Center for Food Safety Challenges Planting of Genetically Engineered Crops on Public Land

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Center for Food Safety wants the federal government to stop allowing genetically engineered crops to be planted in 66 National Wildlife Refuges in the Midwest. It claims the GE crops "will contaminate non-GE crops nearby, and reduce the supply of food processed with ingredients that are not contaminated with GE material."
     The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its director, in Federal Court.
     Fish and Wildlife signed agreements allowing farmers to plant crops, including genetically modified soybeans and corn, on refuges and wetlands in eight Midwestern states, according to the complaint.
     The plaintiffs say the proliferation of genetically engineered crops could threaten public health and the environment, and that planting GE crops on National Wildlife Refuges is incompatible with the purpose of the public land.
     They claim the farming of GE crops hurts their members, who live, work and enjoy themselves near the refuges, because, among other things, GE crops "increase use of herbicides by encouraging the growth of weeds which are resistant to herbicides. The use of GE crops results in the use of environmentally damaging practices such as excessive use and misuse of glyphosate and other herbicides."
     About 85 percent of genetically engineered crops are made to be herbicide-resistant, according to the complaint.
     The complaint states: "GE crops such as 'Roundup Ready' soybeans and corn are dependent on herbicide use. These crops, often referred to as glyphosate-tolerant, are specifically engineered to withstand the broad application of the herbicide Roundup (with glyphosate being the active ingredient) without harming the plant. Ninety-four percent of soybean acres and 88 percent of corn acres planted in the United States in 2011 were planted with GE varieties.
     "Studies have shown that cultivation of herbicide-tolerant GE crops such as Roundup Ready soybeans and corn dramatically increases the use of herbicides, particularly glyphosate. Herbicides such as glyphosate degrade the soil ecosystem and pollute nearby wetlands, streams, lakes and rivers. Herbicides also harm habitats of wildlife and in many instances, directly harm plants and wildlife, including listed endangered species." (Parentheses in complaint).
     The complaint adds: "Glyphosate formulations such as Roundup are lethal to many amphibians; they kill human cells, disrupt formation of sex hormones, and interfere with animal embryonic development in laboratory experiments; and are associated with increased rates of certain cancers in farmers who apply them."
     The plaintiffs say the increased use of herbicides is also linked to higher incidence of plant disease and may hurt soil microbes and wildlife, including endangered animal species.
     "The use of GE crops is a significant change from using conventional crops. Their use is a highly controversial issue in the scientific community and has many harmful and uncertain consequences to the health and quality of the human environment.
     "Gene flow from GE crops to conventional and organic crops, or transgenic contamination, is one adverse environmental impact stemming from the cultivation of GE crops. Gene flow occurs in numerous ways, including when a crop disperses its seeds or pollen to propagate itself. Gene flow results in transgenic contamination of related conventional or organic cultivars or wild species with potentially hazardous or simply unwanted genetically engineered content. Transgenic contamination can also result from seed mixing, flooding, improper cleaning of machinery used with seeds, spillage during transport, and a variety of human errors that may occur at each stage of the crop production process.
     "There have been over 200 documented episodes of transgenic contamination. Among the most well-known contamination episodes is the contamination incident involving genetically engineered StarLink corn. StarLink was a GE corn approved for animal feed or industrial use, but not for human foods, due to the concerns of leading American food allergists that the insecticidal toxin produced in StarLink grain could trigger food allergies. In 1998, StarLink contaminated the U.S. corn supply chain, resulting in rejection by foreign markets, the recall of over 300 corn products, the destruction of numerous lines of contaminated corn seed, lawsuits by farmers who lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to depressed corn prices, and losses to the food industry as a whole estimated at $1 billion," according to the complaint.
     It adds: "Widespread adoption of 'Roundup Ready' technology in corn and soybeans has led to glyphosate-resistant 'superweeds.' These 'superweeds' evolve quickly when Roundup Ready crops are grown year after year, without break, on the same fields; like bacteria exposed to antibiotics, some weeds naturally resistant to glyphosate will survive exposure, and will then reproduce and flourish. There are reported incidences of glyphosate-resistant weeds in the states in Region 3 [the Midwest].
     "The development of glyphosate-resistant weeds compounds the problem of increased herbicide use because farmers respond to control the weeds with more applications of the herbicide or use additional herbicides with relatively greater environmental impacts."
     The groups say Fish and Wildlife agreed to allow cultivation of GE crops on more than 20,000 acres of farmland in Midwest refuges without conducting an adequate environmental impact study, which violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and other federal laws.
     They say as many as 23 refuge managers in the Midwest have determined that farming of GE crops is a compatible use of their refuge, despite the known risks and the controversial nature of GE crops, while other refuges have not even completed compatibility studies.
     They want the government enjoined from allowing genetically modified crops on any refuge without adequate compatibility and environmental impact studies.
     Their lead counsel is Paula Dinerstein with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.