Destructive Khapra Beetles in the U.S Once Again

The Khapra beetle, a difficult-to-exterminate insect, has once again made its way to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials at Chicago O’Hare International Airport have reported finding a Khapra beetle larva in one of two 10-pound sacks of rice originating from India. As the destructive beetle increasingly makes appearances on U.S. soil, perhaps it is time for consumers to quit buying rice and grain from overseas sources and buy domestically grown crops instead.

Officials detected a Khapra beetle larva in a bag of rice that was packaged with other household items that was shipped from India to the U.S.

In the past, a Khapra beetle infestation caused extensive damage in California worth millions of dollars. Starting in 1953, Khapra beetles were found in barley storage warehouses in Tulare county. In 1954, Khapra beetles were sighted in numerous counties throughout the state, including Los Angeles, Imperial, and Riverside counties, and also in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Khapra beetle is very difficult to eliminate because of its tenaciousness. Originating from India, the tiny pests are usually 2 to 3 mm long and can easily hide themselves in small cracks. They can survive in places without food or water for long periods of time. Khapra beetles have even been found in non-food products like burlap bags, art pieces, cardboard boxes, and packing materials.

Researchers say at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, eggs of the beetle can hatch in less than six days. Once they hatch, it takes the larva to reach maturity in about 20 days. As adults, they live up to four weeks and can breed and lay eggs during this time period.

Researchers also report that Khapra beetles are very resistant to insecticides. In lab tests, a 2 parts per million dosage of malathion took 40 days to kill 26% of a Khapra beetle population while the same dosage killed 100% of a weevil test population in only nine days.

What worries officials is the exploding number of Khapra beetles sighted in the U.S. In 2005 and 2006, the number of Khapra beetles found was 6 times per year, then increased to 15 times per year in 2007- 2009. However, in 2010 and up to July of 2011, the beetle has been found in shipments at least 100 times.

U.S. Customs spokesman Brian Bell says another infestation of Khapra beetles is “going to disrupt our economy.” Due to the amount of grain and wheat exported by U.S. farmers, an infestation of U.S. crops would ruin the country’s clean reputation. As Bell says, “Countries know they’re getting a clean product (from the U.S.).”

This is a good reason to reduce our dependence on foreign goods. Not only is the threat of introducing foreign, destructive pests to our country eliminated, buying locally grown goods is also good for the community and the environment in a number of ways. Buying food locally and keeping food sources local is sustainable, assuming pesticides and hormones were not used on the crops. Instead of food being shipped from hundreds of miles away by truck, train, or even airplane, locally grown food comes from farms only a short drive away. This reduces energy consumption and transportation costs since less distance is traveled when delivering the food.

Locally grown foods drastically reduces the need to package foods. Foods that need to be delivered to far destinations need proper packaging and storage to keep from spoiling. This packaging is difficult to recycle and is rarely reusable. Sometimes packaging can even contaminate food, as seen with the numerous cases with plastic packaging containing bisphenol A (BPA). Exposure to BPA has been linked to various health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, infertility, and diabetes.

Buying locally grown goods also promotes healthy relationships within the community and between local farmers and customers. A trip to the local farmer’s market allows customers to communicate with food producers directly. Customers can learn more about farming, food, and agriculture while farmers will feel supported by the community.

As farmers and officials worry about another possible invasion of these pests, this Khapra beetle scare can also be seen as an opportunity to make changes for the better. Buying locally grown foods keeps foreign pests away and actually has numerous benefits for the environment. Start by visiting and shopping at a farmer’s market near you, which can be located using websites such as localharvest.org.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/86112481@N00/3642072038

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