Commentary: A ban on genetically engineered crops?

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Despite a quarter century of promises, agricultural biotechnology has yet to provide any concrete advancements towards reducing world hunger, ameliorating global malnutrition, combating…, creating miracle drugs through GE [genetically engineered] plants or animals, or climate change." (WRONG!)

On Feb. 25, 2014, this statement was made by the Center for Food Safety, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Beyond Pesticides, and Center for Biological Diversity in a petition filed with the Secretary of Interior that seeks to ban genetically engineered crops from being used on National Wildlife Refuges.

These anti-agriculture nongovernmental groups, as usual, do a terrific job in putting their case into context. Their petition against the use of GE crops shows the legal authority to ban GE crops, examples of GE crop bans in numerous towns in the United States and in other countries.

The NGOs' claim that GE crops are being unlawfully grown on National Wildlife Refuges across the nation and that GE crops pose "significant threats" to NWRs.

If these groups are successful in banning GE crops grown on NWRs, it will not be long before the same claims are made against farmers who use GE seeds everywhere else.  

The NGOs' 61-page petition is a blueprint for attempting to destroy the use of genetically engineered seeds and crops. The petition also requests Fish and Wildlife Services to prohibit the use of neonicotinoids. (I will write a separate piece on the banning of neonicotinoids later.)

The NGOs ignore overwhelming proof of GE crop benefits. They do not acknowledge the U.K.'s Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Owen Patterson, who says that nongovernmental organizations such as the Center for Food Safety are "casting a dark shadow over attempts to feed the world."

He says of such groups, "It's just disgusting that little children are allowed to go blind and die because of a hang-up by a small number of people about this technology."

Patterson adds, "If there ever was a clear-cut cause for outrage it is the concerted campaign by…nongovernmental organizations as well as by individuals against golden rice." You'll recall that golden rice is a genetically engineered rice seed that boosts vitamin A.

The British Environment Minister has gone so far as to say that public interest groups opposing GE crops such as golden rice are "wicked".

Notwithstanding this strong condemnation, NGOs are asking the Department of Interior and FWS to declare that farming with GE crops is not a compatible use for refuge lands.

The petition seeks a banning of such crops and seeds from being used on NWRs, and a monitoring program where FWS conducts field surveys of areas where GE crops are planted. It seeks to have FWS provide the public with information regarding location of GE crops, acreage planted, the type of crop, whether it is roundup ready or BT and the types of pesticides and herbicides that are used, including the dates and amounts of application.

Finally, the NGOs want FWS to conduct field surveys in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to find GE plants that germinate in the fields and remove and destroy any such plants.

The petition is a wake-up call for American agriculture.

The Center for Food Safety, the lead NGO, claims it has 400,000 members nationwide, and that it was successful as a plaintiff in halting the planting of GE crops on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge where CFS used the National Environmental Policy Act to stop the planting of GE crops. CFS claims its lawsuit halted the use of GE crop planting in 12 states in the Northeast.

CFS claims its members grow organic seed crops and consumes products made with non-GE materials and without pesticides.  CFS also claims its members "…regularly eat organic foods and desire foods that are free of GE material and chemical pesticides."

The petition claims there are threats associated with the use of GE crops such as "transgenic contamination," "creation of herbicide resistant superweeds," and an increase in the use of pesticides.

The NGO petition filed last week demonstrates what the U.K. Secretary of the Environment is saying.  NGOs opposed to the development of GE crops are, as he says, "politically motivated" and if GE technology is blocked, it will cause the United Kingdom to become "a museum of farming."

These words should ring as a warning to those working in agriculture in the United States.


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