birds. The crops primarily used, corn and soybeans, are hard to find in non-GE versions these days. The cooperative agreements with farmers are crucial to the agency’s mission of maintaining populations of migratory waterfowl and other birds, according to to Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the southeast region of the USFWS.

The agency had previously agreed to stop using GE crops until it completes a comprehensive environmental review.

To reduce harm from the prior unlawful GE plantings on 25 refuges, Judge Boasberg also ordered FWS to:

  • Reveal where the GE crops were planted, their number, the type of crop and the types of pesticides used, including the dates and amounts of application; and
  • Conduct field surveys through 2014 to locate any “volunteers” (new GE plants germinating) “and remove or destroy any such volunteers.  FWS will report to the plaintiffs on the quantity and location of any volunteers that are located and how they were removed or destroyed.”

“Engineered crops have no place on our nations’ wildlife refuges.  As a Court has again confirmed, FWS cannot ignore their devastating impacts on lands preserved to protect wildlife,” said Center for Food Safety staff attorney Paige Tomaselli.

“This order underscores that GE crops must be tracked like toxic contaminants in order to nullify their effects,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, pointing out that agency policy only allows GE crops where they are necessary to accomplish a valid refuge purpose.  “The Fish & Wildlife Service is doing wildlife a disservice by trying to insert these artificial crops on refuges.”

This latest decision caps a series of lawsuits rolling back approvals for GE crops on 75 national wildlife refuges across 30 states. In March 2009, the same groups won a similar lawsuit against GE plantings on Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.  In 2011, the groups forced a legal settlement ending GE planting on refuges throughout the 12-state Northeast Region.

Litigation over GE crops on refuges in the Midwest Region is still ongoing. The same groups have petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to prohibit the practice on refuges nationwide.

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