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Saving the Monarch

The eastern population of Monarch butterflies are known for their extraordinary migration north from Mexico, through the mid-west United States and on into Canada. The one way trip is over 4800 miles -- the longest insect migration on Earth. They’ve traversed this route for thousands of years, but within the last 20 years, their populations have mysteriously plummeted 90%. Fewer than 50 million butterflies made it to Mexico last winter – a fraction of the population once estimated at 1 billion. So the Obama administration recently launched an initiative to halt the death spiral of the Monarch butterfly. But how effective will it be?

The plan is to spend $2 million to grow milkweed and other butterfly-friendly plants along the main migration routes from Minnesota to Mexico. The goal is to restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat through the spring breeding grounds of Texas and Oklahoma and summer breeding areas in the Corn Belt. And there’s the rub. While reintroducing milkweed is a step in the right direction, a closer look at the migratory map juxtapositioned to a map showing pesticide use and the real problem becomes evident.

The eastern population of monarch butterflies migrate both north and south annually. No individual makes the entire round trip. Female monarchs lay eggs for the next generation during the northward migration. They survive the trek by ingesting a liquid diet drawn from the natural juices of fruit, plants and flowers. That includes the nectar which Monarchs forage as they travel over the GMO corridors of the transgenic corn and soya belt.

In the name of profit and efficiency, the US farming and agri-industry, essentially eliminate productive native biodiversity from farmland through the excessive use of glyphosate and other pesticides. Not only does this practice eradicate the milkweed that is essential to Monarch survival, but it poisons the air, pollutes the water and destroys soil viability all of which affect a myriad of species including honeybees and humans.

So while building corridors of milkweed is a nice ‘press’ piece, one which puts politicians in the ‘feel good’ spot light, the real culprit is a much bigger fix. Calling a halt on GMO production until we can independently assess the perceived threat will not only help the Monarch, but it will go a long way to help discover what is happening to the public’s health and planetary wellbeing. However, political opportunism being what it is, the likelihood of tackling the actual root of this problem is about as remote as a Monarch butterfly landing on a melting iceberg. And while we're on the topic of government spending, why is the taxpayer on the hook for $2 million when the folks behind transgenic agriculture made the mess?