For Immediate Release: Sep 10, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Role of Ex-Monsanto Executive in Green-Lighting Use on Refuges at Issue
Washington, DC — The paper trail behind the Trump administration decision to rescind the ban on genetically modified crops (GMOs) and use of bee-harming pesticides, known as “neonics” (neonicotinoids) on National Wildlife Refuges has yet to see the light of day, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). One player is a former Monsanto executive Trump has nominated to serve as Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the agency that runs the National Wildlife Refuge System.
In August 2018, with support from the agricultural biotech industry, the FWS reversed its 2015 prohibition against using GMO crops and neonics on refuges due to detrimental effects on wildlife. Approximately 60 refuges have limited agricultural programs. In its reversal, FWS directed all 562 of the nation’s refuges to “consider the options” of GM crops and neonics.
Prior to the ban, these refuges planted GMO corn and soybeans and used the highly controversial weedkiller Roundup. That insecticide is now implicated in personal injury litigation costing Bayer billions of dollars in jury verdicts on behalf of applicators suffering severe health effects as a result of their exposure.
In April 2019, PEER requested records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) about the rationale for and effects of this reversal. Failing to elicit a voluntary response, today PEER sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the FWS to obtain those records.
“Refuges are supposed to be havens for wildlife, not agri-business,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who led the five-year litigation campaign that induced the FWS to issue the ban, noting the adverse effects that neonics have on pollinators. “The ban’s reversal means that birds and bees will no longer have sanctuary from the most potent industrial poisons.”
Aurelia Skipwith, a former executive with Monsanto (now part of the German chemical giant Bayer) has been a political appointee under Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. She used her Deputy position to further the Monsanto/Bayer agenda of lifting the Refuge ban and promoting neonics and GMOs, according to agency records PEER previously obtained under FOIA. On July 17, President Trump nominated Ms. Skipwith to serve as FWS Director.
“It is chilling that Aurelia Skipwith is now being tapped to lead the nation’s leading conservation agency that was once the home of Rachel Carson,” added PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, referencing the author of Silent Spring who alerted the world to the deleterious effects of the pesticide DDT. “PEER believes the withheld agency records will reveal Skipwith is still pushing Monsanto’s agenda instead of promoting conservation. That is why we are suing.”