Monsanto blamed for decline of monarch butterflies
by Carol Thompson
American’s favorite butterfly, the monarch, is declining in numbers, and the blame is being placed on biotechnology conglomerate Monsanto, the manufacturer of the weed killer Roundup.
The number of monarchs reaching Mexico has been falling for years, and it has now reached the lowest level on record. The World Wildlife Fund announced Wednesday that butterflies this winter were found in 1.7 acres across 11 sanctuaries, down from a high of 45 acres in 1996.
Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup has become the most common herbicide in American agriculture today, used in tandem with the company’s genetically-engineered Roundup Ready crops.
Since its heavy proliferation began in the 1990s, glyphosate has been a leading killer of 99 percent of milkweed in the Midwest’s corn and soybean fields. Glyphosate-sensitive milkweed plants are the only spots where monarchs lay eggs, as the plant is the only food source for monarch larvae.
“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”
Monarch population numbers have fallen by 90% in less than 20 years. This year’s population was the second lowest since careful surveys began two decades ago. The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.
The Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower, filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect monarchs as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In December 2014, the Service responded to this petition request and announced that ESA listing may be warranted, an important first step towards securing stronger protections for monarch butterflies. While obtaining ESA listing is paramount, numerous interim and additional policy recommendations are listed at the end of Center for Food Safety’s report.
Image: Flickr/Scott, Memphis, TN