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Kale Is a Surprise on 2019’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ List

While it may still be considered a super food, kale took third place on this year’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. Once again, strawberries and spinach took first and second, as they did on last year’s list.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization focused on human health and the environment, has produced the report annually since 2004.

This year, more than 92% of kale samples tested had two or more pesticide residues detected, and a single sample could have up to 18 different residues, EWG found. The most frequently detected pesticide, found on about 60% of the kale samples, was Dacthal, also called DCPA. It has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a possible human carcinogen, based on animal studies.

The EWG researchers analyzed test data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the report, and kale had not been tested in more than 10 years, says Nneka Leiba, MPH, director of healthy living science at EWG and a co-author of the report. “The percent of [kale] samples with residue increased from 76% to 98%,” she says, citing the difference between the testing in 2007 and in 2017, the data used for this year’s report. “The average number of residues on a single sample increased from two to more than five.”

Leiba stresses that the report should not discourage people from eating fruits and vegetables, although she does suggest people choose organic produce when possible as even washing produce does not remove all pesticides.

Other experts who viewed the report say the amount of pesticides found is not high enough to be a health hazard.

2019’s Dirty Dozen

After adding kale, this year’s list repeats all the entries on last year’s list except for sweet bell peppers, in 12th place last year. This year’s Dirty Dozen:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes
Dirty_12_2019

Dirty Dozen Plus

The researchers also call out hot peppers, which they say don’t meet their traditional ranking criteria but ”were found to be contaminated with insecticides toxic to the human nervous system.” They found insecticides that are banned on some crops but still allowed for use on hot peppers: acephate, chlorpyrifos, and oxamyl. The EWG recommends buying organic hot peppers or cooking them, as the heat decreases pesticide levels.

Clean 15 List for 2019

The researchers also produce a Clean 15 list — produce least likely to have pesticide residue. Much of this year’s list also repeats last year’s. For 2019, mushrooms made the list, while mangoes dropped off. Overall, more than 70% of the fruit and vegetable samples on the Clean 15 list had no pesticide residues, the researchers found. If they did have residues, only 6% had two or more pesticide types.
  1. Avocados (less than 1% of samples showed detectable levels of pesticides)
  2. Sweet corn (less than 1% of samples showed detectable levels)
  3. Pineapples
  4. Frozen sweet peas
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupes
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew melons
Clean_15_2019





Study Methods, Health Concerns

For the report, researchers ranked pesticide contamination of 47 fruits and vegetables based on an analysis of more than 40,000 samples taken by the USDA and FDA.  The researchers looked at the percent tested with detectable pesticides, the percent with two or more, average number on a single sample, average amount of pesticides found, maximum number found on a single sample, and total found on the crop.
EWG researchers point to the value of a diet low in pesticide residues, citing research such as a recent report finding that people with the highest frequency of organic food consumption had a 25% lower risk of cancers of various types than those who had the lowest intake. Another study found a link between eating foods high in pesticide residues and fertility issues.
A Toxicologist Weighs In
Carl Winter, PhD, a food toxicologist at the University of California Davis, is familiar with the EWG reports. He calls the rankings “arbitrary and of dubious value for consumers.”
When considering the risk of pesticides in food, he says, the actual amount of pesticide detected, the amount of that food eaten by a person, and the toxicity of the pesticide must all be evaluated, and he says the EWG research does not do this.
A Dietitian’s Viewpoint

“As a registered dietitian, the concept of ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ foods is concerning, unless food is truly dirty,” says Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian and director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.

She reviewed the report. “The USDA, FDA, and EPA all work to develop guidelines for safe food, setting limits of additives, preservatives, and pesticides at levels that are significantly below levels that might be a concern,” she says. She cautions consumers not to fear certain produce.
The amount of pesticides used is small, she says, ”and the quantity of food we would need to eat for any potential health risk exceeds what people do [eat].”

“If you are more comfortable and can afford to, buy organic, but know it can have organic pesticide residue,” Diekman says.

