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Procedure : 2011/2108(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0359/2011

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Debates :

PV 14/11/2011 - 21
CRE 14/11/2011 - 21

Votes :

PV 15/11/2011 - 7.17
CRE 15/11/2011 - 7.17
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Monday, 14 November 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

21. Honeybee health and beekeeping (short presentation)
Video of the speeches

  President. – The next item is the report by Csaba Sándor Tabajdi, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on honeybee health and the challenges of the beekeeping sector [2011/2108(INI)] (A7-0359/2011).


  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi, rapporteur. (HU) Mr President, Commissioner Dalli, ladies and gentlemen, the main focus of my report is honeybee health, but I would also like to respond to some of the other important challenges facing this sector. The directorate general of the European Commission produced an excellent communication; I used it as the basis for my report and have tried to develop it further. I would like the Commission, the Member States and those concerned in the beekeeping sector to actually implement the many concrete proposals set out in this report. It is not primarily European honey production that is at stake. Through pollination, the beekeeping sector offers vital services to agriculture as a whole and contributes to biodiversity. If it were not for the activities of bees and other pollinators, 85% of agricultural crops would not exist. In other words, the beekeeping sector provides vital environmental public goods, and this is why we need to use Community resources to support it.

The problem is that for decades, medicines have been in short supply. The big pharmaceutical companies lack sufficient interest in developing new medicinal products, while the beekeeping industry does not have enough money to support the development of new honeybee health products. This is a problem that has gone on for decades. If we cannot make progress on these issues using Community resources, then the crisis currently affecting the European and global beekeeping sector will not be resolved.

The other major problem is that the sector is not sufficiently well organised. Reliable statistical data on honeybee health, and even on the number of hives or colonies, are lacking. So it would be vital to have reliable figures to work with, at both Member State and European Union level. Another big problem is that many beekeepers lack professional competence. It would be very important for Member States to make beekeeping subject to some kind of professional training requirement. I consider it very important to assess the effect of plant protection on honeybee health problems, which is the most controversial issue. There are those in Parliament who would like to lay all the blame on plant protection products; I disagree with this. Others, meanwhile, try to play down their impact.

Regrettably, certain forces prevented me from including in my report details of which plant protection products are particularly harmful and which active substances in these products could be substituted by other active substances less harmful to honeybee health. I am referring to neonicotinoid pesticides and, in future, I will be fighting alongside friends campaigning for environmental protection and bee protection to have these substances removed from plant protection products wherever possible.

I call upon the Commission to modify the Honey Directive because quality parameters for honey are not adequately defined under the current provisions and this means that we are unable to take appropriate action against adulterators and the adulteration of honey. Quality issues relating to imported honey are also a problem. Last, the extent to which genetically modified, or genetically engineered, crops are harmful or not is also the subject of major controversy.

I call upon the European Commission to commission at last a research study that is reliable, objective and scientific, as this is not a matter of feelings but of science. At present, no such study exists. With regard to antibiotics, meanwhile, I call upon Commissioner Dalli to legislate on this issue at EU level. In the case of meat products, for example, there are set limits for antibiotic residue content, despite the fact that we consume much more meat than honey. There is no such provision in the case of honey. It would be good to resolve this at EU level. Finally, Albert Einstein once said, and I thought this was an exaggeration, that if the world’s bees were to perish, then humans would perish within four years too. He may have been speaking figuratively, but in the light of what we now know about the huge impact of beekeeping in terms of securing food production and maintaining biodiversity, I believe we should listen to Albert Einstein’s advice. Thank you for your attention.


  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, as the previous speaker said, this is a very important topic, but not many people realise how important it is. As he pointed out, Einstein certainly knew how important it was. His quotation is well worth recalling, and indeed highlighting, because if 85% of species are dependent on pollination and the bee dies out, then that is the end of it. Certainly Einstein was quite right in that regard.

