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GMO Crops, Neonicotinoids Will Be Weeded out of U.S. Wildlife Refuges

The decision for wildlife food programs in the refuge system doesn't say it's meant to save bees, but follows recent policy changes aimed at that.

National wildlife refuges around the country are phasing out genetically modified crops and neonicotinoid pesticides in programs meant to provide food for wildlife. A July 17 letter from James W. Kurth, chief of the national refuge system, doesn't specifically mention concerns that the pesticides or crops pose risks to wildlife bees, butterflies and other pollinators. It just says they don't fit refuge objectives, such as promoting natural ecosystems.

But it comes after a July order to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides on wildlife refuges in the Northwest and Hawaii that mentioned concerns about harm to bees and after a White House memorandum directing federal agencies to promote pollinator health after significant losses in recent decades of insects, bats and birds that pollinate fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Wildlife refuges commonly allow farmers to grow crops there if they leave some behind to feed wildlife. Most of the corn grown in the U.S. has been genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosate, commercially sold as Roundup. Iain Kelly, a risk assessment scientist for neonicotinoid manufacturer Bayer CropScience, said: "We don't think the science bears out that decision."

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— The Associated Press