Industrial agriculture linked to insect collapse, says new report

The report concluded that insect species and pollinators are in severe decline, with 41% of all insect species in decline and one-third threatened with extinction. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Insect populations are plummeting across the world because of industrial farming and heavy pesticide use, and this decline is a threat to food production, warned a new report released on Tuesday (9 June).

The ‘Insect Atlas’ is a comprehensive new global review of trends in insect populations, their relationship with agriculture, and what needs to be done to ameliorate it. It was published by the Green think tank Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in conjunction with environmental campaigns group Friends of the Earth Europe.

The report concluded that insect species and pollinators are in severe decline, with 41% of all insect species in decline and one-third threatened with extinction.

It also highlighted that this reduction includes pollinators, as at least one in ten bee and butterfly species in Europe is on the brink of extinction.

Pollinators contribute directly to around one-third of global food production, with 75% of our most important crops dependent on pollination by insects, which makes insect decline a serious concern for food security.

Environmentalists call for pesticide ban as study shows extent of insect decline

Scientists have raised the alarm after a study 27 years in the making found the biomass of flying insects in nature protected areas has declined by more than 75% since 1990. The causes of the decline are not fully understood.

The report puts this decline down in large part to industrial agriculture and its intensive use of pesticides, which the report said has risen five-fold since 1950, with more than four million tonnes sprayed on fields worldwide every year.

Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said the “evidence is clear: pesticide use is wiping out insect populations and ecosystems around the world, and threatening food production”.

Barbara Unmüßig, president of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, said that “the global loss of insects is dramatic,” stressing that “industrial monocultures with energy or fodder plants for our factory farming are driving, in countries such as Brazil or Indonesia, deforestation, monotonous agricultural deserts and the unlimited application of pesticides”.

The Insect Atlas also indicated how the EU can support sustainable models of farming which prevent insect collapse and guarantee food production and good livelihoods for farmers and farm workers.

It stressed that nature-friendly agriculture is both necessary and possible, but that farmers need support for the transition.

“The [EU’s] Biodiversity Strategy and Farm to Fork initiatives are first steps into a sustainable transition of the European agricultural sector. But is not sufficient – in order to protect insects we not only need good intentions but very specific and targeted strategies,” it said.

Parliament urges cuts in pesticide use to save Europe’s pollinators

In a resolution adopted yesterday, the European Parliament called on the EU executive Commission to beef up its Pollinators Initiative, saying EU-wide mandatory pesticide reduction targets are needed to halt the decline in species.

The report stressed that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must be reshaped to contribute tangibly and decisively to an insect- and climate-friendly agriculture.

“We do not pay enough attention to protecting insects. And farmers do not get paid for doing it either. But this is exactly what must happen,” the report said.

“The European Union should use the nearly 60 billion euros it allocates to agriculture each year in a targeted manner to support climate and insect-friendly farming practices.”

In order to achieve the fundamental shift needed to save insect populations, the European Parliament and Council must drastically increase the ambition of the European Commission’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, the report concluded.

In particular, it called for a more ambitious target for slashing pesticides, proposing that pesticide use should be cut by 80% by 2030, alongside other measures to prepare the way towards fairer and greener food systems.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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