With the world carefully watching the spread of Ebola in Africa, a new study from the University of Exeter says that the worst plague to hit humans will not come from viral infection but from crop-destroying pests. The researchers cited inadequate biosecurity measures, climate change, and new insect variants as the chief issues leading to the rise of the pests. With its focus mostly on the UK, the study’s scientists said, “The UK has significantly underestimated the scale of the threat. This is a huge problem that is lacking in public and political awareness.”
For most Westerners, food simply isn’t a daily concern. It comes from the grocery store. In the average house, there is probably enough uneaten cans of soup to keep a family of four alive for weeks. And few Americans ever worry about such a time coming around; the excess food isn’t there for preparation, it’s there because we have the luxury of deciding we’re not in the mood to eat it. It’s difficult in such a mindset to remember that, when it comes right down to it, none of this technology, none of these politics, none of the petty things we worry about on a daily basis will matter one whit on the day when the food supply dries up.
Indeed, the study’s researchers say, that day could be coming. They predict pest invasions of such ferocity in the UK that people may be forced to cut wheat and potatoes out of their diets entirely. The worst pests, in fact, come not from insects but from fungi, bacteria, and plant viruses. Judging by the total rate at which these pests are currently spreading, the study says, the “world’s biggest food-producing countries will be ‘saturated’ with pests.” They predict that this worldwide saturation will occur by the middle of the 21st century – not as far away as it sounds – and that the U.S., UK, Italy, Japan, Germany, India, France, and China will be among the countries hit.
At a time when many scientists are deep in the pocket of left-wing environmental groups, it’s never easy to determine how many of their warnings to take seriously. Still, it’s encouraging that the scientists behind this particular study aren’t trying to push a nakedly-environmentalist scheme at the behest of their research. They are simply asking the UK government to take the threat of pests seriously before such time that it’s too late. This is the kind of thing that, when done sensibly, political parties on both sides of the aisle can find common ground.
However, it’s also at times like these when we should consider on an individual basis whether or not we are prepared for a drastic change in circumstances. The next worldwide emergency may or may not come from crop-destroying pests, but the threat of famine looms from many directions. Self-sustainability should be the goal of every American. Not only will private gardening ensure you have food when the grocery stores don’t, but you will notice a marked improvement in the taste of your produce once you start growing your own. Considering the frighteningly unknown dangers of genetically modified food, breaking free from commercial crops might not be the worst idea.