Bees are ‘essential link’ in biodiversity preservation

Maintaining a healthy global bee community is crucial for the world’s agricultural output and should be a political priority, writes Gaston Franco.

By Gaston Franco MEP

31 Mar 2014

For several years, an excess mortality phenomenon in bee colonies has been observed worldwide. For the third consecutive year since 2012, I am sponsoring the European bee and pollination week, an awareness raising event organised by the parliament’s climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development intergroup.

This year, the conference will be held in Brussels on 2 April. It will have the honour of welcoming prince Albert II of Monaco, whose foundation conducts an exemplary fight for the protection of biodiversity. This will bring the opportunity to gain an overview of bees’ health, to present practical solutions to improve the health of the bee population and to coordinate European Union actions.

The bee is an essential link in the preservation of biodiversity. The reproduction of over 80 per cent of plant species in the world depends primarily on bees. More specifically, 35 per cent of the world’s food production would be threatened by a scarcity of bees.

"The reproduction of over 80 per cent of plant species in the world depends primarily on bees"

In economic terms, the impact of pollinators represents approximately 10 per cent of agriculture turnover globally. Bees also play an environmental watchdog role as they signal the chemical degradation of the environment in which they live.

While the media is focused on the essential nature of domestic bees, a study published in February 2013 in Science Magazine confirms that wild bees are around twice as effective as their counterparts at pollination. In fact, an increase in visits from wild bees increases fruiting twice as much as the same increase with visits from domestic bees. Whether wild or domestic, we cannot live without bees.

This is why supporting scientific research is paramount to bee health. We know that bee mortality is multi-factorial. Thus, the presence of parasites such as Varroa and Nosema, diseases such as American foulbrood or European foulbrood, poor beekeeping and farming practices, pesticides, pollution, not to mention nutritional deficiencies (especially pollen) are some key factors in the weakness and mortality phenomena which the global bee population has been facing for many years. However, other avenues remain to be explored.

In a report dated 13 March 2014, the European food safety agency called upon the creation of a European research network to develop a global approach in the evaluation of stress factors which affect the health of bees.

In addition, to address the problem of excess mortality, adequate training for beekeepers (who are mainly amateurs) is necessary, as well as disseminating best practices, integrating bee health into the veterinary curriculum and providing curriculum specialisation in this field.

Concrete measures should be implemented in our regions, particularly rural areas, in order to preserve bees and their habitats. It is also important to involve citizens in this debate through information campaigns and awareness for the general public on issues related to bee health.

Europe has also understood that the issue goes far beyond honey production. Without pollen cultures, the whole agricultural system falters. As Albert Einstein said, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live.”