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Bee health

The EU bee population plays an important role in both pollination and the production of honey and other apiculture products within the EU. The EU has therefore laid down specific EU rules to protect and maintain the health status of bees within the EU.

In terms of EU trade, the general conditions that apply to 'other' live animals also apply to bees. Hence consignment of bees must conform to the general animal health conditions laid down in Council Directive 92/65/EC before they can be traded in the EU. The Directive also lays down a model health certificate for bees which must be completed by the competent authority to signify that the health conditions as laid down in the Directive are met. This certificate must accompany consignments of bees when traded between EU Member States.

Similarly in regard to imports, the general conditions that apply to imports of 'other' live animals ' also apply to imports of bees. Hence all consignments of bees must conform to the general animal health conditions laid down in Council Directive 92/65/EC before they can be imported into the EU. In addition, specific animal health conditions and accompanying health certificates for the import of bees are now laid down in Commission Regulation (EC) No 206/2010 PDF which replaces Commission Decision 2003/881/EC. This first Decision was introduced in 2003 in response to the threat posed by two exotic pests of bees, the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) and the Tropilaelaps mite (Tropilaelaps spp.). These two pests have caused great damage to bee populations in affected third countries, and therefore the imports of bees are restricted in order to prevent the introduction of these pests into the EU. Details of the requirements for imports of bees are contained in the Decision, and are also summarised in the associated press release. NB Although this new Regulation has replaced Decision 2003/881/EC there is a transitional period for the use of the old certificates until 30th June.

The EU has also responded to the threat posed by the small hive beetle and tropilaelaps mite by ensuring that the presence of these pests is made notifiable in the EU. This means that all beekeepers who suspect their colonies are infested have to inform the appropriate authorities in their Member States. This was done under Commission Regulation (EC) No 1398/2003, the details of which are summarised in this press release PDF.

In recent years, there have been reports of increased mortality in bees in the EU and elsewhere. Although much attention has been given to this issue, scientific studies have not been able to determine the exact cause of these increased mortalities, which is thought to be multifactorial.

To try and identify the scale of the mortalities and their possible causes, in 2008, following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) requested information from Member States on their surveillance programmes, estimates of their bee populations for 2006-2007, and literature relating to colony collapse, weakening or mortality of bees. The information received has been collated in the report "Bee Mortality and Bee Surveillance in Europe".

As a follow up to this work, EFSA launched a pan-European research project on bee decline, in line with article 36 of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, to analyse the information received from the Member States. This project entitled "Bee mortality and bee surveillance in Europe" was recently completed and the final report has been published on EFSA's website. In general, the report considers that the causes of colony losses in Europe are likely to be multifactorial and it highlights the need for better harmonised surveillance on bee mortality in the EU.

In addition, the FP 6 research project ALARM (Assessing LArge scale Risks for biodiversity with tested Methods; www.alarmproject.net), provided the first national and continental assessment of the extent of honeybee declines across Europe.

The EU financed the creation of a EU reference laboratory for bee health, operational since 1 April 2011 in Sophia Antipolis, France.

The laboratory caters for the latest scientific information on the technical aspects of this surveillance. Its document "Basis for a pilot surveillance project on honey bee colony losses" gives guidance to EU countries that will implement the surveillance studies.

A financing decision to support these voluntary surveillance studies has been adopted by the Commission in late 2011.

The Commission is supporting both with technical assistance and co-financing (3.2 mEUR) the Member States who participate voluntarily in the surveillance studies on honeybee colony losses for the period 2012-2013. These studies are already running. Their purpose is to improve surveillance methodology, to obtain reliable (i.e. collected or verified by officials of the competent authorities) data on the extent of the colony mortality and on prevalence of the most important pathogens in the visited apiaries. 17 Member States are participating. First results are expected by spring 2013 while final analysis and reporting in the second half on 2013.