On April 7, the Daily Item published a news article that discussed ongoing problems with honeybee populations in the Susquehanna Valley and beyond -- the theme of the article questioned the role of neonictotinoid insecticides on bee health. In that article, I pointed out that there are many possible factors affecting bee populations, but I'd like to clarify one particular issue illuminated by the news piece.
There is no doubt that at high concentrations, these neonicotioid insecticides kill many insects directly. These compounds work by interfering with the transmission of signals in the central nervous systems of insects and they do not discriminate between beneficial insects (like bees or dragonflies) and pests (like corn root worms, aphids, or stink bugs). The insecticides are applied commonly in many different agricultural systems, as the chemical is added as a seed treatment for many crops, but it is not just farmers who use these drugs — neonictotinoid insecticides are also the primary ingredient in many flea treatments for our companion animals, used regularly on golf courses, and broadcast in liquid form into forests to control pests there.
There are many unknowns about how the widespread and varied use of these insecticides affects beneficial insects and the environment; the sublethal impacts of these drugs are vastly understudied. As I see it, the primary problem is that the manufacturers of these compounds "fast tracked" the process for federal approval, citing demand for immediate insect control. This quick approval process has some major flaws in terms of protecting the environment at large. As a result, scientists and citizens alike simply do not have enough information to know what negative affects these compounds can have.
While there is a temporal correlation between the widespread use of neonictotinoid insecticides with our public perception of bee health, without futher widespread, critical analysis based on carefully designed scientific studies, we cannot know for certain the role that they have. I argue that federal agencies should remove the permissions for the agricultural use of these compounds until these sorts of questions are resolved with certainty. The role of bees in our lives is too important to ignore the problems.
Elizabeth Capaldi Evans, Lewisburg
Associate Professor of Biology & Animal Behavior
Department of Biology