Washington, DC — In a decision this week, a federal court formally halted the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops on all National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeastern U.S. The court also ordered unprecedented steps to mitigate environmental damage from previous illegal cultivation of GE crops. The decision concludes a successful lawsuit brought by the public interest groups Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Beyond Pesticides.
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 (FWS), which operates national wildlife refuges, to halt planting of GE crops under any of its cooperative-farming agreements throughout the ten-state Southeast Region. This ban remains in effect until FWS lawfully complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and Wildlife Refuge Act. 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.
When the groups challenged the GE agreements in the Southeast Region, FWS did not defend their legality. Instead, it unsuccessfully argued the suit was moot because the 2012 planting season was over and the agency planned no new plantings. The court not only rejected that argument but determined the agency was required to take additional steps to reduce the environmental damage from past plantings.
“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.