I was devastated to learn last week that the number of monarch butterflies who made it to their winter stomping grounds in Mexico plunged 59% from 2012 to 2011, continuing a downward trend of several years. In New York where I live, the parade of monarchs passing through each spring and fall is our Great Migration — not that the opportunity for wildlife viewing is the important thing here, but it does help to make people notice and care.
Among the chief causes for the monarch decline is the shrinking supply of milkweed — essential to monarch larvae, which hatch on the plants and then feed on them. In the butterfly stage, monarchs feed on a variety of plants, but for larvae, only milkweed will do.
Why is milkweed in short supply? An increase in farmland in the American Midwest devoted to genetically engineered (GE) crops, aka genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs.
These GMOs are engineered to resist herbicides so farmers can apply high doses of chemicals to the fields. The result is a decrease in milkweed — and therefore fewer places for monarch butterflies to lay their eggs. Fewer eggs means fewer butterflies.
If this makes you want to avoid GE foods, good luck trying to identify them. More than 60 countries require GE labeling, but not the United States.
The solution? Buy organic food, which can neither be grown with chemicals, be genetically engineered nor contain genetically engineered ingredients. With this simple step, you can support a safe environment for milkweed, monarchs and all living things.
You can also help by demanding GMO labeling. Go to JustLabelIt.org to tell the FDA and Congress that you have a right to know if GMOs are in your food.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico (attribution)