For the past decade, PEER has been engaged in litigation trench warfare with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to end the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops on national wildlife refuges. Through five different lawsuits, we have forced FWS to end GE planting on scores of refuges in more than half the states. Even today, we are still in court to end GE cultivation on refuges in the Midwest.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to see that FWS has decided to throw in the towel and will phase out the use of GE crops to feed wildlife and ban neonicotinoids (neonics which are insecticides linked to bee colony collapse) from all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016. In a July 17 decision memo, FWS Refuge Chief Jim Kurth wrote:
“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.”
What he tactfully fails to mention is that the “past two years’” demonstration was not something his agency undertook voluntarily, but was due to a court order we won uprooting all GE crops from refuges throughout the Southeast, which had been the system’s agricultural breadbasket.
In typical fashion, however, this phase-out carries caveats and loopholes:
- It won’t take effect until January 2016 and thus could be reversed by the next administration. Of course, it is puzzling that if GE crops and neonics are bad for wildlife, why allow it for additional growing seasons?;
- While GE crops cannot be used to feed wildlife, the decision allows “temporary” use of GE crops for “habitat restoration” which is sort of like using sugary drinks for dietary improvement. The danger is that these weaselly loopholes can be contorted to swallow the rule; and
- Neonics can still be used for unspecified “appropriate and specialized uses” on refuges.
So while this is a victory, we will have to keep the pressure on. Moreover, the forces behind industrialized agriculture on wildlife preserves have not gone away. Local farmers like the free use of federal lands and water for what are termed “cooperative” farming agreements. More significantly, Monsanto and the other biotech giants just hate hearing that their products are bad for wildlife and have no place on refuges and other important habitat.
Until recently, the biotech industry had the Obama White House on its side, as part of a broader effort to promote more American export of biotech products – regardless of consequence. Frankly, that is why this litigation campaign has had to go on for so long.
In the environment, as in most fields, change is incremental. We at PEER are the ultimate incrementalists, working with public servants to ensure that their agencies follow the laws and fulfill their missions. Help us keep the gears of incremental progress turning.