AOTW - Oppose Release of Genetically Engineered Moth in NY

Following a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Cornell University’s proposed release of genetically engineered diamondback moths (DBMs), there is a need to ensure that the state of New York addresses issues that APHIS failed to consider. These include  concerns that are based on problems with possible contamination of organic crops with illegal GE residues, as well as others raised by scientists at the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, and GeneWatch UK.

The FONSI absolves APHIS from the duty to perform an in-depth environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) points out that this is the first use of this particular kind of GE technology –using a genetically engineered male to produce inviable female offspring— and, as such, deserves the full investigation of an EIS, rather than the more cursory evaluation of the environmental assessment that led to the FONSI.

Besides NEPA, New York state law requires that all "discretionary" decisions of an agency to approve, fund, or directly undertake an action which may affect the environment are subject to review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR). We believe that Cornell must receive a permit under New York Environmental Conservation Law §11-0507 in order to release the insects from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), as it did for the release of caged insects in the past. However, DEC has denied responsibility for permitting the action. As a state university, Cornell is subject to SEQR. If Cornell or DEC does not perform the required EIS, enforcement is up to citizens. According to the DEC website, “[C]itizens or groups who can demonstrate that they may be harmed by this failure may take legal action... Project approvals may be rescinded by a court and a new review required under SEQR. New York State's court system has consistently ruled in favor of strong compliance with the provisions of SEQR.” NOFA-NY has made a strong showing that organic growers may be harmed by this release.

This is an issue that affects all of us –not just New Yorkers— because the moths do not respect state boundaries, and this action would set a precedent for other states.

Organic growers may be harmed if the moths escape from the research plots. The engineered trait is designed to leave behind dead moth larvae and pupae resulting from the mating of the engineered males with wild females. These residues, if left on organic crops (cabbage, broccoli, and other brassica plants) would be prohibited under the “excluded methods” regulation of the National Organic Program. In addition, there are plausible scenarios that would result in release of viable DBMs, which could increase damage to crops.

In general, the cursory EA performed by APHIS ignored a number of important issues, including: contamination of crops with GE dead insects; the impacts on the ecological balance of native brassicas; the lack of research on the migration of DBMs from site to site; impacts in the future if engineered DBMs are released in commercial agriculture; other alternatives besides “no action,” such as the systems approach used by organic growers; the lack of adequate monitoring and buffer zones; food safety; impacts on predators; antibiotic resistance as a result from the use of tetracycline in breeding the moths; other ecological effects; and movement of the DBM across international borders.

Voice your opposition to the release of genetically engineered DBMs to Cornell University (which proposes to release the moths), DEC (which is responsible for state permits of releases of wild animals), and Governor Cuomo (who is responsible for ensuring that state agencies meet their responsibilities.)

Thank you for taking action!

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