Select Committee on European Communities Eleventh Report



Letter from Lord Donoughue, Minister for Farming and the Food Industry, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to Lord Reay, Chairman of Sub-Committee

  I am writing to give the Government's response to the Select Committee's report of 15 March on the EU proposals regarding the production and marketing of honey.

  We are grateful to the Committee by this balanced and thorough analysis of the proposals, and we welcome its support for the general approach the Government has taken on them. I ought, however, to comment on the Committee's conclusions that the Government should, in particular, increase R&D on bee disease detection and control using part-EU funding and collaborate more with beekeeping associations on a systematic programme of education in best practice.

  So far as bee disease detection and control is concerned, the Agriculture Departments continue to fund a range of measures to help in this important area. In 1997-98, bee health measures therein the UK will cost £1.5 million. The range of measures varies across the UK according to local needs and circumstances; in general, this includes a free sampling and diagnostic service for varroa and provision of free advice on bee health issues to beekeepers. We believe this represents the best use of available resources to help all beekeepers. In addition the UK is funding around £200,000 of R&D work relating to varroa. However, given the current constraints on spending, I cannot see any scope for increasing this level of funding, bearing in mind that the proposed EU scheme, as a new measure, will already have an adverse impact on UK public expenditure.

  As regards the education and training of beekeepers, the Agriculture Departments recognise the importance of this, and one of the main priorities is to ensure that the Government's bee health services represent the best use of available resources. The bee health programme in England and Wales has been developed over the last three years so that the National Bee Unit field staff have a firm training remit. They now work even more closely with the beekeeping community throughout the whole year to raise awareness and to improve training and information. For example, the results of the varroa R&D programme are already channelled to beekeepers through the Regional Bee Inspectors. Research results are presented to beekeepers locally and nationally on a regular basis. The Unit has already set up a number of initiatives as part of its bee health service including having representatives on the British Bee Keeping Association Education, Husbandry and Technical Committees which organise courses; joint training programmes with the British Beekeeping Association and the setting up of voluntary disease liaison officers amongst local beekeeping associations to act as helpers for less experienced beekeepers. The Government considers, therefore, that this recommendation is already being implemented.

  Finally, the Government takes note of the Committee's view on the offer of the beekeeping associations to co-operate in the survey of the sector which will be required before any request for EU assistance can be made. This will be explored further with the associations.

6 June 1997

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