7 years to address the issue of bee health: the clock is ticking

Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Rapporteur for the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) hosted a conference on ‘Bee Health in Europe’ at the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday 26 February 2013. The conference was organised by the European Parliament Intergroup “Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development” run jointly by IUCN and IUCN Member European Bureau for Conservation and Development (EBCD).

European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development

Views on the issue of bee health are divided in Europe. Some speakers and participants in the event echoed a call for better dialogue between beekeepers, farmers and science in order to ensure a positive future for bees. All parties showed willingness to promote the health of bees, while recognising that there is no single cause nor single solution.

"The problem of bee health is a very serious one,” said the MEP Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos: “Fortunately, European society is becoming increasingly aware of the problem and policy-makers have it at the top of their agendas to finding the right solutions.” MEP Capoulas Santos also emphasised the fact that the problem linked to the health of bees is not only economic but also environmental.

The first session of the conference gave an overview of the current scientific analysis of the threats to bee health. Dr. Ettore Capri (OPERA Research Centre) presented the latest OPERA report that seeks to provide comprehensive data on this complex issue. It was argued that there is wide agreement in the scientific community on the fact that bee health is influenced by a number of factors, among which highly damaging pathogens like the Varroa mite but also other anthropogenic causes, which are very much related to agricultural and beekeeping practices.

It was argued that no clear evidence from the field shows a positive correlation between the use of pesticides and bee colony losses. Dr. Helen Thompson (FERA) underlined the necessity to take levels of exposure into account when assessing the impact of pesticides on bees and argued that the toxicity of pesticides can be altered by several factors including diet and co-exposure to other chemicals. Dr. Stephen Martin, researcher at the University of Salford, co-authored a study in 2012 that confirmed the crucial role of the parasitic Varroa mite, particularly in relation to the spreading and impact of the deformed wing virus. “Our study proved that there is a strong and unquestionable link between the Varroa mite, the deformed wing virus and the death of bee colonies,” confirmed Dr. Martin.

Peter Maske, representing the German beekeepers said that improvement of food supply is the greatest support that can be provided to bees. Generally, the speakers called for more studies and data reporting to be carried in order to improve knowledge and to ensure that adequate decisions are taken.

In the second session addressing policy measures, MEP Csaba Tabajdi Rapporteur on honeybee health and the challenges of the beekeeping sector raised concerns on the problems of monoculture and the general decline of biodiversity in Europe. He called for standards, rules and regulations for professional beekeepers like for any other sector. “It is the right application of pesticides that is the key,” he argued. “In Hungary, there is no direct effect of using pesticides and decline of colonies for instance.”

European Commission Directorate-Generals in charge of the Environment (DG ENV) and of Health and Consumers (DG SANCO), also represented in the panel, recognised the difficulty to convey key messages to the over 700,000 beekeepers in Europe. “We need the full support and understanding of the problems from all beekeepers in order to address the factors impacting bee health,” underlined Alberto Laddomada while noting that pathogens were indicated as the major cause for mortality reported by beekeepers and reference laboratories. François Wakenhut called for a comprehensive approach to bee health and for a complete picture of the overall state of pollinators in Europe. “We cannot look at the issue of bee health as a segmented one. We need to look at this in the overall context of pollinators' and pollination state and health. Pollination is a vital ecosystem service. We committed ourselves in 2011 to maintaining and enhancing ecosystems and their services by 2020. We therefore must deliver on pollination. We have 7 years to address the issue: the clock is ticking,” he said referring to the biodiversity objectives set in 2011 by the European Commission.

IUCN is currently working on reviewing the conservation status of pollinators in Europe, as commissioned by the European Commission. See here for more information on the European Red List.  

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The views expressed at the events organized by the European Parliament Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development do not necessarily reflect those of IUCN or EBCD.  The Integroup brings together parliamentarians and stakeholders to debate and form ideas and policies in a cross-sectoral and cross-party manner by allowing exchanges of different and sometimes divergent opinions.

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