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The Obama administration and Monsanto want to extend planting of GE crops to wildlife refuges

It’s a stark accusation: the Obama administration and Monsanto are attempting to extend GE (Genetically Engineered) plots to more than 50 wildlife refuges across the US. The claim was made by Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Peer (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility).

At the start of this year, Peer won a settlement in a law suit that stopped the planting of GE crops in US Fish and Wildlife Service refuges in the north-eastern states. Now Peer claims that the Obama administration is working cheek-by-jowl with the biotech lobby to block any future legal action against GE plots.

An email obtained by Peer reveals that, in January 2011, the biotech lobbyist Adrienne Massey contacted Peter Schmeissner, an analyst with the White House Office of Science and Technology, about Peer’s legal challenge. Massey has spent much of her career promoting the cause of BIO, a clever moniker that actually translates as the Biotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) and is a lobby founded by Monsanto amongst others. 

Schmeisser in turn contacted the White House Agricultural Biotechnology Working Group, a powerful new body with high-level representatives from every US agricultural and environmental agency, asking them how to tackle the issue. GE planting is permitted in natural refuges on the basis of a technique known as environmental assessment. The claim is that GE crops can restore endangered habitats in ways that conventional ones cannot. One example of this would be planting ground cover of GE soy and corn which is herbicide resistant so that any herbicide used will kill only weeds. This experimental technique is used in virgin areas. The Peer Executive Director has queried whether it is actually sound land management practice or simply a dangerous ecological experiment. “The White House,” says Ruch, “is engaging in a joint effort with Monsanto ... and as we understand it, it's part of a White House pledge to double exports. It’s using environmental assessments to promote experimental restoration techniques in endangered areas as environmentally sound. But in fact, these areas are endangered because of human interference, not because of nature.”

Ruch also believes that planting GE crops in picturesque, unspoilt nature refuges is being used to clean up the negative image of GMO foods in Europe. The Obama administration is adopting this practice, known as “green-washing”, to promote exports of US soy and corn, 90% of which are GE. The Fish and Wildlife Agency has only ever allowed GE plots in protected areas in extraordinary cases. The emails that Peer gained access to, demonstrates that US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack put pressure on the Agency to come into line with government policy on GE. To become partisan, in other words.

Luca Galassi

Translated by Mary Hegarty