WASHINGTON (February 24, 2014)--Skyrocketing use of the weed-killer glyphosate, first marketed as “Roundup,” is devastating monarch butterfly populations, and new safeguards should be put in place immediately to save the iconic species from further decline, the Natural Resources Defense Council said today.
In a petition filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, NRDC said current uses of glyphosate are causing “significant ongoing harm” to monarchs, the unique orange-and-black butterfly species that migrates through the United States, Canada and Mexico as part of its annual life-cycle. Recent figures show the monarch numbers in their Mexican wintering ground have plunged to just 10 percent of their recent annual average, and “the pervasive use of glyphosate has contributed to the monarch’s decline,” the petition said.
“These beautiful and unique creatures have long fascinated biologists and school children alike,” said Sylvia Fallon, an NRDC senior scientist. “Their precipitous loss signals a warning about the unintended consequences of our industrial agricultural practices. We need to act quickly to ensure that future generations will also be able to experience the wonder of the monarch’s migration.”
The massive use of glyphosate, a broad spectrum weed-killer, has led to large-scale suppression of milkweed, a native plant that is the sole source of food for monarch butterfly larvae. While many herbicides can kill milkweed, it is the current application of glyphosate that has “contributed to significant habitat loss along monarch migratory paths,” the petition says. Because each monarch lives only a few weeks in the summer, it takes several generations of butterflies to make the round-trip from Mexico to Canada and back.
The petition asks the EPA to conduct an urgent review of the rules for glyphosate and consider the cumulative impact on butterflies from glyphosate and other weed-killers. Since the glyphosate rules were last updated in 1993, its use has soared tenfold to 182 million pounds a year, following the introduction and rapid spread of “Roundup Ready” corn and soybeans. Developed by Roundup’s creator, ag-biotech giant Monsanto, these crops are genetically modified to resist the weed-killer. Transgenic soybeans and corn now dominate Midwest farms and glyphosate has become the most widely used herbicide in the United States. New herbicide-tolerant crops are in the pipeline, raising new threats to monarch habitat.
Although EPA is scheduled to complete a new review of glyphosate rules next year, “given the rapid decline in monarch numbers, EPA should take immediate steps to review and restrict glyphosate’s uses,” the petition says. Among the new safeguards it says EPA should consider:
preventing use of glyphosate and other weed-killers along highways and power-line rights of way where milkweed, a relatively short plant, could grow freely without interfering with maintenance or emergency crews.
requiring farmers to establish herbicide-free safety zones in or around their fields, and creation of other milkweed-friendly habitat.
guarding against the potential for dramatic increases in herbicide use as a result of new herbicide-resistant crops, such as glyphosate-resistant wheat.
assessing the uses of glyphosate on gardens, landscaping and other cosmetic purposes for their impacts on monarchs.
The petition cautions EPA to ensure that any new safeguards on glyphosate don’t lead simply to more use of other weed-killers that would be equally bad for monarchs and may pose health risks.
NRDC urged EPA to begin reviewing the rules within 30 days and finish within six months.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at