Monday, January 07, 2013

GMOs threaten Monarch Butterflies

Adult Monarch on milkweed I planted in my yard. Photo: Sally Kneidel
I was very sad that California’s Proposition 37 failed to pass in the Nov 6 election. The proposition would have required labeling of all genetically-modified foods and would have prohibited "all-natural" labeling of such foods. We desperately need government action regarding GMOs and I was hopeful this was the beginning. Well, it is a beginning in a way, because 46.9% of California voters voted to pass the Proposition. It probably would’ve passed, if not for the fact that the corporations profiting from genetic engineering spent five times more money on the vote than those who support labeling. Those corporations (e.g.Monsanto, Dow) spent about a million dollars a day, from early October until election day, on a media blitz of false and misleading claims directed at voters.

70% of our processed foods contain GMOs

The U.S. is one of the very few industrialized nations that hasn't either banned GMOs or required labeling. It’s a symptom of the control that corporations have over our government, through lobbying and campaign contributions. Because of this financial and political clout, the corporations behind GMOs are able to keep U.S. shoppers in the dark about the contents of the food on our grocery store shelves. Up to 85% of U.S. corn, 91% of soybeans, and 95% of sugar beets are now genetically modified. According to the Center for Food Safety, 70% of processed foods in supermarkets now contain genetically-modified ingredients, yet are not labeled as having them. Human-health risks from GMOs include immune suppression and cancer.

Wild plants and animals threatened

Risks to the planet are even more frightening for me. The uncontrolled dispersal of the engineered genes in agricultural plants threatens wild plant and animal species with contamination of their own genetic material and possible extinction. This sounds dramatic, but if you doubt it, read the Center for Food Safety’s “Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers".
Anyway – the problems with genetically-modified foods are not new. I’ve known about GMOs and the corporate control of their development and proliferation for some time. I’ve known about the industry’s appalling disregard of anything other than corporate profits. My daughter Sadie and I wrote about that topic in our 2008 book, Going Green.

But I almost choked when I heard...

I just recently learned something new about an unexpected victim of the genetic-engineering industry. Monarch butterflies. Last summer, while researching a 2nd edition of my book "Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method", I began talking to monarch experts who are involved in the conservation of this magnificent butterfly, a species that weighs less than a paper clip but migrates 2000 miles every autumn! They migrate farther than any other insect, farther than many migratory birds. Through this research, I learned that monarchs are declining, and when I found out why, I almost gagged. Monsanto!!! Monsanto has wiped out much of the milkweed in the Midwest that these butterflies lay their eggs on. Not intentionally, but as a by-product of Monsanto's widely used agricultural herbicide “Round-Up.” Milkweed grows best in disturbed areas, such as in and around crop-fields. Farmers can and do now spray Round-Up directly on their maturing crops. Before, herbicides had to be used sparingly and before crops sprouted, because herbicides killed crops as well as unwanted plants.
But since Monsanto has genetically modified a huge proportion of crop seeds used in the U.S. to withstand  their own herbicide, Round-Up, those GM crops are now immune to this particular herbicide. So Round-Up is sprayed in abundance, throughout the growing season.  It kills all other plants in the vicinity, including milkweed.
And scientists say this is the primary reason monarchs are declining, due to loss of their "host plant" milkweed, which they must have for egg-laying and caterpillar growth.
It's very disturbing. And yet Monsanto marches on, squashing Proposition 37 and any other opposition to their dangerous domination of American agriculture.

What's to be done?

Write your legislators about GMOs and Monsanto.  Will it do any good?  I don't know.  Contact the Center for Food Safety and ask what you can do.
One thing you can do for sure is to plant milkweed.
Several monarch scientists and educators have created monarch websites for teachers, students, and citizens who’d like to get involved in monarch conservation, by planting milkweed and nectar plants and by monitoring, tagging, reporting data to monarch scientists, and more.  These are great websites, great projects - for families, classrooms, individuals.  Check them out!
Journey North
Monarch Watch
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project
Monarch Teacher Network

1 comment:

Elizabeth @ Eating Local in the Lou said...

What a very informative and disturbing article. I am not sure what it will take to change, but I remain hopeful that with enough continued momentum and education of the public, at some point American consumers will get the message and retaliate.

Hopefully the state of Washington has better luck with passing GMO labeling mentioned recently in reuters:

Thanks for such a great article!