Growers’ Views
Teresa Thorne is executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, an industry group representing farmers who grow both organic and conventional produce. She fears that the report will create ”unfounded and unnecessary fears.” She notes that few Americans eat enough fruits and vegetable daily as is.
The Alliance maintains a pesticide calculator on its companion site, www.safefruitsandveggies.com. According to its calculations, a child could eat 7,446 servings of kale in one day without ill effect, even if it had the highest pesticide residue recorded by the USDA.
EWG Responds

While the levels on individual produce may seem low, ”the overall burden is high,” Leiba says, adding that people are also eating other foods with chemicals and pesticides. “We are talking about a synergistic effect.”

Editor’s note: Connie Diekman is on the Bayer LEAD Network, Leaders Engaged in Advancing Dialogue.
WebMD Article Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD
March 20, 2019
Sources:
Libby Mills, RDN, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Carl Winter, PhD, extension food toxicologist; vice chair, food science and technology, University of California, Davis.United States Department of Agriculture: “Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010.”United States Department of Agriculture: “Organic Production and Handling Standards.”Trewavas, A. Crop Protection, September 2004.Environmental Protection Agency: “Pesticides and Food.”United States Department of Agriculture: “Organic Labeling Standards,” “Organic Agriculture,” “Organic Market Overview,” “Labeling Organic Product.”Environmental Working Group: “EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” “FDA Bans Three Toxic Chemicals.”Winter, C. Journal of Toxicology, May 2011.North Carolina State University: “Strawberry Disease and Their Control.”The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station: “Removal of Trace Residues from Produce.”Krol, W. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, October 2000.National Potato Commission: “US Per Capita Utilization of Potatoes.”Srednicka-Tober, D. British Journal of Nutrition, March 2016.American Cancer Society: “Teflon and PFOA.”Crop Protection: “A critical assessment of organic farming-and-food assertions with particular respect to the UK and the potential benefits of no-till agriculture.”Journal of Agromedicine: “Pesticide/Environmental Exposures and Parkinson’s Disease in East Texas.”PLOS: “Choosing Organic Pesticides over Synthetic Pesticides May Not Effectively Mitigate Environmental Risk in Soybeans”Colorado State University: “Pesticides: Natural Isn’t Always Best.”British Journal of Nutrition: “Composition differences between organic and conventional meet; A systematic literature review and meta-analysis.”PBS: “USA to propose standard for organic seafood raised in U.S.”Food Standards Agency: “Pesticides.”Environmental Working Group’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, March 20, 2019.Nneka Leiba, MPH, director of healthy living science, Environmental Working Group.Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, director of university nutrition, Washington University in St. Louis; former president, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Carl Winter, PhD, food toxicologist, University of California, Davis.Teresa Thorne, executive director, Alliance for Food and Farming.JAMA Internal Medicine, December 2018.
www.webmd.com 

We’re Already Seeing The Health Effects Of Pesticides – Just Not Where You’d Expect

The risk of pesticides to the health of consumers is disputed but there is another group of people already seeing severe impacts.
When you bite into a strawberry or tuck into some spinach or kale you may be congratulating yourself on your healthy food choice. Most people won’t even think about the pesticides they’re likely ingesting.
A list published last week noted that almost all of the samples of strawberries from the most recent tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture contained residues of at least one pesticide, even after washing. Nearly 60 percent of the sampled kale — frequently championed as a nutritious health food — had pesticide residues.
In all, around 70 percent of produce sold in the U.S. has pesticide residues, according to the annual “Dirty Dozen” report by nonprofit group The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which lists the foods with the highest and lowest levels of pesticide residues. It says we may be exposed to worrying amounts of pesticides.

“Studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables free of pesticides benefits health, and this is especially important for pregnant women and children,” said Carla Burns, of the EWG.

