Bees are threatened, among other things, by neonicotinoids, a class...

Bees are threatened, among other things, by neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides devastating to all sorts of pollinators. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/proxyminder

Let’s hear it for bees.

They are marvelous little creatures. We basically cannot eat without them. They pollinate about 75% of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the United States. One of every four bites we humans eat is food made possible by bee pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One more way to look at their importance: About one-third of the global food supply is pollinated by bees.

So it stands to reason that protecting bees is important, especially since they have been under threat on Long Island and elsewhere for some time. One of the primary culprits is a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, or neonics, which are devastating to all sorts of pollinators including butterflies. Neonics, a possible human carcinogen, also have been linked to birth defects in deer and mass losses of birds, in whom they also can cause emaciation and impair reproduction. Also ominous: One widely used commercial neonic, imidacloprid, also toxic to fish and crustaceans, was detected in state testing of Long Island groundwater 890 times in 179 locations, according to Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Fortunately, state lawmakers have passed legislation that directly addresses this problem. The Birds and Bees Protection Act would ban soybean, corn and wheat seeds coated in neonics, and prohibit neonics for ornamental uses like gardens, lawns and golf courses. Together, those provisions would eliminate 85% to 90% of all neonics used in New York.

There is science behind the bill. A Cornell University study analyzing more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies found that using seeds coated with neonicotinoids produced no increase in crops over non-coated seeds, contrary to claims by chemical maker Monsanto that coated seeds would boost yields. The bill also contains an important economic caveat for farmers: The state must make a determination every October about whether non-coated seeds are available for the following growing season and, if they aren’t, the state could allow farmers to use the coated seeds.

And yet, there is growing buzz in the environmental community that Gov. Kathy Hochul is not going to sign the measure into law, which must happen by year’s end. The governor reportedly is being lobbied heavily by Monsanto, but if she wants to live up to her self-assessment as an environmentalist she should sign the legislation.

In considering the bill, Hochul should remember the importance of bees in our lives and the warning in May by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that continued use of the three most commonly used neonics will likely jeopardize more than 200 threatened and endangered species, several of which are bees. She also might want to note that when National Geographic asked its readers in 2019 what species they would choose if they could dedicate their lives to saving one species, the overwhelming winner was bees.

There clearly is one right thing to do here: Hochul must protect the bees.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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