Organic Agriculture Daily

US GMO companies hold the key to feeding the world, including China

Good World News, 3-8, 22,, Conflict in Ukraine triggers food insecurity in China

Wheat and maize prices have soared in recent weeks as the market eyes supply disruptions due to the war. Ukraine, sometimes known as the breadbasket of Europe, is a major crop producer. Together with Russia, the two countries account for 28% of global wheat exports and 16% of corn exports, according to UBS. The direct impact on China should be manageable. China imports about 7-10% of its wheat and corn, according to Goldman Sachs. These imports have surged in recent years, in part because the country has replenished its strategic reserves. China’s grain reserves are at an all-time high, state media reported in November. They could probably be used to soften the blow. There could be secondary impacts that further drive up food prices in the coming months. Fertilizer prices, which were already skyrocketing due to the pandemic, could rise as Russia is also a major exporter. Nitrogen fertilizer producers, in particular, could see their costs increase as they use natural gas as a key ingredient. Supply shortages of sunflower oil, of which Ukraine is a major exporter, could drive up prices for alternatives such as soybean oil. The latter is important because China imports more than 80% of what it consumes. Soy is also essential as a feed for pigs, the country’s main source of meat protein. This isn’t the only recent food security scare for China: The 2018 and 2019 trade war with the United States also highlighted China’s vulnerability. But increasing domestic agricultural production might be easier said than done. Urbanization has pushed labor to cities and reduced arable land. The country needs better technology to improve crop yields. This probably involves the use of genetically modified foods: China has reviewed its regulations on this subject in recent months. Water scarcity, especially in the north, is another intractable problem. Improving agricultural productivity was likely the main rationale behind state-owned chemicals company ChemChina’s 2017 $43 billion acquisition of Swiss seed and pesticide company Syngenta, which is in the process of an IPO in China. Shanghai. But the other GMO heavyweight companies are mostly American and European such as Monsanto, Dow, BASF and DuPont. China hopes to prepare its own home champion, but it would take time and investment. How to feed its 1.4 billion people in a politically more unstable world will increasingly become a key task for Beijing. But self-sufficiency is a tricky beast, as both the China-US trade dispute and Russia’s current struggles demonstrate. As Ukraine comes under military assault from Russian forces, analysts warn that the world’s wheat supply could be seriously threatened. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains. Photo: Valentin Ogirenko/Reuters

Pesticides destroys insects, insect collapse destroys ecosystems

Benji Jones, 3-6, 22, Oliver Milman, an environmental journalist at the Guardian and author of a new book called The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World. The loss of insects is an apocalypse worth worrying about,