There are a lot of issues here which have to be looked at. The Department of Agriculture has been successful in Ireland in preserving our native bee species by not allowing foreign species to be imported. I think it is very important that the purity of various species is preserved because this is a huge issue. Also, in terms of the economy, if we can increase the importance of honey as part of a stable diet, we could certainly also look at that to improve the situation.


  Evelyn Regner (S&D).(DE) Mr President, it is obvious that in times of crisis, the health of the bee population is not taken as seriously as it should be. This is a mistake however. Albert Einstein once said that humanity would be able to survive for only four years without bees. Mortality among bees affects agriculture, rural development, food production, the maintenance of biodiversity and, ultimately, our lives. Speaking for Austria, I can tell you that there has been a 30% decline in the bee population in some regions. It is important that this phenomenon should be researched.

I am therefore in favour of this programme of research and studies; however, this must not be our only measure. We need specific controls through agricultural supports and a strict authorisation process for plant protection products. After all, it is not just the Varroa mite that is causing the honey bee to die out – modern agriculture also plays a significant role here. For this reason, more financial support should be made available for research into improving the health of our bee population, prevention, effective and standardised medicines in the Member States and alternative options to clinical insecticides.


  Bas Eickhout (Verts/ALE). (NL) Mr President, we all seem to agree about the importance of bees. However, when I read this report, I see no real fundamental criticism being levelled at how our agricultural model is currently working. The solution is even being sought through giving encouragement to the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture even more drugs, though we know that is the root of the problem, or in planting a couple of flower borders around agricultural fields. As if that is going to solve the problem!

There is, however, an alternative resolution, with a clearer criticism and a clearer focus on our precautionary principle. This demands that the neonicotinoids be removed from the market for the time being, because they have all too often been shown to be involved. That has to be done now. We also have to look very carefully at genetically modified drugs. There is enough evidence now to apply the precautionary principle. That is crucial.

Another important point is that we need to change our agricultural model. We need more crop rotation and fewer monocultures. Those issues must be thoroughly addressed. Only then will we really be able to solve the problem afflicting bees.


  Struan Stevenson (ECR). – Mr President, the European Court of Justice ruled in September that all jars of honey have to contain a label that says: ‘This product contains pollen’. That is extremely unhelpful. Of course, honey contains pollen: even a five-year-old child could tell you that. It is like putting a label on a bag of peanuts that says: ‘This bag may contain nuts’.

This additional cost to the industry at a time it is fighting against the disease, the Varroa mite and colony collapse disorder is extremely unwelcome and unhelpful.

We have been dealing in this Parliament for months with the consumer information regulation dealing with labels. It is not up to judges to make that decision. It is up to us as legislators here in this House.

So I would suggest to the judges that they drape a large banner above the door of their HQ in Luxembourg that says: ‘This court contains nuts’.


  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL). (PT) Mr President, the constant weakening of bee colonies everywhere has become a major worry for which it has proved hard to find an effective overall solution. If we bear in mind that this decline is affecting not only domesticated bees but also wild stocks of the various species of pollinators, we shall easily see how serious the agricultural and ecological consequences are.

On a more general level, this problem cannot be dissociated from the current practice of intensive farming, predominantly monocultural, relying on the heavy and unsustainable use of agrochemicals and pesticides and disseminating genetically modified organisms without due precaution.

In addition to measures that can and should be adopted in the immediate term – banning certain types of product, or giving adequate scientific and technical help to farmers – what we need is more fundamental: a change from current modes of agricultural production and from the policies that support them.

The reform of the common agricultural policy would therefore be a good opportunity to start this far-reaching and all-important change.


  Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (PPE). (PT) Mr President, while thanking the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs for their good work, I would like to stress an important aspect of the matter which, despite my efforts, has not been included. This is the need to guard against the harmful effects of using subspecies outside their natural range and to prevent the continuation of this practice, which started about 50 years ago and has placed bees in conditions to which they were not adapted.

