Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?

The Hidden Face of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Crops

by Joseph Ingoldsby.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 8.27.06 AM

Image source: Peggy Greb & Stephen Ausmus, USDA.

Bright orange monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) give a warning to potential predators that they taste awful. As caterpillars, they eat milkweed. Milkweed covered the farm fields of the heartland of America. Milkweed fed the monarchs as they travelled south in a mass migration to the temperate forests of Mexico. Here they overwintered by the millions in roosts that covered many miles. Scientists at the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) just published a report that monarchs reaching Mexico from the north are at their lowest levels since measurements began in 1993. Each year fewer monarchs reach the forests of Mexico. In 1997, one billion butterflies migrated to Mexico. Over the years the population has dropped to an average of 350 million butterflies. Today, there are only 33.5 million individuals. The 2013 population is down 44% from 2012. Aerial surveys show that only 1.65 acres of forest are inhabited this winter. The monarchs are disappearing. Why?

One of the reasons is that the monarch’s food supply of common milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca) is being killed with the spraying of glyphosate herbicide on the genetically engineered, herbicide resistant crops that cover the breadbasket of America. GMO use has another face.  Omar Vidal, Director General of the WWF Mexico states “Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the monarch butterfly migration – a symbol of cooperation between our three countries – is in grave danger.”

Another leading scientist, Karen Oberhauser, professor at the University of Minnesota, who has spent three decades studying the monarch, adds “Numerous lines of evidence demonstrate that the Corn Belt in the U.S. Midwest is the primary source for monarchs hibernating in Mexico.” Widespread use of herbicides with aerial and mechanical spraying within the Corn Belt kills beneficial insects that feed in the wildflower fields adjacent to the farm fields. Chip Ward, Director of Monarch Watch observes that the monarch caterpillars that feed on the milkweed of the Midwest are being killed at the source.  This is confirmed by Professor Oberhauser “These genetically modified crops have resulted in the extermination of milkweed from many agricultural habitats.” The widespread adoption of GMO crops across America is one cause of the gradual disappearance of the iconic monarch butterfly.

GMO crops resistant to herbicide spraying have proven to be bad for butterflies and other beneficial insects. The overuse of herbicides and pesticides threatens biodiversity, poisons the land and water and affects our health. Debates rage about the benefits and risks of GMO use while generations consume GMO products unknowingly. We should be able to choose whether we want to participate in this grand experiment with our children’s health. National polls conducted by professional news organizations consistently show that over 90% of consumers want to know if they’re eating genetically engineered foods. GMO labeling will give the same rights to MA citizens that people in 64 other countries enjoy. That is, the right to know what they are eating. In the coming months, Legislators will make a decision on GMO food labeling laws in Massachusetts. Call or write your Legislators to let them know that you want to know what is in your food.

Published author, Joseph Ingoldsby writes on environmental issues and policy, sustainability and science. http://josephemmanuelingoldsby.com

About eSS&SC

The South Shore and South Coast has been home to hunting, gathering, fishing, farming––and great eating––for over 10,000 years. We are committed to identifying, devouring, and sharing all that Southeastern Massachusetts has to offer today and preserving local options for future generations.
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One Response to Where Have All the Butterflies Gone?

  1. These pesticides are ruining our planet – butterflies, bees just to name two are being dramatically affected.

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