Genetically Modified Crops Are An Ongoing Issue for Area

Published 4:44 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013


This begins a two-part looking at GMC Crops and their effect on the area.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has seeking public input as it evaluates the future use of genetically modified crops on national wildlife refuges that use farming in the Southeast Region. These refuges use farming as a wildlife management tool to help meet refuge specific conservation objectives for waterfowl and other species.
A public report on the issue based on research and June 6 public scoping meeting was released earlier this month.

Genetically modified crops (GMCs, GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants that have had their DNA modified by using genetic engineering techniques to improve growth and resist pests and other harmful agents.  These crops have been used since their de-regulation by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in the mid 1990’s. Since then, GMCs have become a widespread feature of American agriculture.

Of the almost four million acres of refuge lands in the Southeast about one percent (or about 44,000 acres) are currently devoted to farming.  Up until 2013, GMC and non-GMC crop seeds were planted on national wildlife refuges to provide food for the millions of ducks, geese and other migrating waterfowl that overwinter on refuges in the Southeast each year.  GMC and non-GMC crops were used together in a crop rotation practice following the Service’s Regional GMC policy requiring that farmed acres are to be rotated to a non-Glyphosate GMC/non-GMC crop seed every four years. This rotation greatly reduced the chances of target pest species developing resistance to the chemical Glyphosate.


Much of the public debate regarding GMC crops focuses on whether they are harmful to humans, the environment and to animals.

The Southeast Region ceased using GMCs at the conclusion of the 2012 planting season as a result of litigation. It is undertaking additional NEPA analysis as a result of that litigation to further study the effects upon the human environment of the use of GMC soybeans and corn in the Southeast Region’s refuge farming program.

Local Reaction
The Service received a total of 216 discrete substantive comments during the Southeast Region Programmatic EA for Genetically Modified Crops in  the Refuge Farming Programs scoping period.

The section yielded many responses to the issue.

One public commenter discusses the health effects of GMOs on mammals.

“All studies that the agribusiness community references in order to demonstrate that there are no negative health effects of GMOs are actually short-term in scope and do not take into account proper exposure length for the development of chronic allergies and symptoms and the subsequent health problems that result. The rat feed studies chosen by agribusiness to demonstrate food safety never exceed 90 days in length and the pig feed studies never exceed 110 days,” the commenter states.

The writer of the statement goes on to say that some of the studies referenced by the agribusinesses as proof that GMOs pose no long-term health risks are actually studies for livestock pigs that are not expected to live past six months of age.

“Some of the pig feed studies even go so far as to switch treatment groups from pure GM feed to non-GM feed after thirty days of exposure. This in no way demonstrates a long-term health effect for humans,” says the writer.

A farmer commented that they have personally witnessed corn borers destroy half their corn crop and at the time there were no treatments available to prevent it from happening.

“ Now we have Bt varieties that have solved this problem. In
 the Blacklands of Eastern North Carolina we have many insect and weed control problems that in the past may have caused us to use very high rates of dangerous pesticides. Biotech varieties have eliminated these high rates and made it safer for the farmer and the environment,” says the farmer.

Another comments says that the Fish and Wildlife Service should consider that GE glyphosate resistant and Bt crops have spurred the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds and Bt-toxin resistant insects.

“The major current use of genetic engineering in agriculture is to make crops herbicide tolerant, primarily to the weed-killing chemical glyphosate and Monsanto’s proprietary formula, Roundup. Extensive evidence, including warnings from FWS biologists, demonstrates that greatly increased reliance on glyphosate associated with Roundup Ready crops has fostered a dramatic increase in acreage infested with glyphosate-resistant and glyphosate-tolerant weeds,” says the writer.

The comment goes on to say that experts in the field recognize the escalating problem of weed resistance, and at least nine different weed species have been confirmed as glyphosate-resistant in 20 states. For example, glyphosate-tolerant horseweed has been reported in annual row crops in 13 states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Farmer response to glyphosate-resistant weeds is often to spray them with higher concentrations of glyphosate, more often; and to mix in other potent herbicides, with attendant impacts to wildlife. The response of biotechnology companies has been to develop a score of “next-generation” GE crops that are resistant to glyphosate as well as one to several other herbicides, like glufosinate, 2,4-D and/or dicamba,” says the writer.

The writer says the new GE crops – likely to be introduced soon – will facilitate much greater use of these additional herbicides to kill glyphosate-resistant weeds, together with continued heavy spraying of glyphosate. Non-target organisms are at particular risk from drift with with dicamba and 2,4-D, volatile herbicides that and cause harm to wildflowers and other organisms a long ways from where they are applied.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service avers that its Regional GMC policy requiring that farmed acres are to be rotated to non-Glyphosate GMC/non-GMC crop seed every four years will reduce weed resistance. However, there are no studies that this policy actually reduces weed resistance or that the policy is enforced at each refuge. We encourage FWS to specifically analyze the efficacy of this policy if it intends to rely on it to mitigate environmental impact,” says the writer.