Documents considered by the Committee on 19 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

12 Honeybee health



COM(10) 714

Commission Communication on Honeybee Health

Legal base
Document originated6 December 2010
Deposited in Parliament13 December 2010
DepartmentEnvironment, Food & Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 21 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


12.1 The Commission says that, because bees play an important role in both pollination and the production of honey, the EU has established certain harmonised rules to protect and maintain their health, with Member States being free to regulate other aspects of beekeeping. It observes that this system worked successfully for many years, but that there has recently been an increase in bee mortality in several countries within and outside the EU. As a result, beekeeping organisations have — with the support of the European Parliament — called for more focus on this issue, and the Commission has therefore put forward this Communication to clarify the key issues and the actions which it intends to take to address them.

The current document

12.2 The Commission says that annual EU honey production is about 200,000 tonnes, and that beekeeping is a widely-developed activity, with around 700,000 beekeepers, of which about 3% are classed as professional[49] (and which account for about one-third of production). It notes that, together with other insects, bees are important pollinators, and it says that, in considering the sector, account needs to be taken of the different kinds of beekeeping, the significant difference between bee health and technology when compared with animals such as cattle and poultry, different regional characteristics, and the distribution of diseases.

12.3 As regards bee health, the Commission points out that, in the past decade, several problems have affected the sector in different countries worldwide, but it adds that, although this has led to serious concern, scientific studies have not been able to determine the exact cause or extent. However, it suggests that bee health is linked to many different bacterial, viral or parasitic factors; the availability of suitable treatment, the presence of invasive species; and environmental changes, including the use of pesticides in agriculture (though it has so far found no evidence of any link with genetically modified organisms).

12.4 The Commission goes on to look at the EU animal health framework as it applies to bees. It notes that the legislation in force provides for animal health certification and requirement for movements of bees between Member States, intended to prevent or control a number of bee diseases,[50] but that it does not cover an important bee parasite (Varroa), which is present and well established in the EU, because restricting bee movements would be a considerable burden on beekeepers without limiting its spread. The Commission also notes that, since 2000, there have been restrictions on imports of live bees from third countries, with checks being carried out at veterinary border inspection posts. It points out that it is currently preparing a proposal for a single "Animal Health Law", which will over time replace the current basic veterinary legislation of almost 60 Directives and Regulations, and is intended to introduce a more preventive approach to disease control: and it says that veterinarians and beekeepers have repeatedly mentioned bee health as one of the areas which could benefit from further EU harmonisation.

12.5 The Commission then addresses a number of more specific issues:

  Scientific and technical knowledge

The Commission observes that the problems of the sector and the decline in the bee population are complex and diverse, but that, as no direct causal links have been established, it is still unclear what should be done to combat this. However, it suggests that surveillance plays a major part, and it notes that a recent project[51] by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) indicates that the systems operated by Member States are in general weak, with a lack of standardisation and harmonisation as regards the data collected. It says that it therefore intends to start a pilot surveillance programme by the end of 2011.

  EU Reference Laboratory for bee health

The Commission points out that EU Reference Laboratories are essential for animal health risk management, in that they provide the scientifically sound and uniform testing needed for reliable disease diagnosis and the application of the necessary control and eradication measures, including the standardisation of analytical methods in the international arena. It says that it therefore intends to designate an EU Reference Laboratory for bee health, which should become operational by April 2011, and which will be tasked with addressing scientific issues identified in the EFSA report (and which will provide technical support to the pilot surveillance programme).

  Improved knowledge on bee health

The Commission says that the focus on bee health has been stepped up as part of the Better Training for Safer Food initiative, with 160 participants from all Member States and seven non-EU countries having taken part during 2010 and 2011 in a number of training courses.

  Availability of veterinary medicines for bees

The Commission says that beekeeper associations believe that there are not enough medicinal products available to treat diseases in bees, largely because the market is small and the expected investment return low. It says that the European Medicines Agency has taken a number of measures aimed at promoting innovation and the development of new products, and that this area will be considered in the context of a wider review of the legal framework for medicines which have minor uses and/or apply to minor species.

  Food safety aspects

The Commission points out that, where there is no authorised veterinary medicinal product in a Member State for a condition affecting an animal species, Member States have to ensure that measures exist allowing a veterinarian to use medicines off-label within strict limits. However, it notes that, in such cases, there are no clear rules on Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs), which creates legal uncertainties for both producers and consumers, and can lead to potential disruption of the internal market for honey. Consequently, it intends to adopt MRLs for such substances


The Commission notes that a new Regulation (1107/2009) maintains a provision under which a pesticide can only be approved at EU level if its use has no unacceptable effect on bee health or bees, or leads to negligible exposure of honeybees, but it adds that it is currently revising the data requirements for the submission of pesticide dossiers to enhance the protection offered.

  Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

The Commission notes that, although increased bee mortality has been reported all over the world, no difference has been reported between those areas where GMOs are extensively cultivated and those where GMOs are much less common or cultivation has been prohibited. It therefore cautions against any suggestion that increased bee mortality is related to increased GMO cultivation, and notes that EU legislation in this area contains a number of safeguards.

  Bees and biodiversity loss

The Commission observes that bee health is also affected by biodiversity loss arising from land-use changes and mismanaged intensification, as well as by the loss of traditional farming practices, pollution and the spread of invasive species. It says that it is promoting research on conservation, restoration and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture, and that there is growing evidence that bees with access to a mixture of pollen from different plants are healthier than those fed only one type of pollen. It also observes that the EU's Rural Development Programmes offer a range of agri-environmental measures to encourage biodiversity, and that attempts to meet the EU's more general biodiversity target for 2020 are likely to have a beneficial effect on bee health.

  Common Agricultural Policy and bee health

The Commission notes that, in addition to environmental measures, Council Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 establishing a common market organisation of agricultural markets contains a series of specific measures to support beekeeping, and that, if included in apiculture programmes drawn up by Member States, these may be eligible for part-financing by the EU. It adds that a report which it presented earlier this year concluded that this mechanism had been very beneficial to the beekeeping sector.

  Research on bee health

The Commission says that the EU supports research projects into bee health through its Seventh Framework Programme, with about €10 million having already been dedicated to honeybees and other pollinators, and current projects dealing with the decline in both wild and domesticated pollinators (including honeybee colonies) in Europe, its potential causes and the development of appropriate diagnostic tools.

  Communication on bee health issues

The Commission says that one of its key objectives is to improve communication, and that it expects a recently developed Commission internet page to serve as one of the focal points for interested parties, offering sectoral information on a range of activities and legislation regarding bee health, as well as links to other relevant pages. It adds that it intends to hold further discussions on how to improve its activities in this area.

  Global link to international activities

The Commission observes that the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is the recognised standard setting body, and recently issued a statement of bee health, proposing that research into the causes of mortality in bees, and how to combat diseases, should be intensified. Bee health also features in the Organisation's Fifth Strategic Plan for 2011-15, and the Commission says that it is cooperating closely with OIE on the exchange of relevant scientific information.

The Government's view

12.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 21 December 2010, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Lord Henley) provides a summary of the provisions in the Communication, but says that it gives rise to no policy implications.


12.7 Although this Communication is not contentious, it nevertheless deals with a subject of some public interest and concern. Consequently, whilst we are content to clear it, we think it right to draw it to the attention of the House.

49   In that they have over 150 hives. Back

50   Such as American and European foulbrood, small hive beetle and the Tropilaelaps mite. Back

51   "Bee mortality and bee surveillance in Europe". An externally produced report on the project is available: Back

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