NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fear Not For The Monarch Butterfly

January 11, 2001

Several years ago, radical environmental groups seized on a Cornell University study suggesting that genetically modified (GM) corn might be a danger to Monarch butterflies. Some of the Monarchs died after they were confined to a laboratory setting and force-fed GM corn for four days.

The environmentalists -- aided by many in the media -- leaped to a condemnation of biotech foods.

But more recent research has thrown cold water on the hysteria.

  • Comprehensive field studies conducted by the Department of Agriculture could not confirm the Cornell findings -- and, indeed, showed that the Monarchs fared better at the edge of one Minnesota GM cornfield than they did in a nearby wooded area.
  • Comparing survival rates between those exposed to GM corn and those not exposed, USDA researcher Richard Hellmich concluded that if there are "any differences out there, they aren't very profound."
  • In fact, John Losey, lead researcher in the Cornell study, reportedly noted that his findings applied only to laboratory research and were not designed to replicate actual conditions in the wild.
  • But as the Times of London noted last month, while the original study was reported on newspapers' front pages, "the latest findings have barely had a hearing."

Critics charge that many of the environmental alarmists probably couldn't give a hoot about the Monarch butterfly. Their motivation is anti-biotechnology, anti-capitalism and anti-globalization.

Reason magazine science correspondent Ronald Bailey notes that one scientific panel after another has concluded that biotech foods are safe and can contribute substantially to eliminating hunger in poor countries around the world -- if allowed to over the objections of the environmental lobby.

Source: Editorial, "Bad-Mouthing Biotech," Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2001.


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