WASHINGTON (CN) – The Secretary of the Interior ignored environmental dangers to let private parties grow genetically engineered crops on National Wildlife Refuges, environmental groups say in Federal Court.
The Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility say Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its Director Daniel Ashe violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The plaintiffs challenge the “cooperative farming agreements with private parties that allow National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) land to be farmed, some with genetically engineered (GE) crops. “In order to support its decision to enter into the cooperative farming agreements, FWS prepared a six-page environmental assessment and issued a finding of no significant impact, despite evidence that growing GE crops on refuge lands is a major federal action which significantly impacts the quality of the human environment, is highly controversial, and which has potentially harmful effects on human health, the environment, and wildlife,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs say the farming agreements will affect the Southeast Region, or Region 4, of the National Wildlife Refuge System, 4 million acres in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Genetically engineered crops have been grown in the region since 2006, and are being grown at an all-time high today, with 69 percent of NWR agricultural lands in the region growing genetically engineered crops, according to the complaint.
“GE crops such as ‘Roundup Ready’ soybeans and corn are dependent on herbicide use,” the groups say. “These crops are specifically engineered to withstand the broad application of herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) without harming the plant. Studies have shown that cultivation of herbicide-tolerant GE crops dramatically increases the use of herbicides. Herbicides degrade the soil ecosystem and pollute nearby wetlands, streams, lakes, and rivers.”
The crops could harm wildlife, too, the groups say, posing a serious threat to amphibians and birds.
“FWS is fully aware of the potential risks of using GE crops on the quality of the human environment,” the complaint states.
The groups say the FWS’ inadequate, 6-page environmental assessment report arbitrarily and capriciously found that growing the GE crops would have “no significant impact.”
They say the government failed to notify the public, seek comment, determine the compatibility of the crops on each refuge, all of which violate the Administrative Procedure Act.
And they say that leasing out tens of thousands of acres for farming GE crops violates the National Environmental Policy Act.
They seek an order vacating the government’s decision to permit growing of genetically engineered crops on National Wildlife Refuges, at least until the government complies with its own laws.
Their lead counsel is Paula Dinerstein with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.