This is one of a number of recent studies about the pesticides we consume through our fresh food, which are fueling a debate about whether consumers should be worried and how they can reduce exposure.
When it comes to the impact of pesticides on consumer health, the science is far from clear.
Government health experts say we do not need to worry as the levels of pesticide exposure from food are below the levels that could pose a risk to consumers’ health. Carl K. Winter, a food toxicologist at U.C. Davis, specifically analyzed the EWG list in a 2011 study and concluded that the quantities of pesticides mean that risks to consumers were negligible and that moving to organic versions — as the EWG suggests — was unlikely to bring people any measurable health benefits.
Organic produce is farmed to strict federal standards but it is not necessarily pesticide-free — the food just tends to be free from any synthetic pesticides. Also, for many people, buying organic may be prohibitively expensive. A Consumer Reports study found on average organic food was 47 percent more expensive than conventional produce.
The EWG acknowledges that a bigger risk than pesticides, as far as consumers are concerned, is not having enough fruit and vegetables in your diet, full-stop. The same point was echoed by public health researchers.

“It’s not healthy for people to be scared of their food,” said Asa Bradman, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “There are a few articles that hint at the benefits of organic versus conventional, but at this point, the information is only limited and the benefits of eating a healthy diet and a good selection of fruit and vegetables means I would not want to discourage consumption of those foods by people.”

As science continues to seek a clearer picture on pesticides and consumer health, one thing that does seem clear is that there’s a swath of people who are much more clearly affected but tend to get ignored: The farmworkers who bring the food to our plates.

“My personal view is that the risk to consumers is low compared to the potential risk to agricultural workers,” said Bradman.

Thousands of farmworkers experience the effects of acute pesticide poisoning including headaches, nausea, shortness of breath or seizures, according to the nonprofit Farmworker Justice. Long-term exposure can lead to chronic health problems, such as infertility, neurological disorders and cancer, says the NGO, which has been documenting pesticide poisoning among workers.
spraying pesticides
One of the starkest examples came from Caldwell in Idaho. A crew of 29 farmworkers began weeding a field of onions and noticed that their clothes were getting wet, but they just assumed it was dew. What they didn’t realize — because no warning signs had been placed on the field — was that a contractor had applied three pesticides to the field during the night without notifying the farm owner.
By lunchtime, some of the workers were vomiting and had headaches and diarrhea. Twenty-two of them were hospitalized, with two in need of critical care. The farm was later fined for its failure to train employees properly and to provide proper safety information on the farm.
These incidents are sadly not uncommon, said Farmworker Justice, yet largely go unreported by national media, which focuses on the more disputed risk of pesticides to consumers.
Not only are farmworkers subjected to these risks, but their families — who live in nearby communities and attend schools neighboring the fields — face similar dangers. Pesticides can be brought into the home on clothing or through the air from neighboring farmland.
The effects are especially worrying in children working with or in close proximity to pesticides, who are particularly vulnerable, according to research. Pesticide exposure has been linked to neurological and behavioral problems in children. A 2010 study, for example, that looked specifically at children living in farming regions of California found a link between pesticide exposure and attention problems.
Farmworkers Justice has called for better and compulsory pesticide training for farmworkers, who are mostly low-income immigrants with limited formal education. It says regulators should ensure Spanish translations of pesticide labels (88 percent of farmworkers are Hispanic), buffer zones around schools and residential areas to protect families being exposed to pesticides through aerial drift, and funding to research the health effects of pesticide exposure.
Virginia Ruiz, from Farmworkers Justice, said little progress has been made on any of these requests. Although there are rules in California for small buffer zones around schools during certain hours of the day, nothing has changed at a national level. There have also been no new funding initiatives to research the health effects of pesticide exposure on people working or living near where they are used, she said.

Alex Chensheng, a professor of environmental exposure at Harvard, blames a strong farming lobby for blocking reform. It is very tough to make any significant policy progress on pesticides, he said, “If we can’t eliminate the conflict of interest, no true progress will be made.”

