COMMON DREAMS– The Obama administration has endorsed genetically engineered agriculture on more than 50 National Wildlife Refuges, with more GE-refuge approvals in the works, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new plan is designed to insulate refuges from environmental court challenges in the wake of a lawsuit recently won by PEER and other groups which halted GE agriculture in all Northeastern refuges.
The national blitz of official filings is intended to remove a perceived barrier to the export of American GE crops – U.S. restrictions on growing GE crops on National Wildlife Refuges. Under a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS operates the refuges) policy, GE crops are banned from refuges unless determined to be “essential” to refuge operations. Countries leery of importing U.S. bio-engineered food have cited the policy as one basis for their concern.
Rather than overturn this FWS “Biological Integrity” policy outright, the White House has embarked on a region-by-region approach to file environmental paperwork justifying GE agriculture on – 31 refuge units across 8 Midwestern states; 25 refuges units in 12 Southeastern states; and an unspecified number of refuges in the 8-state Rocky Mountain Region.
The proposal for the Midwestern Refuges would allow more than 20,000 acres to be cultivated with no limits on how many acres could be GE crops. The public comment deadline for that plan is today. In its comments, PEER argues that the GE operations risk harm to wildlife, refuge plants and soil, while contending that there is no refuge purpose for which GE crops are essential, as required by FWS policy.
“These plans are based on the curious notion that wildlife benefit from having the small slivers of habitat set aside for them covered by genetically engineered soybeans,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the Midwest refuges are already surrounded by row crops, most of which are now GE. “To boost U.S. exports, the Obama administration is forcing wildlife refuges into political prostitution.”
In 2010, PEER, the Center for Food Safety and Delaware Audubon brought successful litigation charging that GE agriculture on refuges in the Northeast violated the Refuge Improvement Act as incompatible with refuge purposes and lacked reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act. That suit was settled when FWS agreed to stop commercial agriculture operations on all refuges within the region. These latest filings are supposed to shield refuges in other regions from similar suits based on failing to meet procedural requirements of environmental statutes. Future challenges would have to show that these new eco-reviews are impermissibly defective – a higher legal hurdle.
“The Obama administration says that it is devoted to scientific integrity but these new reviews are scientific travesties,” added Ruch, pointing to new Interior Department (which includes FWS) rules requiring that scientific information in decision- making “must be robust, of the highest quality, and the result of the most rigorous scientific processes as can be achieved.” “The sole document assessing the environmental impacts of genetically engineered planting in 25 Southeastern refuges is only six pages long.”
Increasingly the only seed available to U.S. farmers, especially for corn and soybeans, is GE. Ironically, it is the ubiquity of GE agriculture that FWS offers as the main reason it must allow these crops on refuges.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER’s environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.
Photo by flickr user Margaret Killjoy