Save the bee: EU-wide protection plan set out to save at-risk populations

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02 Mar 2018 --- MEPs are to set out a Pan-European long-term survival strategy that involves potential bans on all harmful pesticides, tightening up checks to eliminate fake honey imports and promoting the health benefits of honey.

The European political push for action to help bees comes just after the updated risk assessment from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on the impact neonicotinoid pesticides can have on bee populations which discovered that most uses do in fact pose a risk to wild bees and honeybees.

The EU needs a wide-ranging, long-term strategy to improve bee health and rebuild the bee population, says Parliament in a resolution passed by 560 votes to 27 with 28 abstentions yesterday (March 1).

MEPs are calling for:
- An EU-level action plan to combat bee mortality;
- Breeding programs to boost resilience to invasive species such as Varroa destructor, the Asian hornet or the American foulbrood;
- More research to develop innovative bee drugs and increase their availability;
- A ban on all pesticides with scientifically proven negative effects on bee health, including neonicotinoids, and safe alternatives for farmers, and advanced warning of crop spraying periods to avoid harming bees.

“We must do our utmost to protect our honey and bees as 76 percent of food production in Europe relies on pollination and so bees are indispensable for our food security,” said rapporteur Norbert Erdős.

“The Parliament has proposed a survival strategy for our bees and beekeepers and a plan to increase transparency for our consumers by replacing the current misleading and therefore unacceptable label “Blend of EU and non-EU honeys” with a clear indication of countries that the honeys come from – including the percentages of different honeys used in the final product.”

“Now it is time for the EU Commission and national governments to put our proposals in place so that our bees and beekeepers can thrive again,” he added.

Boost for beekeepers and promotion of bee products
Every year, the EU’s 600 000 beekeepers and their 16 million beehives produce 200,000 tons of honey. However, this is not sufficient to cover demand on the EU market and the shortfall is made up by imports, above all from China. 

Threats to bee health and market competition make the economic viability of apiculture a critical matter. Therefore, EU policies aim to address these issues and promote beekeeping, an activity that is of vital importance to the environment.

The EU should increase the budget for national beekeeping programs by 50 percent and set up a specific support scheme for beekeepers in the EU’s post-2020 farming policy, MEPs say. They also suggest compensation for loss of bee colonies.

EU honey production and trade
EU states should do more to inform the public, and especially children, of the benefits of eating honey and the therapeutic uses of bee products, MEPs say.

Honey is the best-known product of beekeeping, although other apiculture products (royal jelly, propolis, pollen and beeswax) and services (e.g. renting out bees for pollination) can represent a source of income for beekeepers. 

The EU is the world’s second largest producer after China, with respectively 12 percent and 28 percent of world production. However, the EU is not self-sufficient. Beekeepers have relatively high production costs compared with world competitors and the limited EU exports of honey are priced higher than imports to the EU.

Among the main challenges facing EU beekeepers is profitability, which is crucial for the sustainability of the apiculture sector. 

Like other agricultural producers, beekeepers must cope with production and market challenges. When it comes to production, various factors can affect productivity in a beekeeping enterprise, according to EU data.

Outbreaks of animal diseases, exposure to chemicals, losses in plant diversity, adverse climatic conditions or the deterioration of bees' natural habitats owing to natural or human factors can all threaten the productive capacity of beehives. These factors can also be among the causes of the bee health problems and high bee mortality rates registered in recent decades.

Halting fake honey imports
To ensure that imported honey meets high EU standards, border inspections and single market checks should be harmonized, all imported honey tested and traceability requirements tightened, add MEPs.

They also want the EU Commission to develop more effective laboratory testing procedures and call on member states to impose harsher penalties for offenders.

Honey and bee products should be considered “sensitive” in trade talks with non-EU countries or be even completely excluded from negotiations, the resolution adds.

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