As well as stricter regulation and better safety measures, there is a safer solution for reducing pesticide risks to both farmworkers and consumers, say campaigners. And that solution is to encourage more farmers to shift away from using pesticides.
There are more than 14,000 certified organic farms in the U.S, according to the most recently available data, with more than 2,500 of them in California. Although organic farms still only make up 1 percent of America’s farmland acres.

“We have nominal programs to support farmers converting to organic and that should be expanded, and we should be prioritizing research on organic farming,” said Kendra Klein, a scientific advisor for environmental organization Friends of the Earth.  She doesn’t suggest all farmers need to convert to organic, but rather that the U.S. should look to move away from a pesticide-intensive system. ″We need to change the system so none of us is exposed,” she said.

HuffPost’s “This New World” series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com
By Tom Levitt, HuffPost US      03/29/2019


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts all contain a little bit of cyanide. Eating them primes your liver to deal better with other poisons.

  • Only 6 percent of doctors today are happy with their jobs.

  • If everyone in the world washed their hands properly, we could save 1 million lives a year.

 

  • Smelling green apples and bananas can help you lose weight.

  • Sleep makes you more creative and makes your memories stronger.

  • Coffee can lower your risk of tooth decay.

Happy Friday!

 source:   factualfacts.com   https://twitter.com/Fact   @Fact


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Fun Fact Friday

Winnie-The-Pooh characters all represent some type of mental disorder
(Eeyore – Depression, Pooh – Addiction, Tigger – ADHD, Owl – OCD)
 
You can “rewire” your brain to be happy
by simply recalling 3 things you’re grateful for every day for 21 days
 
The key to confidence is walking into a room and assuming everyone likes you
Broccoli, cabbage, and brussel sprouts all contain a little bit of cyanide
Eating them primes your liver to deal better with other poisons
 
broccoli

 

A person generally hates you for 3 reasons: 
1) They want to be you. 2) They hate themselves. 3) They see you as a threat
 
The plural term for “nieces and nephews” is “niblings”
 
Apples are more efficient at waking you up in the morning than caffeine
Did you know your body is actually designed to get 
4 hours of sleep twice per day instead of 8 hours once?
Happy Friday  🙂
source:       factualfacts.com       https://twitter.com/Fact       @Fact


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The Safety of Compact Fluorescent Lamps

More and more Canadians are replacing regular incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient products, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). While CFLs are being promoted because they are energy-efficient, their use has also raised health concerns.

The federal government has adopted a national standard for lighting efficiency that will come into effect in 2014. Most traditional, incandescent bulbs currently available will not meet the required performance level. The objective is to ensure that only more efficient bulbs such as CFLs, enhanced halogens, and others that are expected in the near future, are used in Canada.

Fluorescent lights have been around for a long time, and CFLs are the latest variation on the traditional tube fluorescent light. CFLs fit into a standard light bulb socket. Like the old-style fluorescent lights, they use a different method to produce light, which makes them energy-efficient. They are low-pressure, mercury vapour lamps that produce invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. When the lamp is turned on, the mercury vaporizes inside the lamp and becomes ‘excited’ by the high voltage electricity. The UV then ‘excites’ the phosphor coating inside the lamp, which emits the light you see.

With more Canadians using CFLs, some have begun to question their safety, including the level of UV emissions, the electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) they create, and the presence of mercury in the lamps. In response to concerns, Health Canada has conducted UV radiation and EMF tests on a range of CFL bulbs, and submitted a final report outlining the results to Natural Resources Canada who commissioned the study.

What CFLs emit

Ultraviolet radiation

Canadians can be exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from a variety of natural and artificial sources, including the sun, welding equipment, lasers, tanning equipment, and fluorescent lights. The incandescent lights that have been used by Canadians also emit UV radiation. UV can be beneficial: it can be used to kill germs and treat various skin conditions, and it is needed to form vitamin D in our bodies. At the same time, there are risks attached to all forms of radiation, and overexposure to UV has been linked to sunburns, premature skin aging, skin cancer, eye problems, and weakening of the immune system.

