Groups sue U.S. over GMO crops in wildlife refuges

Wed Nov 2, 2011 3:48pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Environmental and food safety groups filed suit on Wednesday against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, demanding it end the cultivation of genetically modified crops on Midwestern wildlife refuges.

The groups claim the federal agency broke the law by entering agreements with farmers that allowed planting of biotech crops on refuge land in eight U.S. states without environmental reviews required by U.S. law.

Most of the crops at issue are "Roundup Ready" -- biotech crops engineered by Monsanto to tolerate dousings of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, the plaintiffs said. Roundup Ready crops have been shown to "foster an epidemic of superweeds," and create other problems for the environment, according to the plaintiffs.

"National Wildlife Refuges are sanctuaries for migratory birds, native grasses, and endangered species," said Paige Tomaselli, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

"Allowing pesticide-promoting, GE (genetically engineered) 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' impacts," Tomaselli said in a statement.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is the fourth in a series of suits aimed at ending this practice, Tomaselli said.

The plaintiffs include Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit public health and environmental safety group; the Center for Food Safety, also a national nonprofit involved in health and environmental safety issues; and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcements officers, land managers and others.

The groups claim the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to do a complete environmental impact statement before allowing the biotech crops to be planted in the refuge areas. They also claim violations of wildlife protection laws.

The Fish & Wildlife Service had no immediate response to the lawsuit.

In the suit, the plaintiffs state that studies have shown that cultivation of herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered crops such as Roundup Ready soybeans and corn dramatically increases the use of herbicides. The primary herbicide used on U.S. farmland is glyphosate - the main ingredient in Roundup - and heavy use of glyphosate has been degrading the soil ecosystem and polluting wetlands, streams, lakes, and rivers, some studies have shown, the plaintiffs said.

Herbicides also harm habitats of wildlife and in many instances, directly harm plants and wildlife, including listed endangered species, according to the lawsuit.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by David Gregorio)

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