Urgent call to save Europe’s bees

Posted by Josette Dunn on 6th December 2010

Bee mortality is rising while the number of beekeepers in Europe is declining, all of which could have a serious impact on food production since most plants and crops are pollinated by bees. The European Parliament has issued a call for the EU to step up support to the beekeeping industry when the common agricultural policy is next revamped.

With 76% of food production and 84% of plant species dependent on pollination by bees, Parliament’s resolution adopted on Thursday asks the Commission to do more to aid the beekeeping sector in the common agricultural policy (CAP) after 2013, by reviewing legislation, boosting funding and stepping up investment in research.

Paolo De Castro, who tabled the resolution on behalf of the Agriculture Committee, said during Tuesday’s debate “Difficult marketing conditions, price volatility and increased mortality are some of the critical factors” that put at risk the EU beekeeping sector. Astrid Lulling, who contributed substantially to the drafting of the text, said: “Bees are important for the quality of our lives. Therefore a complex and global policy to ensure the EU has a sufficient number of bees and beekeepers and thus avoid depopulation is urgently needed”.

Enhanced labelling rules and controls, further research on bee mortality and the inclusion of bee diseases in EU veterinary policy are among recommendations in the resolution.

MEPs also urge the Commission to set up an action plan for tackling bee mortality that would include promoting pollinator-friendly farming practices, and to maintain and improve existing support programmes, which are due to expire in 2012.

Changes in labelling needed to guarantee quality

Imports account for over 40% of the honey sold in Europe, so Parliament wants EU food quality policy laws to be updated to improve rules on labelling of origin so as to avoid misleading information on blends of honey from EU and non-EU countries. Moreover, say MEPs, border controls should be harmonised, especially for third country imports, as low-quality honey imports, adulteration and honey substitutes distort the market and exert constant pressure on prices and the final product quality on the EU internal market.

Processed products advertised as containing honey should be allowed to refer to honey in the name of the product only if at least 50% of the sugar originates from honey, says Parliament.

Better disease control

EU veterinary also policy needs to be modified so that it can tackle bee mortality, for example through effective measures to control bee diseases such as the Varroa mite. In addition, access to medicines in the whole of the European Union should be improved through EU funding.

Independent research to inform the public

The resolution also urges the Commission to support independent research on bee mortality and ensure that any data on the effects of GMO crops and pesticides on particular species of bees are made public. Lastly, Parliament suggests revising the rules on pesticides and plant protection products to allow risk assessments of bees’ exposure to such substances.