As noted above, fluorescent lights produce UV when the mercury vapour is ‘excited’ by the electrical current. However, the amount of UV produced is so small that it is not considered hazardous to your health. The results of the Health Canada study showed that, when either CFLs or regular light bulbs (incandescent) are used at a distance of 30 cm or more, UV emissions do not present a health risk to the general population. Health Canada recommends that people keep this minimum distance between themselves and any light source. When CFLs or regular light bulbs are used daily at 30 cm, exposure should be limited to no longer than 3 consecutive hours.

Although the amount of UV emitted by CFLs poses no problem for the average person, some people are extremely sensitive to UV and may be affected by the amount of UV produced by CFLs. Those who have Lupus or another auto-immune disease and certain skin conditions can be sensitive to the UV from CFLs, in the same way they would be sensitive to sunlight and other light bulbs that emit UV. If you believe you are suffering from symptoms related to UV, you should consult your health care provider.

Electric and magnetic fields

Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) surround all electrical equipment from appliances to power cords to outdoor power lines. You cannot see or feel them. An electric field forms whenever you plug a lamp or an appliance into an outlet, even if it is not turned on. The higher the voltage, the stronger the electric field.

A magnetic field forms when the current is flowing through the wire or appliance. The greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field. Electric and magnetic fields can occur separately or together. For example, when you plug in a lamp, it creates an electric field. When you turn the lamp on, the flow of current creates a magnetic field, in addition to the electric field.

Like other electric appliances found in the home, CFLs emit EMFs. Health Canada has made measurements of the EMFs at 20 centimetres from the lamps, and when compared to departmental and international science-based guidelines, the levels of emissions are well below the maximum levels of exposure. Health Canada does not consider the EMFs from CFLs to be a health risk. This conclusion is in line with current international scientific opinion.

What is in a CFL?

Mercury is the only existing element that produces the UV wavelengths needed to make CFLs work. While mercury is a highly toxic substance, only a very small amount is used in a CFL, about the amount to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. There is no risk to your health when the lamps are unbroken. Even when a CFL is broken, there is a very low risk to your health, unless you mishandle it or store it carelessly. Health Canada has developed clean-up procedures, which are found in the following section.

cfl

Health risks of CFLs

Sensitivity to CFLs

In the past, some people reported headaches or eye strain when using fluorescent lighting. Some could see a flicker in the lighting, caused by lower frequencies and magnetic ballasts. The newer CFLs use higher frequencies and electronic ballasts, which means the human eye cannot detect any change in the light frequency. There is also less of a ‘hum’ in the newer lights. The ‘hum’ in older lights may have caused headaches.

There have been individual reports of health effects such as headaches and depression from the use of CFLs. It may be possible that a small number of people are more sensitive to CFLs as noted above; the majority of people are not. Health Canada will continue to review the scientific evidence as it becomes available, and act if any potential risk is found.

Minimizing your risk

Although CFLs are considered safe to use, here are some steps you can take to further protect you and your family:

  • Always handle CFLs carefully when installing and removing them.
  • Check with your municipality to see if CFLs can be recycled in your area. Recycling them means that the small amount of mercury they contain will not end up in the environment.
  • If you have skin sensitivities to UV, or have Lupus or another auto-immune disease that makes you sensitive to UV, you can take these steps:
  • Buy CFLs that are marked low UV.
  • Buy CFLs that have a glass cover already added, which will help further filter out UV radiation.
  • Use additional glass or plastic materials in your lighting fixtures to act as UV filters.
  • Increase the distance you are from the CFL, as this will reduce the level of UV exposure.
  • If you break a CFL, follow these directions for clean-up:

Leave the room

  • Remove people and pets from the room and keep them out of the room during the clean-up process.
  • Avoid stepping on any broken glass.

Ventilation

  • Ventilate the room for at least 15 minutes prior to starting clean-up by opening windows and doors to the outdoors. This will ensure that mercury vapour levels are reduced before you start cleaning.

