About eight summers ago, driving home to the Twin Cities from vacationing on the North
Shore, I routinely encountered many Monarch butterflies taking their lazy flight south.
Then suddenly a year or two later, there were almost none. Around the same time, I began
reading (Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker) about "colony collapse" among our
As the excellent article by StarTribune Josephine Marcotty (5/3/2013) reports, this
die-off of bee colonies is accelerating. Culprits identified by Marcotty and earlier
science writers include loss of flowering habitat, and even more clearly, the increased
use of pesticides on farm fields (and orchards too), notably insecticides in the class of
Genetically modified corn which is resistant to the effects of insecticides and
herbicides allows farmers to spray their fields with greater and greater doses of these
toxic chemicals. Just as Rachel Carson warned in Silent Spring of bird and insect deaths
due to DDT, so now we as a people are facing the loss of beautiful and very necessary
Small-scale beekeepers I know within 60 miles of the Twin Cities report no trouble
raising and maintaining their hives, but they neither live in heavily farmed
neighborhoods (as perhaps does Steve Ellis, Barrett, Minnesota, beekeeper quoted in
Marcotty's article), nor do they truck their colonies to California to pollinate almond
orchards. Such disruption is also potentially harmful to bees (Kolbert).
The European Union has just banned the use of neonicotinoids, and Marcotty remarks that
University of Minnesota bee scientist Maria Spivak "said Europe is more willing to
ban pesticides based on perceived risk."
Marcotty then quotes Spivak directly: "The U.S. has a much stricter policy and
approves pesticides until [it's] proven that they are a problem."
I'm an English teacher, and as such encourage my students to look for illogical and
prejudicial use of language. Try this on for size: A "stricter" policy approves
pesticides until they are proven a problem. This seems not stricter at all, but rather a
"looser" policy, favoring chemical companies who produce not only genetically
modified corn but also the pesticides and herbicides spewed on fields where such corn is
grown. Note my prejudicial use of "spewed." Not a nice word, suggesting
"indiscriminate, reckless," and yes "harmful."
It becomes clearer and clearer that unless the U.S. bans these damaging pesticides and
probably the genetically modified corn they're used on, we will soon have no flying
insect friends to pollinate our apples, strawberries, almonds, blueberries, and many
other trees and plants which still abide by natural "unmodified" procedures.
Given the evidence that the enormous U.S. corn crop goes largely to bulk-up feed lot
cattle, producing beef far higher in fat than grass-fed cattle who come to "market
weight" walking the range and eating grass (which their stomachs are naturally
formed to digest)...evidence that the hugely damaging use of corn syrup to sweeten colas
has created a U.S. epidemic in childhood and adult diabetes and obesity...evidence that
using corn to create ethynol is neither environmentally nor economically viable... (see
the documentary movie "King Corn")...
Well, the choice from this side of the supermarket aisle seems all in favor of veggies,
fruits, and nuts. And bees and butterflies.