Aurelia Skipwith has a BS in biology from Howard University, a Master’s in molecular genetics from Purdue and a law degree from Kentucky. She has worked as a molecular analyst and sustainable agriculture partnership manager. She was also co-founder and general counsel for AVC Global, a Washington, D.C.-based agricultural supply chain development company that helps small farmers link up with multinational buyers and with agronomy, business, financial and other service providers.
For two years, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Interior Department, where she performed her duties so well that last October President Trump nominated her to become the next Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) at Interior. She is an ideal candidate for the post.
She’s also only the third woman ever nominated for this position – and the first African American. Her impeccable scientific, legal, agricultural and conservationist background would ensure fairness, balance, integrity, solid science and multidisciplinary thinking in FWS decision making.
And yet, Ms. Skipwith lingers in confirmation limbo, along with hundreds of others whose nominations have been stalled for many months to well over a year. Too many Democratic senators appear determined to prevent the president from having people onboard who would implement his policies.
In fact, the US Senate has already been forced to hold cloture votes – ending drawn-out debates – on 128 Trump nominees! In glaring contrast, the Senate had a grand total of only 24 such cloture votes for all six previous presidents combined: Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush II and Obama! That’s 32 times more nominees by this president sidelined by Congress than during all ten previous presidential terms.
Why is Ms. Skipwith being treated this way? It appears to be simple ideological politics. Senate Democrats seem to be acquiescing to the demands of Deep Green environmentalists and Deep State career bureaucrats who do not like having their views and policies challenged.
Her molecular analysis and sustainable agriculture work were with Monsanto, the ultimate Evil Corporation to many of her opponents, because it manufactures both Roundup weedkiller and genetically engineered (GE) crops like Bt corn and Roundup-Ready soybeans. As Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ms. Skipwith supported reversing Obama era bans on planting such crops and using advanced-technology neonicotinoid pesticides in wildlife refuges administered by Fish & Wildlife.
The 2014 bans resulted from collusive sue-and-settle lawsuits between environmentalist groups and Obama DOI officials. They were reversed in August 2018, following a careful review process. As I have noted in many articles (here, here and here, for example), GE crops, glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and neonics are safe for humans and the environment. They also enable farmers to produce more food from less land, using less water and fewer pesticides, and with greater resistance to droughts, floods, insects and climate change, than is possible with conventional or organic crops.
Genetically engineered crops promote sustainable agriculture and help the world feed billions who otherwise face prolonged malnutrition and starvation. And yet, radical greens oppose them. They even attack Golden Rice, which prevents blindness and death in malnourished children and parents, by incorporating genes that produce Vitamin A precursors, vastly expanding nutritional values in rice.
Americans alone have consumed more than four trillion servings of foods with at least one GE ingredient – without a single documented example of harm to a person or the environment.
Regarding glyphosate, only one agency, the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC), says the chemical is “probably carcinogenic” to humans – and its analysis is tainted by fraud and blatant conflicts of interest. Studies by the European Food Safety Authority, Food and Agriculture Organization, Germany’s Institute for Risk Assessment, Australia’s Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, and other respected organizations worldwide have concluded that glyphosate is safe and non-carcinogenic.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists conducted a “comprehensive systematic review of studies submitted to the agency and available in the open literature,” and concluded that the chemical “is not likely to be carcinogenic in humans.” Health Canada conducted a similarly extensive review of global studies, found no likely cancer risk, and noted that “no pesticide regulatory authority in the world” believes glyphosate is a cancer risk to humans “at the levels at which humans are currently exposed.”
As cancer researcher Arthur Lambert noted recently, “exposure to carcinogens influences the risk of developing cancer, which is a function of many factors, including the dose and duration of the exposure” – to glyphosate for example. But other factors also play integral roles, including inherited genes and genetic mutations, how well one’s immune system can find and eliminate mutated cells before they develop into cancer, personal lifestyle choices, and exposure to additional carcinogens over the years. Separating all those factors is virtually impossible.
Risks associated with glyphosate fall “somewhere between the small hazard that comes from eating a considerable amount of bacon (for colorectal cancer) and consuming very hot tea (for esophageal cancer),” Lambert notes. In fact, IARC lumps bacon, sunlight and plutonium together in its “definitely carcinogenic” category and lists as “possible” carcinogens pickled vegetables, caffeic acid found in many fruits and vegetables, and even drinking hot beverages or working the night shift.
If glyphosate poses few risks of cancer in humans, its threats to ducks, geese, turkeys and other animals in wildlife refuges are likely infinitesimal. The same is true for GE crops and neonicotinoid pesticides.
Most neonics are used as seed coatings, which get absorbed into plant tissues as crops grow. They protect plants against insect damage by targeting only pests that actually feed on the crops – and are largely gone by the time mature plants flower, which means they are barely detectable in pollen.
As to claims that neonics harm bees and thus should be banned from wildlife refuges, a 2015 international study of wild bees found that most wild bees never even come into contact with crops or the neonics that supposedly threaten them. The same study also determined that the 2% of wild bees that do visit crops – and so would be most exposed to these pesticides – are among the healthiest bee species on Earth.
The eight senators who recently expressed concern that chlorpyrifos and other pesticides threaten multiple protected species should applaud Interior’s reversal of bans on modern agricultural technologies (which reduce the use of such pesticides). Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation certainly did.
The bans “were clearly not based on science,” they said, adding that the reversal restored GE crop use as an “essential tool” for waterfowl and wildlife management in national wildlife refuges. Many refuges were established along migratory bird flyways to provide food for waterfowl. But some can provide sufficient food only through cooperative agreements that let local farmers plant crops on refuge lands in exchange for leaving some of their crops unharvested, to supplement natural food on the refuge.
Genetically modified crops maximize crop yields, the FWS has explained, and “a blanket denial” of their use limits the latitude that refuge managers need to fulfill the purposes of each refuge. The ban on neonics was equally problematical because they are often used with GE crops and Roundup.
Aurelia Skipwith’s actions reflect the best in science-based government decision making. Her broad expertise enables her to separate fact from fiction, and reality from ideological agendas. She is the right person for this job – and indeed may turn out to be one of the best FWS directors ever. The Senate should confirm her forthwith.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of many articles on the environment. He has degrees in geology, ecology and environmental law.