Environmentalists seek limits on glyphosate use

Environmentalists seek limits on glyphosate use

Activists say popular herbicide glyphosate is hurting monarch butterfly populations

In February 2014, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency to force a review by EPA of the impact of glyphosate on the North American monarch butterfly.

NRDC claims "In light of significant ongoing harm to monarchs, urgent review of glyphosate is needed." NRDC has now filed a federal court case in New York City to enforce its request.

A monarch butterfly collects nectar from a flower. Butterflies are one of nature’s many pollinators for flowers and crops and are crucial in production for fruits and vegetables. USDA photo by Charles Bryson.

Farmers use glyphosate. It is used on more than 100 food crops. The product is also used on residential, industrial, forestry, greenhouse, ornamental, and aquatic sites. The NRDC states EPA first registered glyphosate in 1974, and it was re-registered in 1993 because of glyphosate-resistant crops substantially increased the herbicide's use.

Related: Endangered species status review ordered for monarch butterfly

Glyphosate has been so popular that as of 2009, according to the petition, 261 million acres were being treated with the product.

The use of the product has encouraged conservation tillage to such an extent that soil erosion from water on U.S. cropland decreased 43% between1982-2007.  As we all know glyphosate is the primary active ingredient in Roundup branded herbicides. Roundup was introduced in 1974.

NRDC claims glyphosate "…has adversely affected the North American monarch butterfly, an iconic species that migrates through the United States as part of its annual life cycle."  Because the monarch butterfly population travels throughout the Midwest and overwinters in Mexico, it depends on milkweed to survive. NRDC says glyphosate has contributed to the monarch's decline because glyphosate kills milkweed. NRDC also claims glyphosate "…has contributed to significant habitat loss along monarch migratory paths." It claimed that in 1997 there were approximately 1 billion monarchs which traveled between the U.S. and Mexico and in 2013 "…only about 35 million butterflies reached their winter refuge.'

Migration in danger
Scientists have warned that the annual monarch migration may be in danger of effectively vanishing. All of this, according to the petition, follows the reregistration of glyphosate in 1993. By 2011, NRDC claims 94% of all soybean crops and 72% of all corn crops were glyphosate-resistant. It says the expanded use of glyphosate by farmers has caused a sharp decrease in the monarch population levels.

The petition states, "Members of this plant family [milkweed] constitute the sole food source for the monarch larvae."

In its 2014 petition, the environmental group requested EPA to restrict or prohibit the use of glyphosate along roads, power lines, and rights of way; and for EPA to require creation of milkweed-friendly habitat zones; and to protect monarchs from further harm when approving or reapproving herbicide uses. EPA did not act on NRDC's request.

Related: Ag participates in Midwest monarch conservation meeting

On February 27, 2015, NRDC sued EPA in a U.S. District Court in New York claiming that EPA had failed to respond to NRDC's urgent petition to limit the use of glyphosate "…that's been destroying monarch habitat."

NRDC's press release is interesting. It claims that EPA must act quickly because the monarch population is dangerously small. It states "The population could be wiped out by a severe weather event. In 2002, a major snow storm in Mexico killed more than 80 million (out of approximately 100 million) monarchs wintering in Mexico, a number greater than the total population." (Apparently there are other acts of nature which are harmful to the monarch.)

Monsanto has addressed the monarch population issues. It states "Many scientists studying monarchs think a number of factors are contributing to the decline, including logging, weather and loss of habitat. The declining availability of milkweed plants for butterfly habitat is one contributing factor."  Monsanto, in its publication, states it is working with universities and government agencies to help restore monarch habitats.

The NRDC lawsuit is asking a U.S. District Court Judge  to force EPA to undertake a Special Review of the herbicide and to complete that review within 6 months. NRDC also wants its costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. The court case has been put on hold temporarily because EPA is currently undertaking a routine regulatory review of glyphosate.  Stay tuned.

Continued reading: Green groups worried USDA scientists aren't offered enough protection
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