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Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of the journalism literati, and usually associated with such apocalyptic terms as “ecosystem collapse” and “food crisis”. 

The culprit: modern agriculture, which is often linked to the Brave Not-So-New World of GMOs and gene-edited crops and the chemicals purportedly used to support it.

As recently as last month, an opinion writer for the New York Times, Margaret Renkl, warned of the dark ages about to be ushered in by pesticides. She makes a case for preserving “weedy” backyards filled with blood-sucking mosquitoes and other human-threatening flying and crawling creatures of various species.

The global insect die-off is so precipitous that, if the trend continues, there will be no insects left a hundred years from now. That’s a problem for more than the bugs themselves: Insects are responsible for pollinating roughly 75 percent of all flowering plants, including one-third of the human world’s food supply.  

Insect Armageddon, another popular phrase, is now one of the most common tropes in science journalism. As I’ve chronicled numerous times in recent years, (including herehere and here), many journalists have echoed claims by environmental activists  advancing a succession of insect- and animal-related environmental apocalypse scenarios over the last decade—first honeybees, then wild bees and more recently birds.

In each case they fingered modern, intensive farming, particularly crop biotechnology and pesticides, as the culprit, and warned of the terrible consequences in store for the Earth, including the mass extinction of pollinators and the global famine that would surely follow.

In each case, small or poorly executed studies predicting imminent catastrophes were ballyhooed by many in the media; in each case, as more research came to the light, the hyped claims were eventually retracted or dramatically readjusted. 

More recently the spotlight has been turned on insects, the result of a handful of studies that vaulted the issue into global prominence. Is this claim, the plight of insects, an example in which the journalists got it right? We should all be frightened…if there are even a few ounces of truth to the common wisdom presented in the Times’ essay.

Fortunately for planet Earth, Ms. Renkl and the New York Times, again, got it very wrong.

Read this first article by Jon Entine in full on GLP here.
Read part two here: Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

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