A recent report by the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament notes the importance of bee pollinators to crop production, some of the rising concerns over bee health and makes recommendations to address the problems. The report notes that 84 percent of the crop species and 76 percent of food production in the EU is dependent on bee pollination. Reports of high bee mortality and problems with production of honey bees such as diseases, parasites (such as the Varroa mite) and pesticides have raised concerns about the health of apiculture in Europe. Over 600,000 Europeans derive some income from honey bees. Currently, the EU spends about 10 million Euros per year on bee research. The agriculture committee recommends increasing that amount.
The report makes several recommendations to promote honey bee health. The first recommendation is to fund diagnostic centers and field testing to better monitor problems and provide information to bee keepers. Documenting the problems and responding to increases in problems in a timely manner can make the best use of limited resources and help stop emerging problems before they spread.
The second recommendation is to provide incentives to pharmaceutical companies to develop better products for control of mites. Currently, the Varroa mite is a major detriment to honey bee health, is difficult to control and can result in loss of colonies. Products for mite control must control the mite without harming the honey bees or their honey, difficult proposition. Effective control of Varroa mite would relieve a lot of stress on honey bee colonies.
The third recommendation is to increase training of farmers in the use of chemicals to prevent harm to bees and promote active measures to protect and preserve bee pollinators. Misapplication of pesticides and poor timing (such as spraying flowers that bees are visiting with insecticide) are major factors in bee mortality.
A fourth recommendation is to take steps to prevent new exotic bee diseases from importation into Europe. Some bee diseases that are present in other parts of the world but not in Europe. The current problems are challenging enough that an effort to prevent importing new problems is worthwhile.
The United State has similar problems with bees and has in place similar programs to what the EU proposes. Bee health is an ongoing challenge. At the end of last month (September 2011), over 10 million bees were killed in Florida with losses of $150,000 to a single bee keeper. The cause of death is under investigation. Confirmation of the cause of death awaits chemical analysis of dead bees. These problems will never be eliminated but we can take actions to limit their occurrence and magnitude.