Monarch butterflies are disappearing at an alarming rate and some experts are blaming GM crops for destroying their natural habitats – says Dr Helen Wallace
A report published this week reveals that the stunning annual migration of millions of Monarch butterflies between Mexico and the United States is in danger of disappearing, after numbers dropped to their lowest level since record keeping started in 1993. The report blames a variety of factors including illegal logging in Mexico and the destruction of the butterflies’ milkweed habitat by genetically modified crops in the US. The blanket spraying of GM crops with the weedkiller glyphosate – brandname RoundUp – has allegedly wiped out large areas of milkweed, where the butterflies feed and lay their eggs.
The research confirms earlier scientific papers, which show the massive loss of milkweed habitat allegedly caused by growing GM herbicide-tolerant crops. These GM crops including Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready GM soya are imported to Europe in large quantities for use in animal feed. Milk, meat and eggs from animals fed on GM crops are not labelled for consumers, so people are dependent on retailers’ decisions on requirements for suppliers. This means that only supermarkets can take action to stop the use of GM animal feed and save the Monarch butterfly.
In the United Kingdom, the major supermarkets – except Waitrose – have backtracked from commitments to phase out the use of GM animal feed in the last few years. Sainsbury maintains only one GM-free fed product line, while other supermarkets such as Tesco and Morrisons claim they cannot source GM-free feed. British retailers such as LIDL, which sources non-GM soy in Germany, appear to be reluctant to sign long-term contracts to secure non-GM supplies in the UK. And some importers appear reluctant to deliver identity-preserved GM-free soya to the market. Restricted availability of non-GM feed supplies suits US government interests in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations because a very high percentage of US soya is GM.
In the European Union, Sweden and Austria do not use GM feed at all and other countries such as France, Germany and Luxembourg have voluntary labelling schemes that allow consumers to buy GM-free-fed meat and dairy products. Some Italian regional labels include non-GM requirements and the biggest German dairy does not use GM feed. Norway and Switzerland have not approved any GM products for use in food or feed. In 2012, Turkey announced that GM-fed meat, milk and dairy products would be labelled. China also imports large quantities of non-GM soya. In May 2013, major European retailers from five countries – including Germany’s REWE Group, EDEKA and LIDL – released the Brussels Soy Declaration in which they have pledged support for the non-GMO soy production system of Brazil. The German government supports a proposal to revise European legislation to require mandatory labelling of GM-fed meat and dairy products.
This week’s revelations follows concerns that the next generation of GM crops will be resistant to even more toxic weedkillers, such as 2,4-D – one of the ingredients of Agent Orange. These crops are close to approval in the US, Argentina and Brazil where farmers are struggling with an explosion of superweeds that are resistant to RoundUp. Now 2,4-D resistant maize and soya is likely to be imported to Europe in large quantities in future unless supermarkets take a stand against its use.
We are calling on British retailers to stop using GM animal feed to save the Monarch butterfly and prevent further environmental damage from the next-generation of herbicide-resistant GM crops. At the very least, GM-free-fed meat, milk and eggs should be labelled so consumers have a choice.
Dr Helen Wallace is director of the GeneWatch UK campaign group