Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops to feed wildlife and ban neonicotinoid insecticides from all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016. The FWS decision, announced via internal memoranda obtained by Center for Food Safety (CFS), follows a longstanding grassroots, legal, and policy campaign by CFS and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to end the harmful practices. This announcement builds on a previously announced decision to eliminate neonicotinoid pesticides from refuges in the Pacific Region.
From 2005-2014, CFS and PEER filed five lawsuits, two legal petitions, and countless administrative actions, with resulting judicial decisions concluding that the allowance of GE crops on refuges violated environmental laws in multiple refuge regions across the country and forced FWS to end GE planting in more than half the states. The nonprofits have long urged FWS to prohibit the practice nationally. FWS is the first federal agency to restrict the use of GE crops and neonicotinoids in farming in the U.S.
“We have demonstrated our ability to successfully accomplish refuge purposes over the past two years without using genetically modified crops, therefore it is no longer possible to say that their use is essential to meet wildlife management objectives. We will no longer use genetically modified crops to meet wildlife management objectives System-wide,” wrote National Wildlife Refuge System Chief James Kurth in the memorandum.
“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 are regularly used in refuge farming programs. Yet these harmful farming practices often 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 has recently discovered widespread contamination of neonicotinoids 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 Executive 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.