A new book by Oliver Milman, a journalist at the Guardian, explores why insects are in decline and how that affects our everyday lives. W. W. Norton & Company A world without insects is a world we don’t want to live in, Milman told Vox. Yet we don’t seem to pay these critters much attention — even as many of them slip toward extinction. Science is increasingly showing that insects, on the whole, are declining quickly, he said. Some populations have fallen by more than 70 percent in just a few decades. Averting an insect apocalypse starts with understanding why these famously uncharismatic critters matter — that’s one lesson he hopes his book can convey. Then there’s the question of how to help them. Fortunately, he writes, it’s pretty simple: We don’t need an action plan, we need an inaction plan. Insects love overgrown lawns, empty lots, and other untended spaces. “Perhaps it’s time to sit back and see what could blossom in front of us if we just give it the chance,” Milman writes. People tend to equate insects with so-called pests like cockroaches and mosquitoes. How small of a sliver of the insect world do pests represent? Oliver Milman “Pest” is such a subjective term. Certainly, you can find a lot of people who consider every insect to be either irrelevant or a pest — other than bees, because they’re nice, buzzy things that make honey and provide us with food, and butterflies, because they’re pretty. That’s part of the problem: We’re not starting from a baseline of fondness for these animals. Three-quarters of all the known animals in the world are insects. There’s roughly 1 million named species — but there might be 5 million or maybe 10 million, or even up to 30 million species. In peoples’ day-to-day interactions, they might see an ant or a bee if they’re lucky and that’s not really representative of the insects that are out there. As one scientist put it, you’ve got one researcher studying 50,000 insects and 50,000 researchers studying one monkey. That’s the kind of imbalance you have in the scientific world when it comes to insects. How universal is the decline? Does it include the ones that we encounter in our homes, like cockroaches and mosquitoes? We don’t know the full picture of the declines. In some places, insects are actually increasing. The range of mosquitoes, for example, is expanding — an extra billion people could be exposed to disease-carrying mosquitoes, which like warm and damp conditions. But there are so many studies showing these startling declines [in many species] — these eye-watering numbers that you just wouldn’t normally see in scientific studies. We should also be thinking about the composition of what’s out there. We are stripping away a world of bees, butterflies, and beetles, which we rely on for many things including food, medicines, and so on. And we’re replacing them with insects that can adapt to the changes we’ve set in motion. We are creating a world of mosquitoes and cockroaches, just like we’re creating a world of rats and crows and raccoons. The natural world doesn’t care if the world is populated with lions and butterflies. If the conditions are ripe for cockroaches and mosquitoes, that’s what we’re gonna get. There was a big study in Germany in 2017, which found that the annual average weight of flying insects caught in traps was down 76 percent since 1989 in protected nature reserves. There was also an incredible study by the scientist Anders Pape Møller who’s been driving up and down the same stretch of road in Denmark each summer since 1997 and counting the bugs that get smushed on his windshield. They had declined by as much as 97 percent. You don’t see those kinds of figures normally in conservation biology. Oliver Milman is an environmental reporter at the Guardian and the author of The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World. Lyndal Stewart Over a long time, we’ve wiped out a good chunk of tigers, for example, but in just a short period of time — we’re talking just a few decades — we’ve wiped out an enormous range of insects from seemingly stable, well-protected, well-regulated parts of the world. One meta study from 2019 found that 40 percent of insect species are declining around the world. They compared that to other creatures and found that the extinction rate for insects is eight times faster than it is for mammals or birds. All the methods that I learned about involve killing them — trapping them in sticky traps or these funnel-like tents that push them into alcohol. The traditional way was to go up to the bottom of a tree and fog it with insecticide. The insects would fall down and you would catch them on the forest floor. Habitat loss is an enormous one. We’ve removed about a third of all the world’s forested areas in the industrialized era. We’ve changed much of the planet into monocultural farmland. We’ve expanded highways, urban areas, and so on, creating a landscape that’s very hostile to insects. We’ve dominated the world in a very boring way. Insects like diversity and color and a range of different plants and we tend to like uniformity and tidiness. Culturally, we like very neatly trimmed lawns. We like fields of crops that are not diversified and have tidy edges. We dislike weeds in general. We’ve created a monotonous world that isn’t favorable to insects. A honeybee flies to the blossom of an apple tree to collect nectar and pollinate the flowers. Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images If you start to let things go a little bit — stop tending your backyard, leave a building abandoned — it may look terrible to us but it’s a joyful place for insects. They can feed upon the weeds and use them for shelter. During pandemic lockdowns in various countries, insects actually came back because of the lack of traffic, the lack of people. A lot of local authorities stopped cutting grass and insects really benefited from that. Plants sprung up that we hadn’t seen in years. Then the insects came back. And once the insects come back, the birds come back. So you start having these mini-ecosystems springing up. That’s one of the more hopeful things I think about — you just need to give insects a bit of a chance and they can bounce back. One scientist compared what’s happening to insects to a log in water that we’re pushing down with our foot. If we just take our foot off it, the log will rise up. That’s what insects can do if we give them a chance. People know that pesticides are a problem for insects — by design. What did you learn about pesticides through your reporting that surprised you? Oliver Milman I had a general understanding of pesticide use and believed the trend was getting better — new chemicals and techniques were coming that were a little less harmful to wildlife and a little bit more effective. But what you find is an absolute mess. Think about the days of Silent Spring by Rachael Carson. It was a seminal book on the dangers of the pesticide DDT, which was pushing bald eagles toward extinction in the US. It helped rally support to ban DDT. But neonicotinoids, a widespread insecticide used now by US farmers, is 7,000 times more toxic to bees than DDT. So we’ve actually substituted this infamous chemical for one that’s far worse for bees. A single teaspoon of the stuff is enough to kill as many honeybees as there are people in India. It’s just deadly. Benji Jones That really shows how little value we have for insects compared to charismatic animals like eagles. Oliver Milman That’s right. Insects have been allowed to slip into this silent catastrophe that we’re only just waking up to now. Benji Jones Climate change affects the environment in very complicated ways. How is it impacting insects? Oliver Milman Climate change is generally pretty good for mosquitoes. Cockroaches don’t really care that much either. But for lots of other types of insects, it’s pretty disastrous. There was an assumption a few years ago that insects would fare better than other kinds of animals because they have these huge populations that can rebound quickly. They’ve managed to get through five mass extinctions relatively unscathed. But there is research showing that the range of insects is going to shrink quite dramatically. Insects are more restricted in terms of their movement. They exist in fairly stable bands of temperature, and once that’s pushed beyond their limits, they are in big trouble. A pair of dung beetles rolling a ball of dung that is bigger than they are. Dung beetles in South Africa. Paul Souders/Getty Images Climate change is also scrambling the seasons. Spring is arriving much earlier now. In the UK, moths and butterflies are emerging from their cocoons about six days earlier, per decade, on average. In the US, spring is arriving 20 days earlier in some places compared to 50 or 60 years ago. You have plants not aligned with insects, which are then not aligned with birds. So you have this whole cascade of problems going through the ecosystem. To save ourselves, we must save insects Benji Jones It’s hard to win people over with insects. What is your best argument for why we need them? Oliver Milman Selfishly, to save ourselves it would be a good idea to save insects. As much as it would be a terrible shame if we lost rhinos or elephants or orangutans — these big charismatic creatures — it wouldn’t trigger a food security crisis. It wouldn’t cause the loss of potential medicines that could save us from antibiotic resistance. It wouldn’t cause whole ecosystems to collapse. That is what would happen if we lost insects. We are heading toward a world where there are far more mouths to feed at a time when insect pollination is under severe strain. Some parts of the world are either going to have far more expensive food or no nutritious food at all. Insects also have intrinsic value. Butterflies are beautiful, for example. A garden filled with insects is alive, and it’s a place you want to be. Benji Jones Is there one particular insect that you found especially fascinating? Oliver Milman I love this water beetle [called Regimbartia attenuata] that’s a superhero. It can survive being eaten by a frog because it can … jump out of its ass. Bees’ abilities amaze me. You can teach a bee how to play soccer. They can add and subtract. They can recognize each other by their faces. They almost have a sense of consciousness. Cockroaches are incredible. Anything that can survive two weeks after being beheaded is a pretty formidable creature. As much we hate them, we’ve got to at least tip our hats to them. Benji Jones It doesn’t give me a ton of hope that we struggle to save even some of the most charismatic species. Tell me there’s a relatively easy way to avert catastrophe for insects. Oliver Milman Unlike solving a pandemic, where you need a new vaccine, or climate change, where you might need new technologies, we don’t really need to invent anything new or do anything radically innovative to save insects. One scientist told me that we need more of an inaction plan rather than an action plan. It’s about just letting things slide a little bit. Maybe don’t rake the leaves in your yard, or don’t apply as much or as many insecticides. Maybe let the grass grow a little bit — because insects love that. Fixing the larger agricultural machine [expansive monocultures, pesticides, and so on] requires more systemic change. But there are signs of optimism. Farmers are looking at establishing corridors of wildflowers at the edge of their fields, for example, because they realize the importance of insects in helping their crops grow. There is a model we can follow to bring them back, but we need to start doing it quickly because the pressures on insects are only growing.

