Will EPA Take Action to Save Monarch Butterflies from Glyphosate?

We are seeing a jaw-dropping decline in these orange-and-black winged beauties, and an herbicide used on most genetically engineered crops is largely to blame.

February 25, 2014


If you're a self-admitted garden stalker who loves to spy on all of the critters that stop by for a taste of nectar or a place to lay their eggs, you may have noticed a drastic and concerning drop in the number of monarch butterflies visiting your space.


Why? Believe it or not, genetically engineered crops are largely to blame. The thing is, monarchs and glyphosate, the weedkiller first marketed as "Roundup," do not mix. Most GMO crops planted in the U.S. were created to live through large, multiple glyphosate dousings. This chemical warfare is being waged on more than 154 million acres of soybean, corn, cotton, alfalfa, canola, and sugar beet fields in America.

In 2007, 185 million pounds of the chemical were dumped on food crops all over the country. That chemical abuse has virtually wiped out milkweed plants that would traditionally border fields and grow in between crops. Monarchs don't just like milkweed plants; they need the plants to survive. They specifically lay eggs on milkweed because it's the only type of plant their caterpillars eat.

More from Rodale News: Monarch Butterfly Migration Seriously Threatened by GMOs

In an attempt to save these butterflies, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saying glyphosate is causing "significant ongoing harm" to monarchs, the orange-and-black winged beauties that migrate through the United States, Canada, and Mexico as part of their annual life cycle.

Recent reports suggest the monarch population in its Mexican wintering ground has plummeted by up to 90 percent.

"These beautiful and unique creatures have long fascinated biologists and schoolchildren alike," says Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist. "Their precipitous loss signals a warning about the unintended consequences of our industrial agricultural practices. We need to act quickly to ensure that future generations will also be able to experience the wonder of the monarch's migration." Although milkweed may sound like a pesky weed, it's actually a native plant that nature intended to be here. Monarch butterfly larvae depend on this plant species for their survival.

The petition asks the EPA to conduct an urgent review of the rules for glyphosate and consider the cumulative impact on butterflies from glyphosate and other weedkillers. Since the glyphosate rules were last updated in 1993, its use has soared tenfold, hitting 182 million pounds a year, following the introduction and rapid spread of "Roundup Ready" corn and soybeans.

More from Rodale News: 4 Ways to Stop a Monarch Butterfly Collapse

The EPA is scheduled to perform a new review on glyphosate rules next year, but given the massive damage to monarch butterfly populations, NRDC is asking for an immediate review.

The nonprofit group suggests:
• Preventing use of glyphosate and other weed-killers along highways and power-line rights-of-way where milkweed, a relatively short plant, could grow freely without interfering with maintenance or emergency crews.

• Requiring farmers to establish herbicide-free safety zones in or around their fields, and creation of other milkweed-friendly habitat.

• Guarding against the potential for dramatic increases in herbicide use as a result of new herbicide-resistant crops, such as glyphosate-resistant wheat.

• Assessing the uses of glyphosate in gardens, landscaping, and in areas planted for cosmetic purposes for their impacts on monarchs.

• Avoiding the migration to another equally or more harmful glyphosate replacement.

Here's what you can do:
Eat organic. Every time you do, you're sending a message that you don't support toxic chemicals in the food chain and environment. Plant native milkweed in your garden. It'll be such a treat when you find your first monarch larva feeding off of its leaves. (The larvae don't kill the plants, just munch on some of their leaves.) Narrow down this milkweed search to include your state to find the best varieties for your area. Look for plants from a local native plant shop and ask about pesticide use. Many box stores use toxic pesticides that go inside the plant and wind up killing bees and butterflies that feed on them.

Need more reasons to kick pesticides to the curb? Read 10 Crazy Things Pesticides Are Doing to Your Body.