Voices 07/04/2014

The health of bee populations

Our path to a successful future on this issue is critically dependant on our ability to forge a sustained and effective partnership among a wide range of actors at many levels in all countries the world over.
Indeed all interested parties have a role to play in securing the health of bee populations and of other pollinators for the future.
Naturally, the EU Commission takes this issue, and its own role towards solving the current problems, very seriously indeed.
The Commission has taken determined steps in recent years to try to identify the true nature and full extent of the problem of declining bee populations.
We are planning soon to publish the first official set of EU data on honeybee colony mortalities. This will be a representative and comparable study across borders, drawn up with the voluntary co-operation of the veterinary services of 17 Member States.
This initiative is just one element of a comprehensive European framework we have in place.
You will no doubt be aware that progress has been hampered by a number of gaps in our knowledge of the true situation – gaps which the Commission has devoted a great deal of time and energy in trying to properly define and address, in order to ensure we have as complete a picture as possible.
Bee health is affected by numerous factors. These include –bee diseases; beekeeping practices; the limited availability of effective medicines; and environmental factors, such as loss of habitat or climate change.
A further factor that attracts particular attention, and also a high degree of controversy, is the use of pesticides in agricultural production.
Let me first say that the EU has the strictest regulatory system in the world for the approval of pesticides.
Pesticides can only be approved where there is no harmful effect on human and animal health, or an
unacceptable effect on the environment. This includes, of course, the absence of unacceptable negative effects on honeybee colonies.
The data requirements for the approval of pesticide ingredients and for authorisation of pesticide products have recently been strengthened. This strengthening includes additional requirements with regard to the risk relating to bees.
This followed intense discussions with experts from Member States and the European Food Safety Authority.
In addition, the requirements were subject to a public consultation of all relevant stakeholders, including beekeeper associations.
Further to these strict data requirements, new scientific information published in the public domain is also taken into account.
This was the case in 2012, when scientists published studies as regards the effects of sub-lethal concentrations of some neonicotinoids on the ability of honeybees to return to their colonies.
The Commission responded by asking the EuropeanFood Safety Authority to carry out a specific evaluation of four insecticides and their risk to bees.
Based on the evidence compiled by the European Food Safety Authority, these pesticides were last year identified as posing a high risk to bees under certain conditions.
The Commission took immediate measures – in the face of strong opposition from industry and several Member States – and restricted the uses of these substances.
This commitment to acting on the basis of evidence is – and will continue to be – a core principle underpinning the Commission’s actions and responses to the bee population issue.
The very same commitment led us:
• to designate an EU reference laboratory for bee health;
• to carry out an EU co-financed and fully harmonised surveillance exercise;
• to train hundreds of veterinary officials in bee health;
• to finance key EU research; and
• to review the legislation on veterinary medicines applicable to bees.
The Commission takes pride in these initiatives, but there is of course a limit to what the Commission can do on its own.
The Commission will continue to play its full role, not least in conjunction with our colleagues here in the European Parliament, but I do appeal to everyone with a contribution to make in this area, to continue to work together towards securing a future with better bee health.

di Tonio Borg