The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and other public interest organizations have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), seeking a declaration that the agency’s decision to allow the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean crops on wildlife refuge lands in the Midwest violated federal environmental laws. Ctr. for Food Safety v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv., No. 11-01934 (U.S. Dist. Ct., D.D.C., filed November 2, 2011). The lawsuit involves 66 refuges and wetland management districts encompassing more than 1.2 million acres across eight states. According to the center, the action “marks the latest in a series of successful lawsuits by public interest organizations to stop the planting of GE crops on national wildlife refuges.”

The complaint alleges that FWS has entered into cooperative farming agreements with private parties allowing them to farm national wildlife refuge land with GE crops without preparing an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act. The agency allegedly prepared a region-wide 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.” Focusing on the increased use of pesticides, transgenic contamination and the growth of “superweeds” associated with GE-crop cultivation, the plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as costs and attorney’s fees.  

CFS notes that its previous legal actions challenging the cultivation of GE crops in wildlife refuges in other U.S. regions “forced FWS to end GE planting in the entire 12-state Northeastern Region.” A CFS spokesperson said, “National Wildlife Refuges are sanctuaries for migratory birds, native grasses, and endangered species. Allowing pesticide promoting, GE crops degrades these vital ecosystems and is antithetical to the basic purpose of our refuge system. Worse still is approval without meaningful review of these crops’ impact.” See CFS Press Release, November 2, 2011.