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American Agriculture May Eradicate the Monarch Butterfly Unless Swift Action Is Taken

Story at-a-glance -

  • The monarch butterfly is becoming endangered, as genetically engineered crops like corn and soy have largely eliminated the monarch’s sole food and breeding source—the milkweed
  • A group of scientists and writers are urging Mexican, American, and Canadian leaders to commit to restoring the monarch’s migration habitat
  • The proposal calls for planting milkweed all along the migratory path through the US; between fields, in ditches, along roadsides, and in public areas
  • Glyphosate-based herbicides also destroy soil, plant, animal, and human health
  • To help, plant milkweed in your garden, and sign the petition asking EPA, USDA and President Obama to protect the monarchs’ breeding habitat by stopping approval of glyphosate-resistant genetically engineered crops

By Dr. Mercola

You may be aware that bees are dying in large numbers across the globe, courtesy of the ever-increasing presence of toxins in our environment. But did you know that the monarch butterfly is also becoming endangered, and for the same reason?

As reported by the New York Times:1

"Hoping to focus attention on the plight of the monarch butterfly at a North American summit meeting... a group of prominent scientists and writers urged the leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada to commit to restoring the habitat that supports the insect's extraordinary migration across the continent.

Calling the situation facing the butterfly 'grim,' the group issued a letter that outlined a proposal to plant milkweed, the monarch caterpillar's only food source, along its migratory route in Canada and the United States."

Immediate Action Needed to Save the Monarch Butterfly

One of the major reasons for the dramatically diminishing numbers of monarch butterflies is that so many of the milkweed plants typically present in fields have been eliminated as farmers have switched over to planting genetically engineered corn and soy. (Land areas used to grow corn in the US have expanded by about 25 percent since 2007.)

The proposal calls for planting milkweed all along the migratory path through the US; between fields, in ditches, along roadsides, and in public areas, to ensure sufficient food for the monarchs, and a place to lay their eggs. The group also recommends subsidizing farmers who do not use herbicides on their land.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is also petitioning the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement tougher rules for the weed killer glyphosate, and to do so sooner rather than later.

The agency is scheduled to complete a review of glyphosate rules next year, but the NRDC is asking the EPA to take immediate action, given the rapid decline of the monarchs. As reported by the Los Angeles Times:2

"The petition asks the EPA to consider preventing the use of glyphosate and other weed killers along highways and utility rights of way where milkweed could grow freely without interfering with maintenance or emergency crews.

It also asks that farmers be required to establish herbicide-free safety zones in or around their fields, and urges the EPA to ensure that any new safeguards on glyphosate don't lead simply to more use of other weed killers that would be equally bad for monarchs and may pose health risks."

The Plight of the Monarchs

A recent article in the World Post,3 written by Mexican environmental activist Homero Aridjis, sheds further light on just how dire the situation is. Having spent every childhood winter in Contepec, Michoacan admiring the arriving flocks of monarchs, he has personally noticed the dramatic decline in the gorgeous orange and black butterflies.

In 1986, Aridjis petitioned the Mexican President to protect monarch habitats, which resulted in the creation of the Monarch Butterfly Special Biosphere Reserve. In 2000, the reserve was enlarged, and additional protection was added for other butterfly colonies as well. Mexico has also set limitations on logging in and around the butterfly reserve, to help preserve the butterfly population. Alas, such measures are not enough.

As Aridjis notes, excessive use of toxic agricultural chemicals across America's Corn Belt plays an absolutely critical role in the declining numbers of these beautiful creatures, as each year the butterflies migrate through this area of the US.

Milkweed,4 a perennial plant that used to be common across American prairies, is the only plant on which the adult monarch will lay its eggs. Once the larvae hatches, the caterpillar will eat the plant. Without milkweed along its migratory path, the monarch cannot reproduce. Aridjis writes:5

"I was born in 1940 and grew up with (and wrote about) the monarchs, but it was only in 1975 that their overwintering forests in central Mexico's Transvolcanic Belt were 'discovered' by Canadian scientists.

On Jan. 29, news was released of a dramatic plunge in the monarch butterfly population that overwinters in Mexico after flying thousands of miles south from the northern and eastern United States and southern Canada.

This season's population, calculated by measuring the area of occupied trees, covers a tiny 0.67 hectares -- the smallest ever since these measurements began 20 years ago -- and a huge drop from the 1996 high of 21 hectares. The population has plummeted from an estimated 1 billion in 1996 to 33 million this year, scattered over seven sites. There have been no monarchs in Contepec for years."

