A new lawsuit claims the prevalence of crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate herbicides is responsible for the decline of monarch butterflies.
The battle over monarch butterflies has been brewing since 2014, when several environmental groups petitioned federal wildlife regulators to list the species as threatened or endangered.
Later that year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found there’s substantial scientific evidence that such a listing may be warranted, but the agency has not arrived at a final conclusion within 12 months as required by the Endangered Species Act.
Two of the groups that filed the petition — the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity — have now asked a federal judge to order the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a decision within a reasonable timeframe.
The plaintiffs argue that widespread spraying of glyphosate has eliminated much of the monarch’s milkweed habitat, contributing to a 90 percent population decline since the 1990s.
While farmers sprayed for milkweed prior to the commercialization of genetically engineered crops, environmentalists say that glyphosate is more effective at killing the plant’s roots, preventing it from regenerating.
Biotech and pesticide industry supporters fear the emphasis on monarch butterflies signals that opponents of genetic engineering hope to use the Endangered Species Act as a weapon against such crops.
One possibility suggested by environmentalists is requiring farmers to plant reserves of crops that aren’t resistant to glyphosate, where milkweed could recover and provide habitat for monarchs.