Clean-up Directions for Hard and Carpeted Surfaces

  • Do not use a vacuum to clean up the initial breakage, as it will spread the mercury vapour and dust throughout the area and may contaminate the vacuum.
  • Wear disposable gloves, if available, to avoid direct contact with mercury and to prevent cuts.
  • Scoop or sweep up the broken pieces and debris with two pieces of stiff paper or cardboard. Do not use a broom.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape or masking tape, to pick up any remaining fine glass or powder.
  • Wipe the area with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe to remove any residual particles.
  • Place the broken glass and clean-up materials in a glass container with a tight fitting lid to further minimize the release of mercury vapour.

Carpeting – Steps to Take After the Initial Clean-up

  • If the rug is removable, take it outside, shake and air it out for as long as is practical.
  • The first time you vacuum on installed carpet after the clean-up, shut the door to the room or close off the area as much as possible and ventilate the room in which the lamp was broken by opening the windows and doors to the outside. When the vacuuming is done, remove the bag, wipe the vacuum with a damp paper towel, cloth or disposable wet wipe, and then place the vacuum bag and paper towel in a sealed plastic bag outside. In the case of a canister vacuum, wipe the canister out with a wet paper towel and dispose of the towel as outlined above. Continue to ventilate the room for 15 minutes once the vacuuming is completed.

Disposal

  • Immediately place waste material outside of the building in a protected area away from children.
  • Dispose of the waste at a household hazardous waste location as soon as possible. Check with local, provincial, or territorial authorities about the requirements for recycling and for the location of household hazardous waste depots or pick-up.
  • Do not dispose of the waste in your household trash.
  • For further information on disposal, please contact Environment Canada.

Washing

  • Wash your hands after storing and disposing of waste.

Additional Information

  • Remove and install the CFL by handling only the base of the lamp to prevent any unnecessary pressure on the glass that may cause it to break.
  • Consider using a drop cloth when replacing a CFL to minimize the chance of breakage should the lamp fall or to protect the flooring and assist in clean-up should the bulb drop and break.
  • Store fluorescent lamps in containers that prevent them from breaking, such as in their original packaging.
  • Consider avoiding the use of CFLs in areas where the lamps may be easily broken.

 


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The Missing Monarchs

Monsanto’s Roundup and genetically modified crops are harming everybody’s favorite butterfly. 

By Warren Cornwall

Feeding on a weed seems like a good evolutionary bet. And for a long time, it worked well for the monarch butterfly.

The butterfly’s life cycle is exquisitely synchronized to the seasonal growth of milkweed, the only plant its larvae will eat. In a game of hopscotch, successive generations of monarchs follow the springtime emergence of milkweed from Mexico as far north as Canada. The hardy plant once flourished in grasslands, roadsides, abandoned lots, and cornfields across much of the continent. It fueled a mass migration that ended each winter with more than 60 million butterflies converging on pine forests in the Sierra Madres.

Then came Roundup.

The number of monarchs reaching Mexico has been falling for years, and it has now reached the lowest level on record. The World Wildlife Fund announced Wednesday that butterflies this winter were found in 1.7 acres across 11 sanctuaries, down from a high of 45 acres in 1996. If you want to know a main reason why, look no further than your corn chips and ethanol-spiked gasoline.

The monarch population sank while agriculture boomed. More than a million acres of Upper Midwest grassland have been plowed under in recent years for corn and soybean fields—a rate of loss comparable to deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Demand for these crops has surged with the rise of biofuels. At the same time, technology enabled farmers to squeeze ever more from each acre. For monarchs, the most important development was Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.

Since the turn of the century, these genetically modified crops have risen to dominance in the Midwest. Designed to withstand dousing from the Monsanto company’s Roundup weed killer, the plants enabled farmers to swiftly kill competing weeds, including milkweed, while leaving their crops untouched. In 2013, 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant, totaling nearly 155 million acres, much of it in the Midwest.