Monarch Decline Chart


Monarch Decline and Changes in U.S. Agriculture Figures from EH Williams Feb 7. 2014. Decline in monarch overwintering area compared to rise in US acreage planted in corn and rise is usage of glyphosate herbicide. To compare these on a similar scale, the monarch hectares have been multiplied by 5, and the glyphosate usage has been divided by 2 data sources: www.epa.gov/opp00001/pestsales/, www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/agricultural-baseline-database/

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Glyphosate Destroys More Than Just Monarch Breeding Grounds

The environmental destruction caused by glyphosate certainly does not end with the eradication of milkweed, which are critical for monarch breeding and feeding. This chemical, the toxicity of which has been vastly underestimated since its introduction into agriculture, absolutely devastates the soil microbiome. Killing microorganisms is in fact one of glyphosate's primary mechanisms of action, as it is patented as an antibiotic. Glyphosate is also a potent chelator that sequesters valuable minerals, rendering them inaccessible and unusable for the plant. It ties up minerals like manganese, zinc, and iron, which are essential for the plant's immune system and growth.

These minerals are also important for human health. Another problem, which applies to both genetically engineered (GE) and conventional hybridized plants, is that when a plant is altered it may lose its ability to emit the correct signals to warn its neighbors about impending attacks. Hence, they become more vulnerable to infestations.

Then there's the issue of rapid resistance developing among weeds... In some areas, highly invasive and crop-destroying superweeds are taking over valuable farm land. This was yet another possibility that was initially pooh-pooh'd by Monsanto. Industry assurances aside, glyphosate resistance has now become an undisputable fact.

But rather than acknowledging its role in creating the problem, Monsanto and other chemical producers have simply started working on herbicide formulations that are even MORE toxic, and developing new crops that are resistant to a different set of chemicals, including 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), which is one of the primary ingredients in Agent Orange!

How Glyphosate Affects Your Health

Just as glyphosate decimates soil bacteria that are critical for plant health and nutrient uptake, the chemical also destroys the microbiome found in the gut of animals and humans. This effect appears to be the missing link that explains the detrimental health effects associated with genetically engineered foods. Recent research even suggests that glyphosate may be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies. This includes but is not limited to:

Autism Gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, colitis, and Crohn's disease Obesity
Allergies Cardiovascular disease Depression
Cancer Infertility Alzheimer's disease
Parkinson's disease Multiple sclerosis ALS and more


The impact of gut bacteria on your health is becoming widely known. And here, we see how your gut bacteria once again play a crucial role in explaining why and how glyphosate causes health problems in both animals and humans. According to this revealing study, published in the journal Entropy6 last year:

"Glyphosate's claimed mechanism of action in plants is the disruption of the shikimate pathway, which is involved with the synthesis of the essential aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine, and tryptophan. The currently accepted dogma is that glyphosate is not harmful to humans or to any mammals because the shikimate pathway is absent in all animals.

However, this pathway is present in gut bacteria, which play an important and heretofore largely overlooked role in human physiology through an integrated biosemiotic relationship with the human host. In addition to aiding digestion, the gut microbiota synthesize vitamins, detoxify xenobiotics, and participitate in immune system homeostasis and gastrointestinal tract permeability. Furthermore, dietary factors modulate the microbial composition of the gut."

Time to Choose Between Monsanto and Monarchs

The Center for Food Safety has created a petition urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and President Obama to protect the monarchs' breeding habitat by halting the approval of Monsanto Roundup Ready™ and other glyphosate-resistant and pesticide-promoting genetically engineered crops. Please take a moment to sign the petition right now.

Sign Sign

You can also make a difference by planting milkweed in your own garden to make up for the loss of milkweed caused by the sprawl of urban development.

Ending Glyphosate Use Is Critical for All Life on Planet Earth

Besides protecting the monarch butterfly, there are many other reasons to insist on the removal of glyphosate from agricultural use. The documented harmful effects of glyphosate extend not just to critical pollinating insects like bees and butterflies, but also to soil, plant, animal, and human health. It's becoming increasingly clear that Monsanto's glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup is doing FAR more harm than anyone ever expected, and it's time to put on the brakes before it's too late.

On numerous occasions, I've stated that the differences between industrial farming and organic farming, using time-tested all-natural methods, are so vast that the foods produced by the former cannot be equated to the foods produced by the latter. Use of genetically engineered plants only deepens the many problems associated with conventional, chemical-heavy farming. The environmental effects are also 180 degrees opposed, as industrial farming contributes to every form of environmental devastation, while organic farming methods restore the environment and invigorate and support the ecosystem—of which humans are an integral part, I might add.

Many equate modern techniques with "progress," when in fact most of our technological advancements are now threatening to destroy us right along with the planet as a whole... Think about this: nearly one BILLION pounds of Roundup is used each year for conventional crop production. Knowing what we now know about the toxicity of glyphosate (as well as glyphosate-based formulations that can be even more toxic than glyphosate alone), it's quite clear we're well on our way toward disaster.

Genetically engineered (GE) crops are typically the most heavily sprayed, as so-called Roundup Ready crops are designed to withstand otherwise lethal doses of this chemical. The contamination issue is yet another valid reason for avoiding conventionally-grown foods in general, and genetically engineered (GE) foods in particular. And since genetically engineered foods tend to contain far higher levels of contamination, it's also another reason for labeling foods that contain GE ingredients.