For Immediate Release, February 25, 2014

Contact:      George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety, (971) 271-7372
Jeff Ruch, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (202) 265-7337
Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides, (202) 543-5450 x 15
Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318

Groundbreaking Legal Action Taken to Protect National Wildlife Refuges

Groups Seek Ban of Genetically Engineered Crops and Neonicotinoid Pesticides

SAN FRANCISCO— A coalition of food safety, good governance and conservation groups filed a formal legal petition today demanding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect wildlife and habitats by prohibiting the use of genetically engineered crops and neonicotinoid pesticides in national wildlife refuges. The legal action also called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with the Endangered Species Act to ensure that America’s most imperiled plants and wildlife are protected from these dangers.

“National wildlife refuges are vital sanctuaries of our natural heritage, for present and future generations. Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. 

Genetically engineered crops genetically contaminate related wild plants and natural crops; GE crops are overwhelmingly created to be resistant to pesticides, which has led to dramatic increases in the use of pesticides and herbicides when weeds mutate and become resistant to herbicides.

“According to federal policy, genetically engineered crops are forbidden unless their use is essential to accomplishing refuge purposes. The fact that refuges in the Northeast and Southeast have stopped using genetically engineered crops without any ill effects belies the notion that they are ever ‘essential’ for managing wildlife refuges,” said Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility executive director Jeff Ruch.

“Permitting genetically engineered crops and neonicotinoid pesticides in national wildlife refuges threatens one of the few places that pollinators should be able to find shelter from the onslaught of toxic poisons threatening their existence and all that depend on them,” said Jay Feldman, executive director for Beyond Pesticides.

“Pesticides and genetically engineered crops are creating an irreversible threat to our precious natural heritage in America’s wildlife refuges,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “National wildlife refuges were founded to be sanctuaries for America’s wildlife and not laboratories for agricultural experiments.”

Neonicotinoid pesticides are highly toxic to pollinators and one of the leading causes of the current bee colony collapse. Widespread pollinator loss threatens native plants and the species that rely on them for survival, as well as our nation’s food supply. Over 80 percent of flowering plants rely on pollination services from these critical species.

Nearly all genetically engineered corn seed is treated with neonicotinoids, as well as the majority of canola and soybeans. Growing treated seeds in wildlife refuges means these chemicals, which have proven detrimental to critical pollinator species, are invading and polluting public lands set aside to protect wildlife. These chemicals can remain in the soil for years after their original planting and have been found to contaminate water supplies.

Today’s petition was filed by the Center for Food Safety, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Center for Biological Diversity and Beyond Pesticides. Over the past six years, food-safety and environmental groups have repeatedly stopped the Fish and Wildlife Service from permitting the growing of genetically crops on numerous national wildlife refuges across the country (Northeast and Southeast). 

View executive summary.
View full petition.

About National Wildlife Refuges
The National Wildlife Refuge System is an important part of the natural heritage of all Americans. Congress created wildlife refuges to ensure that present and future generations benefit from the national network of lands set aside for the conservation, management and restoration of fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats. Wildlife habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate. National wildlife refuges contain a diverse array of protected habitat types, including rare and ecologically significant lowland grasslands and wetlands. Protections for these habitats are crucial because wildlife refuges often exist in the very ecosystems most threatened by development. These ecosystems face threats that continue to grow. The National Wildlife Refuge Act requires that any activity in a wildlife refuge further its conservation mission. Any use incompatible with that mission is prohibited. 

Center for Food Safety is a national, nonprofit, membership organization founded in 1997 to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is a national, nonprofit service organization dedicated to assisting federal, state and local resource professionals who fight to uphold environmental laws and ethics within their organizations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Beyond Pesticides is a nonprofit organization that works with allies in protecting public health and the environment to lead the transition to a world free of toxic pesticides.

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