Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 1, 2014. In a huge victory for environmental protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 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 July 17 and obtained by Center for Food Safety (CFS), follows a longstanding grassroots, legal, and policy campaign by CFS, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), and joined by Beyond Pesticides, to end the harmful practices. This announcement builds on the recently announced decision to eliminate neonicotinoid pesticides, linked to the decline of pollinator health, from refuges in the Pacific Region. FWS is the first federal agency to restrict the use of GE crops in farming in the U.S. and the use of neonicotinoids based on a precautionary policy.
“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. On the issue of the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, Mr. Kurth continued, “We have determined that prophylactic use, such as a seed treatment, of the neonicotinoid pesticides that can distribute systemically in a plant and can potentially affect a broad spectrum of non-target species is not consistent with Service policy. We make this decision based on a precautionary approach to our wildlife management practices and not on agricultural practices.” In the context of an agricultural use of neonicotinoids, FWS notes that it will conduct a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires and alternatives assessment. Certified organic agriculture does not allow the use of neonicotinoids.
“The FWS decision represents an important and responsible departure from EPA’s decision to allow the widespread use of neonicotinoids despite the non-target effects to managed and wild bees and other beneficial organisms,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Beyond Pesticides, CFS and PEER have long urged FWS to prohibit the practice nationally. From 2005-2014, the groups 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.
Despite the fact that these GE crops and neonicotinoid pesticides often interfere with the protection of wildlife that the national refuge system is designed to protect, these harmful practices are often used. Scientists warn that the use of GE crops can lead to increased pesticide use on refuges, negatively effecting birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife. And a vast spectrum of recent scientific findings has implicated neonicotinoids in pollinator declines and ecosystem harm. A recent report from a sister agency to the FWS, the U.S. Geological Survey, found widespread contamination of neonicotinoids in surface waters throughout the Midwest.
The Department of Interior is aiming to phase out the use of neonicotinoids and genetically modified crops on federal wildlife refuge lands, finding that neither technology contributes to wildlife objectives and as a result should be restricted. Both practices will be phased out by January 2016, James Kurth, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, said in the memo. The department will identify areas of agricultural production on its lands that should be restored to native habitats, an effort intended to fall in line with a plan to reduce the carbon foot print of the system, he says.
“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, Beyond Pesticides has joined CFS and PEER to campaign 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 in February of this year.
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.
For information on what you can do to protect bees and other pollinators, see Beyond Pesticides BEE Protective campaign information.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.