It’s no coincidence monarchs faltered at the same time. Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production.

“We have this smoking gun,” Oberhauser said. “This is the only thing that we’ve actually been able to correlate with decreasing monarch numbers.”

Soon there will be essentially no monarchs on cropland in the corn belt, according to some estimates. Already, Iowa farmland has lost more than 98 percent of the milkweed that was once there, according to Iowa State University biologist John Pleasants, who worked with Oberhauser. He’s seen firsthand the transformation as he has studied cornfields during the past decade and a half. Before Roundup, patches of milkweed grew among the corn and along the edges of fields. After the herbicide—nothing but corn.

This year’s dismal turnout of monarchs has other factors to blame as well. There have been two years of unusual spring weather in the United States. In 2012 it was hotter than normal, and the following year it was colder, disrupting the insects’ northward migration. Illegal logging has whittled away at monarchs’ winter habitat. But nothing can match the lost milkweed in the Midwest, birthplace of roughly half of all the monarchs east of the Rockies, said Chip Taylor, a University of Kansas ecologist who runs Monarch Watch, a program that monitors monarch populations: “The scale of loss is fantastic.”

monsanto55_02

Monsanto emphasizes that loss of milkweed to herbicides isn’t the only culprit. Tom Helscher, Monsanto’s director of corporate affairs, notes that a 2012 study found monarch numbers hadn’t fallen at sites in New Jersey and northern Michigan. (Taylor and other monarch scientists dismiss the study because it looked at populations where milkweed is still relatively abundant.) And, Helscher said, butterfly conservation needs to be balanced with “society’s need to improve productivity in agriculture.”

No one expects that agribusiness will give up efficient, lucrative, and potent tools. Instead, butterfly advocates are hoping the industry will throw some money and marketing savvy behind campaigns to get people to plant more milkweed elsewhere. Taylor last year started marketing tiny milkweed seedlings to gardeners. He sold 20,000 and is gearing up to double or triple that this year. But he acknowledges it’s a fraction of what’s needed.

This doesn’t mean the monarch is about to go the way of the passenger pigeon.* The butterfly, which is also found in Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and Portugal, still numbers in the millions. It’s not a candidate for the Endangered Species Act. But there’s concern that the epic mass migration to Mexico, a natural wonder, could disappear.

The success of this transcontinental trip could depend on a critical mass of butterflies, said Oberhauser. The massive gathering might help protect against predators, much as tiny fish seek safety in huge schools, she said. But if there aren’t enough butterflies, the tactic might not work. Huge clusters of butterflies could also help them stay warm and save energy as they wait for spring to arrive.

A smaller population can also have more trouble recovering when other problems strike, like droughts or heat waves. As the climate changes, earlier springs might throw off the intricate timing between monarchs and their food. That happened in 2012, when unusually warm weather caused monarchs to migrate north before most of the milkweed had emerged. Taylor’s worries that by midcentury, the biggest threat to the migration will be that Texas is just “too bloody hot.”

Oberhauser’s immediate concern is at once more practical and more romantic. She worries that as monarchs get harder to find, people will lose a popular link to the natural world—a gateway drug for nature lovers.

How many kids in classrooms around the country have watched a plump caterpillar become a jade-green capsule the size of a peanut shell, then a monarch butterfly? As a child I saw the drama unfold in an aquarium in my family’s living room in Idaho. It was magical to see the subject of all those children’s books and metaphors of transformation given flesh.

Flash forward 30 years, and I resolved to repeat this monarch ritual with my children. I led them into a patch of milkweed plants in a Vermont field, confident that we would quickly wrangle a half-dozen caterpillars. Several hours later, we had one hostage.

Even with the dismal winter numbers, there’s still hope for summer caterpillar hunters. Monarch numbers will probably stay lower than they were in a weedier world, but the butterflies lay enough eggs that they can bounce back a bit in just one season, Taylor said. Now he’s watching the spring weather forecast in Texas and crossing his fingers.

source:  www.slate.com