Lawsuit Filed to Bar GE Crops from National Wildlife Refuge

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade [PEER] (202) 265-7337,
Paige Tomasilli [Center for Food Safety] (415) 826-2770,
Mark Martell [Delaware Audubon Society] (302) 292-3970.

Lawsuit Filed to Bar GE Crops from National Wildlife Refuge

Delaware's Bombay Hook Lacks Required Environmental Review and Justification

WASHINGTON - A lawsuit filed today in federal court against the U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service seeks to compel the Service to uproot genetically
engineered (GE) crops from its Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in
Delaware. As many as 80 other national wildlife refuges across the
country now growing GE crops are vulnerable to similar suits.

Filed
in the U.S. District Court for Delaware by the Widener Environmental
and Natural Resources Law Clinic on behalf of Delaware Audubon Society,
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center
for Food Safety, the federal suit charges that the Fish & Wildlife
Service had illegally entered into Cooperative Farming Agreements with
private parties, allowing hundreds of acres to be plowed over without
the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy
Act ("NEPA").

In March 2009, the same groups won a similar
lawsuit against GE plantings on Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Ironically, Prime Hook has now been administratively incorporated into
Bombay Hook, meaning that the same refuge management that is overseeing
execution of the Prime Hook verdict is violating its tenets on Bombay
Hook. In August 2009, several environmental groups led by the Center
for Food Safety and PEER wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar to alert him to the implications of the Prime Hook ruling and
asking him to "issue a moratorium on all GE crop cultivation in
National Wildlife Refuges." Secretary Salazar has never responded.

"By
definition, these refuges are to be administered to benefit wildlife,
not farmers," stated PEER Counsel Christine Erickson, noting that Fish
& Wildlife Service policy explicitly forbids "genetically modified
agricultural crops in refuge management unless [they] determine their
use is essential to accomplishing refuge purpose(s)." "GE crops serve
no legitimate refuge purpose, and in fact impair the objectives for
which the wildlife sanctuaries were originally established."

National
wildlife refuges have allowed farming for decades to help prepare seed
beds for native grasslands and provide food for migratory birds. In
recent years, however, refuge farming has been converted to GE crops
because that is only seed farmers can obtain. Today, the vast majority
of crops grown on refuges are genetically engineered.

Yet
farming on wildlife refuges often interferes with protection of
wildlife and native grasses. Scientists also warn that GE crops can
lead to increased pesticide use on refuges and can have other negative
effects on birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. In the Prime
Hook case, Federal District Court Chief Judge Gregory Sleet found that
"it is undisputed that farming with genetically modified crops at Prime
Hook poses significant environmental risks."

"Using genetically
engineered crops designed to be used in conjunction with repeated
applications of pesticides is a practice in direct opposition to the
mission of the National Wildlife Refuges: to serve as safe havens for
wildlife," said Paige Tomasilli, Staff Attorney with the Center for
Food Safety. "The fact that farmers can obtain no other seeds
underscores the questionable business practices of companies like
Monsanto that are trying to limit farmer and consumer choice in order
to sell more chemical pesticides."

"There is no question that
there has been a self-serving relationship between local farmers and
the refuge management over time here in Delaware, going back to when
Prime Hook and Bombay Hook were first created," commented Mark Martell
, President of the Delaware Audubon Society. "Farming on the Delaware
refuges has resulted in surplus profits for the farmers with no
tangible economic or environmental benefit to the refuges where these
lands were purchased from farmers and other private landowners for
their ecological significance along the Great Eastern Flyway." "The law
on this is clear, and it is clear that the law has been ignored. It
took local caretakers and friends of these important refuges to push
for enforcement of these existing laws and changes to refuge management
practices. The original lawsuit regarding these practices at Prime Hook
is a game changer and it is our fervent hope that Bombay Hook and other
refuges around the country take notice."

If successful, the
suit would enjoin any cultivation of GE crops on Bombay Hook until
environmental assessments required by the National Environmental Policy
Act have been completed. Meanwhile, unless practices on the refuges
change, PEER and the Center for Food Safety are preparing new suits
against other refuges with GE farming programs.

 

Read the Bombay Hook complaint

Look at the successful Prime Hook lawsuit

View the unanswered letter to Interior Secretary Salazar

See the spread of GE crops across the National Wildlife Refuge System

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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.

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