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Monarch on milkweed. (Photo: Kathy Vitulano/flickr/cc)

Federal Campaign to Save Monarch Fails to Address Root Cause of Decline

Without addressing herbicide-resistant GMO crops, 'monarch populations will not rebound to resilient, healthy levels,' says pollinator expert

Deirdre Fulton

A $3.2 million campaign to save the imperiled monarch butterfly, announced Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), fails to address the root cause of its decline and therefore does not go far enough to save the iconic species, says the Center for Food Safety.

The Center, which last week released a report detailing the significant impact recent agricultural practices—specifically Monsanto's Roundup Ready crop system—have had on monarch habitat, has called for the pollinator to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The butterfly's decline has been linked to the proliferation of glyphosate, a primary ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and one of the very few herbicides that kills milkweed. The monarch exclusively lays its eggs on plants in the milkweed family. 

While glyphosate was little used two decades ago, it has become by far the most heavily used herbicide in the U.S. thanks to glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready corn and soybean crops, engineered by Monsanto. According to the Center for Food Safety, corn and soybean fields in the Corn Belt have lost 99 percent of their milkweed since 1999.

Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday it would provide $2 million in immediate funding for on-the-ground conservation projects, such as awareness campaigns and milkweed seed-planting efforts, as well as an additional $1.2 million to a new 'Monarch Conservation Fund,' the first dedicated source of funding for projects working to conserve the species. 

"From California to the Corn Belt, the Service will also fund numerous conservation projects totaling $2 million this year to restore and enhance more than 200,000 acres of habitat for monarchs while also supporting over 750 schoolyard habitats and pollinator gardens," according to a press release. "Many of the projects will focus on the I-35 corridor from Texas to Minnesota, areas that provide important spring and summer breeding habitats in the eastern population’s central flyway."

A Monsanto representative applauded the announcement in a statement to the Huffington Post, saying "[f]arming and habitat for Monarchs can co-exist."

Though FWS acknowledged that the monarch's decline is the "result of numerous threats, particularly loss of habitat due to agricultural practices, development and cropland conversion" and that "agriculture also plays a key role in the monarch’s survival," there were no indications that the funds announced Monday would put an end to the use of herbicide-resistant genetically modified crops helping drive the decline.

"While funding for efforts to restore milkweed habitat are essential to the monarch butterfly's survival, without addressing the eradication of milkweed within agricultural fields, monarch populations will not rebound to resilient, healthy levels," said Larissa Walker, pollinator campaign director at Center for Food Safety.

"Research has shown that monarch butterflies lay up to four times more eggs on milkweed within agricultural fields, and unfortunately, this vital breeding habitat has been destroyed by herbicides used in conjunction with genetically engineered crops," she continued, adding that "listing monarch butterflies as threatened under the Endangered Species Act is essential to their survival."

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