In these cases, the subspecies has been selected on the basis of certain characteristics, such as honey yield, to the detriment of others that are essential to its survival, such as defensive mechanisms and swarming. It has even happened that exotic parasites and diseases have been introduced, leading, at times, to the extinction of local subspecies.

This practice, which is in no one’s interest, must therefore be stopped by means of adequate legislation and the proper training of beekeepers.


  Judith A. Merkies (S&D). (NL) Mr President, I will be very brief. I, too, support the alternative resolution on which we shall be taking a vote tomorrow. Is it not the case that we have always explained fertility to our children by talking about the birds and the bees? The situation is very clear: if, in the near future, the bees disappear, not only will we not be able to give our children this explanation, we will also lose fertility, agricultural know-how and, ultimately, the methods that provide us with food. Therefore, we are slowly changing the whole of nature, because our farms are wrongly using too many pesticides, because they are relying on monocultures too much and because we are actually working with nature and agriculture in too industrial a fashion. Can we please return to the natural way of things, to the birds and the bees, and to the beginning?


  Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, bees, like their soul mates, the Roma, are famed for being free spirits. Like the attitude of that noble tribe towards discarded metal, bees care little about the title or provenance of the pollen that they collect. Ask any ordinary bee on the Clapham omnibus – or the Strasbourg tram – what it thinks about pollen from GM crops and it will shrug its little shoulders and say: ‘Don’t ask me, guv’nor, I only work here’.

If we were to insist that manufacturers of metal products should provide the exact location or source from which the Roma recyclers took the metal, then we would be told that this demand was unfair and even discriminatory and would put manufacturers and the Roma out of business. What is true for manufacturers and the Roma is also true of bees and honey-makers. Unreasonable demands that cannot be complied with will indeed drive firms out of business.


  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, I would have preferred if this report was about bees – both honey bees and bumble bees, and I think other colleagues have mentioned the issue of wild bees.

Before everyone jumps to their own conclusion about the causes of the problem, this report actually talks about the lack of reliable and comparative data on issues around honey bees and colony loss, and that we need an effective system that gives us information that we can actually work from. I think that is really important.

The idea of pesticides being a problem needs to be looked at, but the idea that farmers should use as little pesticide as possible, or that they use too much, should – and is – being regulated with new legislation on sustainable use of pesticides. That needs to be acknowledged.

I do accept that in terms of habitats, all insects need the appropriate area and, to my colleague who has just mentioned this, I have planted a number of hectares for bees on land that I have, and it does work. The bumble bees are there and it is effective.

So these measures can be adopted into our agricultural policy, which I will support.


  John Dalli, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, I am pleased to see that many events and discussions have taken place this year in Parliament, in the Council and elsewhere following the Commission Communication on bee health last December. This shows that this Communication has been instrumental in forging a better understanding of this matter.

Our initial assessment remains valid. The health of bees is strongly affected by various factors while to date, science has not yet determined the exact causes or the extent of bee loss.

Let me express here my appreciation for the excellent work of the rapporteur, Mr Tabajdi, who has produced a balanced report on this complex area.

The many factors affecting bee health are reflected in the report. Unfortunately, we agree that there are no quick and easy fixes, no one single solution, but it is clear that our research efforts need to be stepped up. We will pay attention to this in the selection of future research programmes, and we can fine-tune those elements which appear most influential.

The Commission has already completed several key actions, such as the designation of an EU reference laboratory for bee health and an increase in the EU’s contribution to the financing of the national apiculture programmes. I appreciate Parliament’s support for these initiatives.

Other actions are already planned. Parliament’s report certainly gives us food for thought on those items and on many more additional points. I can assure the honourable Members that we will look into all your suggestions with close attention. I am confident that our action will place us in a better position to decide on the best actions and strategies.

I would remind you, however, that the Commission has limited resources and tools. Member States and stakeholders have an important role to play. This could mean, for instance, investing further efforts in developing and putting on the market veterinary medicines. Similarly, Member States and stakeholder organisations could further promote good apiculture and agricultural practices, facilitate the dialogue between crop producers and beekeepers, and disseminate practical information to beekeepers.

