Rising bee mortality could devastate EU food production and environmental stability, Agriculture Committee MEPs warned on Thursday. An estimated 84% of plant species and 76% of food production in Europe depend on pollination by bees. To protect them, the committee urged the Commission and Member states to take coordinated action, including stepping up investment in research and increasing funding for apiculture programmes after 2013.
Given that the health of bee colonies is affected by many lethal factors and that research and veterinary practice currently offer little in the way of effective prevention or disease control, MEPs called on the Commission and Member states to step up their efforts to help bees and beekeepers to survive.
"Increased bee mortality threatens apiaries not only in Europe, but all over the world", said rapporteur Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D, HU), stressing that "global food safety is at stake". He added that "there is a strong need for Community funding for the continuous research and development of new bee-health veterinary products", and that "pollination, a public good benefiting the entire EU agriculture, can only be preserved by joint European action".
Boosting financial aid for apiculture under the new CAP after 2013, increasing support for coordinated research, encouraging information sharing and providing adequate training for beekeepers, farmers and veterinarians are among the measures recommended by the committee.
An estimated 84% of plant species and 76% of food production in Europe depends on pollination by bees. The beekeeping sector provides income, directly or indirectly, for more than 600,000 EU citizens.
Coordinated action to tackle bee mortality
A key barrier to stemming bee mortality is lack of reliable data. To get more accurate information on current bee health problems and allow better comparison, MEPs want to see national surveillance systems put in place and harmonised standards developed at EU level for data collection.
Research on disease prevention and control should also be harmonised and its results must be shared among Member States, laboratories, beekeepers, farmers and the industry to avoid overlaps and increase its effectiveness, says the committee, which calls on the Commission and Member States to increase funding for research at EU level and to support diagnostic laboratories and field tests at the national level.
EU and national authorities should consult beekeepers when drawing up apiculture programmes and related legislation to ensure their effectiveness and their timely application, said MEPs.
Better access to new medicines
The currently limited availability of effective medicines to treat diseases such as the Varroa mite must also be tackled, said MEPs, calling for more flexible rules for the authorisation and availability of veterinary products for honeybees but ruling out excessive use of antibiotics due to their impact on quality of bee products and increasing antibiotic resistance.
The pharmaceutical industry should be offered incentives to develop new medicines for bees, said MEPs, and more money should also be spent on field-testing them in Member States.
MEPs also welcomed a Commission's proposal to revise animal health legislation and called for more funding for EU veterinary policy, so that bee diseases such as varroasis can be fought more effectively.
Improved disease control
Another factor affecting bee health is presence of toxic agents, such as pesticides, in the environment. Special training programmes for farmers on the effects of these agents and the use of bee-friendly plant-protection products should be supported, said MEPs, along with similar programmes for beekeepers and veterinarians on disease prevention and control.
MEPs also asked the Commission to conduct objective research on possible negative effect on GMO crops on honeybee health.
Furthermore, the Commission should constantly monitor animal health developments in the third countries, apply the strictest animal health requirements and put in place an appropriate monitoring system for imported products to avoid introduction of exotic bee diseases.
The report was approved in committee with 32 votes in favour, 1 against and 3 abstentions. The plenary vote is scheduled for the November session (14 - 17 November 2011).