New Report Shows Monsanto A Major Culprit in Record Decline of Monarch Butterflies
By Larissa Walker
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, again, but the 2013-2014 overwintering population numbers for Monarch butterflies in Mexico were just released yesterday, confirming our bleak predictions from a few months ago: the situation is worsening. Last year’s overwintering numbers were an all-time low, with monarchs occupying 1.19 hectares. The area occupied by monarchs this year is a frightening 0.67 hectares—a 44 percent decline in just the past year.
So what does that number actually mean for the population size of monarchs? An average estimate of about 50 million butterflies per hectare would mean there are roughly 33.5 million monarchs—a huge drop from just one year ago. Another way to visualize this downward spiral is to look at the trend of declining overwintering numbers in Mexico throughout the past two decades, as the graph shows above.
These data points and trends, compiled by World Wildlife Fund Mexico, clearly illustrate North American Monarch butterfly populations are in serious trouble, and it’s only going to continue to get worse unless we make some big changes to our agricultural system.
While there are a handful of factors that affect monarch populations from year to year, such as climate extremes and illegal logging in Mexico, the loss of milkweed plants at the expense of recent changes in industrial agriculture now poses the greatest threat to monarchs. The use of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling product, Roundup) on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans has absolutely decimated milkweed plants in North America.
Milkweed used to grow in abundance in Midwestern crop fields of North America, but now that the almost all corn and soybean varieties are engineered to withstand heavy applications of glyphosate, milkweed has little chance of survival in these vital monarch breeding grounds. For example, researchers now estimate that the number of milkweeds in Iowa corn and soybean fields has decreased by 98.7 percent between 1999 and 2012.
So where do we go from here? Omar Vidal, the director general of WWF Mexico, which reports the monarch overwintering numbers, really hit the nail on the head at this morning’s press conference when he said it’s time for the U.S. to do its part to protect this struggling species. In fact, he exclaimed that “Mexico must ‘energetically demand’ that the U.S. reform its agricultural policy with an eye toward preserving milkweed."
Precisely. More milkweed equals more monarch habitat; and gaining more milkweed will require less of Monsanto’s Roundup sprayed on our fields. These critical plants are the sole breeding grounds for Monarch butterflies and the only source of food for their larvae. We enthusiastically agree with Vidal—it is prime time for the U.S. to take action and protect Monarch butterflies. We can’t sit back and watch their population numbers consistently drop to new all-time lows.
Over the coming months, Center for Food Safety will be working with Members of Congress to introduce legislation to preserve and restore milkweed and protect the iconic Monarch butterflies they nurture, and we’ll also be considering legal actions to ensure our government is doing everything it should be to safeguard Monarchs. Additionally, we are putting direct pressure on President Obama and federal agencies to make the changes needed to protect our Monarchs.
We face an historic choice as Americans: Monsanto or Monarchs. If we keep planting their pesticide-promoting crops at the rate we have been, our Monarchs will vanish. We need to make it clear to federal decision-makers that if we want to save Monarch butterflies in North America, we must prevent their critical habitat from being destroyed by Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GE crops, and the unsustainable, pesticide-intensive industrial agriculture system promoted by such crops. You can help by signing our petition to the EPA, USDA and President Obama to tell them that it’s time to stop approving pesticide-promoting crops.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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