Once again, may I say that I very much appreciate Parliament’s valuable report and look forward to continuing to make further progress on this important matter.


  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, 15 November 2011).

Written statements (Rule 149)


  Robert Dušek (S&D), in writing.(CS) Beekeeping provides key services for agriculture in the form of pollination and helps to preserve the biodiversity of species and maintain an ecological balance. In addition to this, it provides a livelihood for more than 600 000 EU citizens. This is why the agricultural value of beekeeping is strategic, as the success of food production itself depends upon pollination by bees. European beekeeping is suffering from the sporadic loss of entire bee colonies, and the reasons for these losses have so far not been adequately identified. The mass death of bees is most probably caused by high levels of environmental pollution and the widespread use of pesticides and antibiotics in agriculture. Genetically modified plants may also play a part in the loss of bee colonies. This view is reinforced by the fact that the manufacturers of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) do not participate in research on the effects of GMOs on bees. It would be of great benefit for beekeeping if the EU again reviewed and regulated the permitted and prohibited types of agricultural pesticides and fertilisers at the earliest opportunity. I welcome the Commission’s intention to publish its website in all language versions for dialogue and information-exchange between beekeepers of all Member States and regions and also between professional and amateur beekeepers. I am in favour of special programmes of financial aid for starter and young beekeepers across the EU and support for keeping original species of bees, which have been genetically more resistant to viruses and mites. A greater variety of bee species could be extremely beneficial to the situation in both the beekeeping and agriculture sectors.


  Kartika Tamara Liotard (GUE/NGL), in writing. (NL) This agenda item was given a sweet title: ‘honeybees’. However, what I find more important for our food supply than just quality honey is the role of bees as pollinators. Bees are tiny, but essential for agriculture and our ecosystem. I would like to reiterate today that this Parliament should not ignore any possible cause of the massive bee deaths, no matter how forceful – and, I fear, no matter how effective – the industry lobby might be. That means that we need to search intensively for the origin of the parasite, for the Varroa mite. Nor should we be quick to rule out the lethal impact of ‘plant protection products’ – in other words pesticides – nor, indeed, the broad consequences of GMO cultivation and its monocultures, the radiation of GSM traffic, climate change or particulate matter from diesel engines which could subtly disrupt the navigation of bees. Given the great importance of environmental protection and food safety, which is what is at stake here, it is inappropriate of this House to laugh off the possible consequences. Producers, including those of genetically modified material, should not hinder scientific research, but cooperate with it. Can we, just once, not think about pursuing profit, but about the environment, food supply, animal welfare and hobby beekeepers? Bees are not just bees in our lives, they are also the bee-all and end-all of our lives.


  Alajos Mészáros (PPE), in writing. (SK) Beekeeping is a traditional activity in the countryside, which quite often ensures a side income for rural households. In Central Europe, the biodiversity of flora is relatively well preserved, and it enables high-quality flower honey to be produced, and also meadow honey, without making bigger investments. Under such circumstances, this sector is able to supply honey as a truly natural product suitable for consumption by our citizens. The prices are, of course, higher than in certain parts of the world outside of Europe, but in the end, its higher and purer quality is also a supplementary source of nutrition for the population.

An excessive openness of the market to products from other countries would result in the inability of beekeepers to compete with the pressure of cheaper but not really top quality honey originating from professionally operated beekeeping farms outside of Europe, where the use of antibiotics is allowed. In the event of it not being possible to preserve the native bee family lines, there would be the danger of their replacement with bee family lines or kinds which cannot be admissible in countries with a high population density, with a subsequent negative effect on biodiversity and also on the health of bees.

Such a situation could cause serious damage to the interests of our beekeepers. Central Europe has all the conditions for producing high-quality honey as a natural product. Any potential further quantitative needs may be covered by imports from other parts of the world under clearly defined conditions and with appropriate labelling for domestic consumers.

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