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Decline in Insects: a Catastrophe for Our Food System

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Decline in Insects: a Catastrophe for Our Food System

It seems the world’s ecosystem is in far greater peril than originally thought. A peer-reviewed scientific paper claims that 40% of the world’s insects are in decline, while another third is endangered.

The catastrophic findings of the paper point to a significant speed up in the decline and disappearance of the world’s insect population in the last few decades. The paper is unambiguous in blaming over-consumption, intensive agriculture and climate change for the large number of endangered insect species.

The plight of the world’s bees has been well flagged in recent years, however, the problem goes a lot deeper and is far more widespread than we could have thought. The report uses very stark language in pointing out the danger that this represents not only to the food system, but to life on Earth. The Guardian ran with the ominous headline this morning with ‘Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature’, bringing the issue into sharp focus.

The planet is at the beginning of a sixth mass extinction in its history and while extinctions in large mammals’ populations have been at the forefront of our conservation efforts, but until now, there hasn’t been enough analysis of the data to get an overall view of what’s happening with insects. The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change from the use of fossil fuel are also factors in the decline.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The report outlines a 2.5 annual rate of decline in insects who are essential for pollination, controlling pests, turning over soil, carrying nutrients, breaking down organic matter, as well as providing food for fish, bird and lizard species all over the world.

The UN recently stated the need for global food systems to integrate insect proteins into humans’ diets in order to sustain the projected population growth projections in the coming decades. That option now looks to be under significant threat with the information available in this report.

Butterflies and moths apparently have been the worst affected insect species but the report cites many examples of insect populations that have been decimated recently. Puerto Rico has lost 98% of its ground insects in just 35 years.

How can we reverse the decline in insect numbers?

Quite simply, we have to change the way we eat and farm food. This is the clear message coming from this report and chefs need to vigorously and zealously continue to promote this philosophy in everything they do.

We have to shun any foods that are produced with pesticides and which are carbon dioxide intensive. We have spent the last 100 year or so trying to kill insects, we now have to nurture them. Intensive farming that strips the land of the trees and bushes that make up the insects’ habitats needs to be dismantled. Organic, locally sourced produce, from sustainable and biodiverse ecosystems must be an imperative and are no longer a luxury. The future of life on this planet depends on it.

The report states “A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular, a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide. In addition, effective remediation technologies should be applied to clean polluted waters in both agricultural and urban environments.”


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