Washington, DC —A lawsuit filed today in federal court seeks to end cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops on fifty-four national wildlife refuges across the Midwest. The suit is the latest in a series of successful lawsuits by public interest groups to stop planting of GE crops on wildlife refuges.
Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and Beyond Pesticides, this federal lawsuit charges that the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) unlawfully entered into cooperative farming agreements and approved planting of GE crops in eight Midwestern states (IL, IA, IN, MI, MN, MO, OH, and WI) without the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act and in violation of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act and FWS’s own policy.
This is the fourth lawsuit filed by CFS and PEER challenging FWS permitting GE crops on wildlife refuges. Previously, the two groups successfully challenged approval of GE plantings on two wildlife refuges in Delaware, which forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern Region. Earlier this year, CFS, PEER and Beyond Pesticides filed suit to block planting GE crops on twenty-five refuges across eight states in the Southeast.
“National Wildlife Refuges are sanctuaries for migratory birds, native grasses, and endangered species,” said Paige Tomaselli, CFS staff attorney. “Allowing pesticide-promoting, GE crops degrades these vital ecosystems and is antithetical to the basic purpose of our refuge system. Worse still is approval without meaningful review of these crops’ impacts.”
FWS has allowed farming on refuge lands for decades despite farming’s interference with protection of wildlife, native grasses, and biodiversity. In recent years, refuges have converted to GE crops because the agency claims GE seed is the only seed farmers can obtain. These GE crops are mostly engineered for a single purpose: to be resistant to herbicides, principally Monsanto’s ubiquitous Roundup. Their planting leads to more frequent applications and increased amounts of toxic herbicides. This overreliance on herbicides has also fostered an epidemic of “superweeds” in the past decade as weeds have mutated to resist Roundup, similar to antibiotic resistance. Farming of GE crops has also led to the uncontrolled spread of the transgenic DNA to conventional, organic crops, and wild relatives.
“We are disappointed that the Fish & Wildlife Service refuses to follow its own Biological Integrity policy forbidding GE crops unless their use is essential to accomplishing a refuge purpose, which, of course, it never is,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglas, who has obtained documents under Freedom of Information Act litigation documenting the Obama “White House Agricultural Biotechnology Working Group” partnership with industry to promote planting GE crops on National Wildlife Refuges. “Wildlife refuges should be the last place for playing out corporate-political agendas.”
If successful, the lawsuit will halt the cultivation of GE crops in the Midwest Region until and unless a new approval is made based on a rigorous review of all potential impacts and consistency with the refuge’s purposes. Unless FWS practice changes, PEER and CFS have pledged to continue challenging the legality of GE crop cultivation on refuges across the country.
Read the complaint
View the affected Midwest refuges
Look at the lawsuit ending GE planting in Northeastern refuges
See the White House-Monsanto partnership
Examine the spread of GE crops across the National Wildlife Refuge System