EU investment needed to prevent bees dying
by Astrid Lulling
The European Parliament wants the EU to spend more on protecting the future of bees, before it is too late
We have all been alerted recently to the reduction in the numbers of pollinating insects, including honey bees. Some 84 per cent of plant species and 76 per cent of food production, in Europe, are dependent on pollination by bees and the generated economic value is significantly greater than that of the honey produced. Bee diseases are on the increase and Apis mellifera even risks becoming an endangered species. This is due, partly, to the ever growing presence of the Varroa destructor mite. It compromises the immune system of bees, causing all kinds of related diseases.
We know that the Varroa destructor is pumping up bees' resistance against the available and authorised medicines. Beekeepers are, therefore, lacking an effective means to fight the Varroa. Consequently, the European veterinary policy should be adapted in order to coordinate and finance the fight against bee diseases within its scope. By creating a market for new medicine, we can encourage industry to develop new and effective means to counter the Varroa and other related diseases. Even though agronomic practices have improved with fewer pesticides being used; the mortality of bees has not been considerably reduced. Bee mortality can be explained by a wide array of factors - including bee diseases, weakened immunity to pathogens and parasites, climate change, the use of plant protection products, unsustainable farming techniques and land-use change. Indeed, changes to land-use often results in periods where bees lack foods. It also causes progressive eradication of melliferous plant species.
The European Union must drastically increase its research budget - currently around €10m - to find out more about environmental causes, illnesses and their impact. Supporting scientific research on honeybee health is of the utmost importance and it could build on good practices such as COST Action, COLOSS, BeeDoc and STEP initiatives. Moreover, the European Parliament is calling for an accurate registration of all European beehives - in order to get valid and comparable data across Europe. According to Directive 2010/21/EU, member states are required to ensure that certain labelling requirements for plant protection products are implemented, risk-mitigation measures are included in product authorisation and monitoring programmes to verify the direct and indirect exposure of honey bees to certain active substances are carried out. By these means, pesticides and other plant protection products on the market should be used more wisely and new authorisations - even the ones expiring after 10 years of validity - should only be attributed after passing the necessary direct and indirect exposure tests on bees. This could mitigate the well-known and devastating consequences of certain active substances on bees.
The challenges for European apiculture are multiple and yet the budget to finance the programmes to enhance the production and commercialisation of honey is rather small - €32m for 27 countries. The Europea Commission is asked to ensure that existing support for the apiculture sector and the future of this policy is maintained and strengthened in the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013, guaranteeing the continuation and improvement of this sector. The EU's 700,000 beekeepers also need a clearer origin-labelling for their products in order to strengthen their marketing power and improve their position against the unfair competition of low-quality imports from third countries. We want a label where the consumer is informed about all countries of origin rather than one that reads: "Blend of EU and non-EU countries".
Astrid Lulling is an MEP, in Luxembourg, and a member of the European People's Party group in the European Parliament
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