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Hawai'i CFS

After Halt to Planting, Court Orders Eradication of Unlawful GE Plants on Southeastern Wildlife Refuges

November 08, 2012
Center for Food Safety

Remedies Include Three-Year Monitoring Period to Track, Destroy Any Germinating GE Plants

In a decision this week, a federal court formally halted the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops on all National Wildlife Refuges in the Southeastern United States.  The court also ordered steps to mitigate environmental damage from the previous illegal cultivation of GE crops.  The decision marks the conclusion of a successful lawsuit brought by the public interest groups Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Beyond Pesticides. 

After finding in October that prior approval of GE crop planting by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) violated environmental laws, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg directed FWS, which operates national wildlife refuges, to halt planting of GE crops in any of its cooperative-farming agreements throughout the ten-state Southeast Region until FWS lawfully complies with the National Environmental Policy Act and Wildlife Refuge Act.  To reduce harm from the prior unlawful GE plantings on 25 refuges, Judge Boasberg also ordered FWS to:

  • Reveal where the GE crops were planted, their number, the type of crop and the types of pesticides used, including the dates and amounts of application;
  • Conduct field surveys through 2014 to locate any “volunteers” (new GE plants germinating), “and remove or destroy any such volunteers.  FWS will report to the plaintiffs on the quantity and location of any volunteers that are located and how they were removed or destroyed.”

“Engineered crops have no place on our nation’s wildlife refuges,” said Center for Food Safety staff attorney Paige Tomaselli.  “As a court has again confirmed, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cannot ignore their devastating impacts on lands preserved to protect wildlife.”

When the groups challenged the GE agreements in the Southeast Region, FWS did not defend their legality.  Instead, it unsuccessfully argued the suit was moot because the 2012 planting season was over and the agency planned no new plantings.  The court not only rejected that argument but determined the agency was required to take additional steps to reduce the environmental damage from past unlawful plantings.

“This order underscores that GE crops must be tracked like toxic contaminants in order to nullify their effects,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, pointing that agency policy only allows GE crops where they are necessary to accomplish a valid refuge purpose.  “The Fish & Wildlife Service is doing wildlife a disservice by trying to insert these artificial crops on refuges.”

This latest decision caps a series of lawsuits rolling back approvals for GE crops on 75 national wildlife refuges across 30 states.  In March 2009, the same groups won a similar lawsuit against GE plantings on Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.  In 2011, the groups forced a legal settlement ending GE planting on refuges throughout the 12-state Northeast Region.  Litigation over GE crops on refuges in the Midwest Region is still ongoing.  The same groups have petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to prohibit the practice on refuges nationwide.

  • Read the November 5, 2012 court order here
  • View the October 23, 2012 Southeast Refuge ruling here
  • Examine the Obama Administration’s role in promoting GE agriculture here


About Center for Food Safety
The Center for Food Safety is a national, non-profit, 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. More information can be found at

About PEER
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values. For more information about PEER, please go to

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