“Organic food” is food grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides

Leah Garden, 2-21, 22, Genetic Literacy Project, Viewpoint: How organic labeling and marketing undermines efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve farming sustainability,

Officially, the Environmental Protection Agency defines organic food as: “Food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizer or pesticides.” Products emblazoned with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic seal follow these guidelines. And this system has proven to be financially lucrative. A 2021 study found that most customers perceive organic food as healthier than conventionally grown produce—even if they don’t actually know what “organic” really means. Pro-organic lobbying groups are taking advantage of this confusion, employing the label to cudgel against new types of food production technologies that could enjoy a massive boost if included. Foods altered by biotechnology—i.e. GMOs—are unsurprisingly excluded from taking part in the organic farming market, despite the fact that they could be critical to helping us feed the world as climate changes, population increases, and disappearing arable land threatens to decimate some of our most important farming sectors.

Non-organic GMO foods are needed to avoid starvation

Leah Garden, 2-21, 22, Genetic Literacy Project, Viewpoint: How organic labeling and marketing undermines efforts to reduce carbon emissions and improve farming sustainability,

Foods altered by biotechnology—i.e. GMOs—are unsurprisingly excluded from taking part in the organic farming market, despite the fact that they could be critical to helping us feed the world as climate changes, population increases, and disappearing arable land threatens to decimate some of our most important farming sectors