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A Choice for the Future of the Earth: Monsanto or Monarchs?

April 23rd, 2014
By Larissa Walker, Policy and Campaign Coordinator
Center for Food Safety

It’s Earth Week and you have a choice: Monsanto or Monarchs?

There is no mystery why monarch butterfly populations are at an all-time low. Industrial agriculture’s excessive use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybean is largely to blame. The herbicide doesn’t kill the beautiful creatures directly, but it is especially deadly to milkweed. Despite its name, milkweed is a beautiful flowering plant monarchs depend upon to lay their eggs. Not only is it their essential habitat, but it is the only plant that monarch young will eat. And when Monsanto’s chemicals destroy the milkweed, the monarch is collateral damage.  

The North American monarch butterfly, one of our nation’s most awe-inspiring species, migrates thousands of miles to its winter home in the fir trees of Mexico. To get to this safe haven, these remarkable butterflies have to cross treacherous acres upon acres of corn and soybean fields in America’s heartland. Throughout their journey, monarchs search for the milkweed they vitally need for survival. Unfortunately, as if their trek across millions of acres of corn and soybean fields wasn’t daunting enough, their milkweed habitat has been nearly wiped out by glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.  More glyphosate means less milkweed and fewer monarchs. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Milkweed used to grow in abundance in Midwestern crop fields of North America, but now that almost all corn and soybean varieties are genetically engineered to withstand heavy applications of glyphosate, milkweed has little chance of survival. For example, researchers now estimate that the number of milkweeds in Iowa corn and soybean fields has decreased by 98.7% between 1999 and 2012.[i]

Omar Vidal, the director general of World Wildlife Foundation Mexico, which reports the monarch population numbers every winter recently said, Mexico must ‘energetically demand’ that the United States reform its agricultural policy with an eye toward preserving milkweed.” It’s time for action.

To protect monarchs, we need to protect milkweed, and to do that, we must turn away from GE pesticide promoting crops like Monsanto’s Roundup ready corn and soy.  These crops are purposefully engineered to withstand heavy spraying of pesticides like Roundup.  

This Earth Day, as you contemplate the health and future of our planet, think about this stark choice: Monsanto or Monarchs? The choice we make has implications beyond this one amazing species. At what cost will we continue to prop-up this chemically intensive, unsustainable agricultural system? If we keep planting GE pesticide-promoting crops at the rate we have been, our monarchs and countless other species will eventually vanish. Pumping our land with chemicals does have consequences, and they are catching up to us very quickly.

It’s time to stop approving pesticide-promoting crops.

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[i] Pleasants, J.M. (in press). “Monarch Butterflies and Agriculture,” Ch. 14 in: Monarchs in a Changing World: Biology and Conservation of an Iconic Insect, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

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