New directive ends some long-running legal squabbles
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Federal wildlife and land managers say they’ll end the use of genetically engineered crops and ban systemic neonicotonoid pesticides in the next 18 months. In a July 17 memo chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System James Kurth wrote that it’s not essential for his agency to use the potentially harmful products to meet its wildlife management objectives. Read the FWS memorandum.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service thus becomes the first federal agency to restrict the use of GE crops and neonicotinoids in farming in the U.S.
Public land and health watchdog groups have been challenging the agency over the use GE crops since 2005, including five lawsuits, two legal petitions and multitudes of administrative challenges and appeals, resulting in numerous court rulings against the agency. In one case, a judge ordered the agency to eradicate genetically engineered plants from wildlife refuges in the Southeast.
“GE crops and toxic pesticides violate the basic purposes of our protected national lands,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of Center for Food Safety. “We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for recognizing what our legal challenges have repeatedly stated and courts have repeatedly held: that they must stop permitting these harmful agricultural practices.”
GE crops and neonicotinoid pesticides have been regularly used in refuge farming programs. Conservation advocates say the products are harmful and interfere with the protection of the wildlife and the native grasses that the national refuge system is designed to protect.
Scientists also warn that the use of GE crops can lead to increased pesticide use on refuges while negatively effecting birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. A growing trove of scientific studies has implicated neonicotinoids in pollinator declines and ecosystem harm. The U.S. Geological Survey recently discovered widespread neonicotinoid contamination in surface waters throughout the Midwest.
“We are gratified that the Fish and Wildlife Service has finally concluded that industrial agriculture, with GE crops and powerful pesticides, is both bad for wildlife and inappropriate on refuge lands,” stated PEER director Jeff Ruch. “Since refuges have already demonstrated that they do not need these practices, we would urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to make the ban immediate, not wait until 2016, and to eliminate the loopholes in its new policy.”
For nearly 10 years, CFS and PEER have campaigned against GE crops and pesticide use on refuges. In March 2009, CFS and PEER won a lawsuit, filed in 2006, halting 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. In 2012, a federal court formally halted the planting of GE crops on all National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeastern U.S. as well as ordered steps to mitigate environmental damage from their previous illegal cultivation. The groups have also petitioned FWS to prohibit GE Crops nationally twice and to prohibit neonicotinoid pesticides on refuges once. The Center for Biological Diversity and Beyond Pesticides co-signed the second legal petition, filed this February.
CFS, PEER, Beyond Pesticides, and Sierra Club are currently litigating FWS’s allowance of industrial agriculture practices on Midwest Wildlife Refuges. This recent FWS announcement includes a partial GE phase out by January 2016, only allowing GE crops for habitat restoration. The groups maintain that the phase out is not adequately comprehensive and continue to advocate the FWS must take stronger measures.