Even worse: it’s happening quickly.
One we need desperately to pollinate our food, the other our hearts need for their elegance and splendor.
When we were young the birds and the bees were symbols of fertility. Majestic butterflies captured our imaginations, representing transformation and hope.
But they have always been more than just metaphors. And now they are harbingers of a place and system out of balance.
Honeybees in Peril
Much has been written in the media about their decline worldwide due to a mysterious sounding disease called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Last year beekeepers reported a 40% die-off among their hives in the US.
The acronym CCD explains what’s happening but not why.
The full story is honeybee populations are declining because of climate change, pests, and pesticide exposure.
One specific culprit is a class of pesticide known as neonicotinoids. These insidious pesticides are known to weaken, disorient and kill honeybees. The Guardian sums up many of the issues related to neonicotinoids and the demise of bees.
Last year millions of Greenpeace supporters and concerned citizens spoke up for the bees in Europe. The European Union took quick action and suspended the use of neonicotinoids pesticides for two years so further studies could be done.
In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has refused to ban these pesticides. In fact, they recently approved a new pesticide called sulfoxaflor,( from Dow Chemical) which their own research showed was “highly toxic” to bees. Neonicotinoid pesticides can be found on many home garden plants and in lawn and garden pesticides sold at stores with no warning to consumers.
Bees pollinate about 2/3 of our world food production and we are adding to their demise in our gardens and our food production systems.
Butterflies in Jeopardy
The news about butterflies hasn’t been as prolific but is equally profound. A Washington Post article highlights the numbers in Mexico where Monarchs have spent their winter migration for thousands of years. The article notes “In the 20 years since environmentalists began keeping detailed records of the monarch’s winter habitats, the butterflies have covered as much as 45 acres of forest in the Mexican state of Michoacán… the most recent winter count showed how far the migrating monarch population has fallen: As of December, they blanketed just 1.6 acres of forest, the smallest area yet.”
The demise of the Monarch is again complex and includes climate change and loss of habitat. The biggest culprit identified, once again, is industrial chemical agricultural practices. In the United States and Canada, herbicides have destroyed the milkweed plants where they lay their eggs. The use of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s best-selling product, Roundup) on genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans has decimated milkweed plants in North America. I remember abundant Milkweed plants flourishing in Iowa as a girl. But now that almost all the corn and soybean varieties are engineered to withstand heavy applications of glyphosate the milkweed has little chance of survival. Researchers tell us that the number of milkweeds in Iowa corn and soybean fields has decreased by 98.7% between 1999 and 2012. Do we choose Monsanto or Monarchs?
Can these beauties be saved from the beast of Industrial Agriculture?
The Center for Food Safety thinks there is plenty to be done! You can help by signing their petition to the EPA, USDA and President Obama. Tell your elected officials it’s time to stop approving pesticide-promoting crops. The Center for Food Safety will be working with Members of Congress to introduce legislation to preserve and restore milkweed and protect the iconic Monarchs. You can read more in their blog: “New report shows record decline in Monarch Butterflies: Monsanto a major culprit”
Last year the Center for Food Safety filed a legal brief on behalf of numerous environmental, consumer and sustainable agriculture organizations in support of a lawsuit by the nation’s major beekeeping associations against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Greenpeace has a petition you can sign that demands the EPA ban the toxic new pesticide sulfoxaflor brought to us by Dow Chemical.
Pesticide Action Network has some enlightening information on pollinator decline. Their article describes the problem in depth and exposes the real culprit, which is industry funded research that often influences the decisions of the EPA. The UNFI Foundation just recently made a grant to PAN to support science, education and sustainable farming practices that protect bees.
Bees and butterflies are key indicators that something has gone deeply awry in our agricultural system. It is likely that their decline points to broader environmental degradation that will produce a ripple effect of environmental problems. The beast of chemical agricultural is threatening more than these beauties. It threatens the very food, water and soil we depend on. Decisive action is needed if we are to reverse these trends. How will you save the beauty from the beast?