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BUSINESS & REGULATION: U.S. White House sued to force release of documents on ag-biotech industry partnership



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   WHITE HOUSE PACT WITH INDUSTRY TO PUSH GE PLANTS

SOURCE:  Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, USA (PEER)

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1501

DATE:    21.07.2011

SUMMARY: "In an effort to boost exports, the Obama White House has entered into a joint venture with the agricultural biotechnology industry to remove barriers to the spread of genetically engineered crops, even on national wildlife refuges, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Today, PEER sued the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget and the State Department to force release of documents detailing their partnership with industry."

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WHITE HOUSE PACT WITH INDUSTRY TO PUSH GE PLANTS

High-Level Working Group Shielding Plan to Force GE Crops onto Wildlife Refuges

Washington, DC ? In an effort to boost exports, the Obama White House has entered into a joint venture with the agricultural biotechnology industry to remove barriers to the spread of genetically engineered (GE) crops, even on national wildlife refuges, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today, PEER sued the White House Trade Representative, Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the State Department to force release of documents detailing their partnership with industry.

Recent successful lawsuits brought by PEER with the Center for Food Safety have underlined the incompatibility of GE crops with refuge habitats, which has strengthened objections from GE-averse nations. The Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), whose most prominent member is Monsanto, the world?s biggest source of GE crops, approached the Obama White House for assistance. In late 2010, the White House formed an interagency ?Agriculture Biotech Working Group? consisting of more than 35 officials from ten agencies to promote GE agriculture. This Working Group includes officials from the White House and its OMB, Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP), Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Trade Rep. It also has officials from State, Justice, Agriculture, EPA and FDA.

A central task of this Working Group is to legally insulate GE crops on refuges from further litigation. Initially, it tried to pressure the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which operates the National Wildlife Refuge System, to rescind its Ecological Integrity Policy, which forbids GE planting unless found to be essential to accomplishing a refuge purpose. Working with BIO, these officials then helped prepare environmental assessments to start paving a legal path for GE plantings on 75 refuges in 30 states.

?With all the environmental challenges facing this country, why is the White House priority putting wildlife refuges under the thumb of Monsanto?? asked PEER Staff Counsel Kathryn Douglass, who filed today?s Freedom of Information Act suits. ?It is frankly depressing that the top White House official for ecosystem recovery is hustling genetically altered soybeans on slivers of land set aside for wildlife.?

PEER has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to most of the agencies in the Working Group. Today?s suits target three key agencies which have not turned over any documents. PEER has obtained fragmentary documents including a January 14, 2011 email from Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes relaying pressure from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that refuges were ?not being consistent in supporting genetically modified crops.? Perhaps more telling are decisions to withhold records showing ?

The depth of collusion with industry. OSTP, for example, is withholding key portions of its correspondence with a BIO lobbyist on the grounds that it reveals proprietary information;

What other actions the White House is pursuing to promote GE crops; and

Other unannounced industry partnerships the White House has spawned.

?We are on the ground floor of our climb to reach answers to these questions,? added Douglass, who is pursuing further record releases from the other agencies involved. ?One thing we do know is this Biotech Working Group exhibits the opposite of the transparent, science-based decision-making we were promised from this administration.?

- View the high-level interest in pushing GE crops on refuges

- See the White House OSTP shielding messages from industry 

- Meet the White House Agriculture Biotech Working Group



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   OBAMA ADMINISTRATION EMBRACES GE CROPS ON WILDLIFE REFUGES

SOURCE:  Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, USA (PEER)

AUTHOR:  Press Release

URL:     http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=1456

DATE:    14.02.2011

SUMMARY: "The Obama administration has endorsed genetically engineered agriculture on more than 50 National Wildlife Refuges, with more GE-refuge approvals in the works, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. The new plan is designed to insulate refuges from environmental court challenges in the wake of a lawsuit recently won by PEER and other groups which halted GE agriculture in all Northeastern refuges."

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OBAMA ADMINISTRATION EMBRACES GE CROPS ON WILDLIFE REFUGES

Plans Issued to Green-Light Genetically Engineered Agriculture on Scores of Refuges

Washington, DC ? The Obama administration has endorsed genetically engineered agriculture on more than 50 National Wildlife Refuges, with more GE-refuge approvals in the works, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The new plan is designed to insulate refuges from environmental court challenges in the wake of a lawsuit recently won by PEER and other groups which halted GE agriculture in all Northeastern refuges.

The national blitz of official filings is intended to remove a perceived barrier to the export of American GE crops ? U.S. restrictions on growing GE crops on National Wildlife Refuges. Under a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS operates the refuges) policy, GE crops are banned from refuges unless determined to be ?essential? to refuge operations. Countries leery of importing U.S. bio-engineered food have cited the policy as one basis for their concern.

Rather than overturn this FWS ?Biological Integrity? policy outright, the White House has embarked on a region-by-region approach to file environmental paperwork justifying GE agriculture on ?

31 refuge units across 8 Midwestern states;

25 refuges units in 12 Southeastern states; and

17 refuges in the 8-state Mountain Prairie Region.

The proposal for the Midwestern Refuges would allow more than 20,000 acres to be cultivated with no limits on how many acres could be GE crops. The public comment deadline for that plan is today. In its comments, PEER argues that the GE operations risk harm to wildlife, refuge plants and soil, while contending that there is no refuge purpose for which GE crops are essential, as required by FWS policy.

?These plans are based on the curious notion that wildlife benefit from having the small slivers of habitat set aside for them covered by genetically engineered soybeans,? stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the Midwest refuges are already surrounded by row crops, most of which are now GE. ?To boost U.S. exports, the Obama administration is forcing wildlife refuges into political prostitution.?

In 2010, PEER, the Center for Food Safety and Delaware Audubon brought successful litigation charging that GE agriculture on refuges in the Northeast violated the Refuge Improvement Act as incompatible with refuge purposes and lacked reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act. That suit was settled when FWS agreed to stop commercial agriculture operations on all refuges within the region. These latest filings are supposed to shield refuges in other regions from similar suits based on failing to meet procedural requirements of environmental statutes. Future challenges would have to show that these new eco-reviews are impermissibly defective ? a higher legal hurdle.

?The Obama administration says that it is devoted to scientific integrity but these new reviews are scientific travesties,? added Ruch, pointing to new Interior Department (which includes FWS) rules requiring that scientific information in decision- making ?must be robust, of the highest quality, and the result of the most rigorous scientific processes as can be achieved.? ?The sole document assessing the environmental impacts of genetically engineered planting in 25 Southeastern refuges is only six pages long.?

Increasingly the only seed available to U.S. farmers, especially for corn and soybeans, is GE. Ironically, it is the ubiquity of GE agriculture that FWS offers as the main reason it must allow these crops on refuges.

- Read the PEER comments 

- View the EA for 31 Midwest Refuges 

- See proposed finding of no impact for GE crops on 25 Southeast Refuges 

- Examine draft EA for Mountain Prairie region 

- Look at litigation driving GE agriculture out of Northeast Refuges 

- Review the Interior Department?s new scientific integrity rules