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Should NC Wildlife Refuges Grow Genetically Modified Crops?

Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Michele Hayslett
Flickr Creative Commons

Environmental officials are asking for public input about whether they should replant genetically modified crops (GMCs) at national wildlife refuges in North Carolina. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosts a public meeting at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Thursday.  That refuge and three others in eastern North Carolina have been using a farming program to plant genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans since the 1990's.

"They use farmers from the local area who will basically be able to farm that area, keep between 75 or 80 percent of the crop for their sale, and then they leave the remainder - the 20 or 25 percent - for the wildlife.  That's just left in the fields for feed," says Tom MacKenzie, spokesman for the Southeast Division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The use of GMCs for us, to date, had been positive just in terms of the reduction of pesticides required.  That, and I believe the water use and the productivity of those enhanced crops was a positive benefit."

The refuges suspended genetically modified crops last year when advocacy groups sued over the government's transparency about using them.  MacKenzie says the agency is required to get public input after the lawsuit.

"I think a lot of people in the agricultural community are quite familiar with GMCs.  They're at an extremely high percentage in American agriculture at this point," MacKenzie says.

"But what we're doing is making sure the public is aware of that and receiving any comments they may have."

Critics of genetically modified crops worry they will decrease biodiversity and trigger allergies in consumers.  Supporters say they produce pesticide-resistant plants and provide a more efficient way of growing food.

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