Increasingly, the public are becoming aware that not everything they have been led to believe is ultimately true.
In the past, those wrong beliefs may have influenced our purchasing choices, as well as gardening and farming practices, that ultimately shape our environment and the biodiversity within it.
When we examine the claims made and discover they are not based in fact, the truth can become more widely known, and behaviours can change - hopefully for the better!
Here are 4 key positive messages I believe are worth sharing, because they help to change opinions about insects, pesticides and farming:
These messages are simple and can be used as sound bites. Below is more back up information about each of these positive messages, and why they are important.
interesting fact was presented at an exhibition in the Natural History
Museum in London when I last went: only 1,000 insect species are considered
Take into account that there are currently 1,000,000 discovered insect species.
In other words, of discovered insect species, only 0.1%
(that is, 1 in every 1000) are “not beneficial”.
Or put it an even better way:
999 out of every 1,000 insect species, are beneficial or benign "watchers".
Most of these 999 insects are species you are probably not aware of - (but you've long been 'educated' about aphids, vine weevils, carrot fly and lily beetles!).
Note, I had previously read that the figure for beneficial/harmless insects is 97% (see this link - opens a new window). Whichever figure is right, they both put insects in perspective.
Yet look in any gardening magazine around Spring, read any literature about farming and pest control, or take a look at the shelves in the average gardening centre, and you could be forgiven for thinking that at least half, or even most insect species are a BIG problem for anyone who wants to grow anything – be it flowers, food crops, or trees and shrubs. Indeed, I have found these views to be felt by some of the audiences to which I have given talks about bees.
I am afraid some gardening magazines can be misguided in presenting information to their readers, maybe because they have never challenged their own thinking, or perhaps they are not aware of all the facts. I had cause to challenge one magazine some time ago over neonicotinoids - you can read more about that here.
So long as we exaggerate the threat of insects and invertebrates as 'pests', there are those who will find justification even in preventative and successive applications of pesticides, not only in food agriculture, but in horticulture, for use on golf courses, use by councils in public spaces, and in our gardens. In other words, we may be fooled into thinking we need to rely on pesticides more than we really do.
We currently live in an age where farmers can use seeds pre-coated pesticides such as neonicotinoids, and gardeners are encouraged to treat pot plants just in case a vine weevil happens to come along.
Here's an examle:
A study looking at pollen beetle prevalence (regarded as a ‘pest’) and the application of pesticides by ADAS (an Agricultural consultancy provider), is very revealing. It shows that farmers in the UK are treating oil seed rape with pesticide quite unecessarily. The chart below shows 2 things:
(See ref 1 below for source)
But farmers could easily be worried by pollen beetle if they heed press releases and propaganda, such as one found in The Farmer's Guardian (UK magazine) called ‘Pollen Beetle On The Move’ (Ref 2).
other evidence suggests oilseed rape crops can recover from loss of buds through pollen beetle, which helps put the
‘danger’ in perspective (ref 3).
the conclusion of a 30 year study by the Rodale Institute,
Pennsylvania. If this is the case, it begs the question, “what kind of
chemicals do we really need to use on our farm land, and how should they be used?”
agrochemical organisations claim that due to impending food shortage,
more chemicals are needed in order to produce more food. However, there
is no food shortage in the developed world, and globally, we waste a
shocking third of food produced every year – mostly in the West. Here
is a quote from a relevant UN study looking at global food wastage:
You can download the UN study here. (opens new window)
Perhaps we need to look at excess production and distribution, but I
struggle to see any justification for increasing intensive agriculture
Of course, some countries genuinely are experiencing food shortage, due to global trading activity, and climate. What then? Does this justify inhabitants of poorer countries, spending their money on more pesticides, weedkillers and so on? Can intensive farming practice lead to greater food security?
A report concerning another United Nations study actually suggests that organic methods of farming would be far more beneficial in, for example, African countries. Quote:
“An analysis of 114 projects in 24
African countries found that yields had more than doubled where
organic, or near-organic practices had been used. That increase in yield
jumped to 128 per cent in east Africa.
"Organic farming can often lead to polarised views," said Mr Steiner, a former economist. "With some viewing it as a saviour and others as a niche product or something of a luxury... this report suggests it could make a serious contribution to tackling poverty and food insecurity."
The study found that organic practices outperformed traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming. It also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought.”
I do not like the way in which the agrochemical industry appear to be in denial about the harm their chemicals pose to bees, and the decline of pollinators. Examples of this can be found:
Please spread the word: remember that advertising and marketing rely on spreading key messages repeatedly, and we can all play that game!
(1) Download the whole study here: http://www.oregin.info/stakeholders/meetings/shf07-Nov2009/Ellis_ADAS_OREGIN_SHF7_Nov2009_PollenBeetleThresholds.pdf
(3) (copy and paste into a new window): http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=4775556
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