In recent years, the European Union has taken significant strides towards achieving a sustainable future for its citizens and the environment. The European Commission’s Green Deal has at its heart the protection of the EU’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Reducing the use and risk of pesticides and reversing the decline of pollinators are two of the calls to action embedded, respectively, in the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies of the Green Deal.
In line with these broad strategic visions, the EU Pollinators Initiative – which was welcomed by the European Parliament and the Council – has set ambitious objectives for addressing the causes and consequences of the insect pollinator crisis.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already made a significant contribution to the innovative scientific thinking that will be essential if these ambitions are to become reality. Following publication of the MUST-B framework earlier this year, EFSA is now in a strong position to broaden the scope of its work on environmental risk assessment, extending its reach not only to wild bees but to other insect pollinators as well.
What is MUST-B?
In response to a mandate from the European Parliament's Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), EFSA devised an integrated framework for the environmental risk assessment of multiple stressors in honey bees (MUST-B). These stressors range from chemicals such as pesticides, biological agents (parasites, predators and diseases) and other factors such as food availability, weather conditions, and agricultural practices. MUST-B proposes a ground-breaking systems-based approach that combines modelling and monitoring strategies.
The simulation tool, called ApisRAM, will be capable of assessing the effects of pesticides in interaction with other stressors. In particular, it will focus on the specific attributes that influence the population dynamic of a honey bee colony (size, demographic structure, and behaviour) and what it produces (honey, propolis, beebread, royal jelly, and wax).
Within the next 2–5 years, ApisRAM will make it possible to assess effects from more complex pesticide mixtures, including synergistic and cumulative effects, moving beyond the ‘single crop/single pesticide assessment’ approach to reflect the complexity of the environment in which bees live. Ultimately it will also be possible to assess chronic, sublethal and colony level effects of multiple chemicals.
Like all simulation models, ApisRAM will need data. This is the other major challenge addressed by MUST-B, which commissioned a fine-scale, large field data collection in two representative climatic regions of the EU, Denmark and Portugal, that was recently published on the EFSA website and the Knowledge Junction community of Zenodo. More harmonised data are expected to be collected and shared with EFSA and among stakeholders via the data platform prototype currently being developed by the EU Bee Partnership. The Partnership was established by EFSA and stakeholders, also in response to a request from MEPs, and includes EU beekeeping, veterinary and farming associations, academia, NGOs and industry.
From bees to all pollinators
Following the successful conclusion of the MUST-B project, our vision now is to ensure that by 2030 the methodologies and tools available for the environmental risk assessment of chemicals – primarily chemical pesticides – better safeguard all insect pollinators and the ecosystem services they provide.
We will do this with the support of all interested parties, such as EU Member States, stakeholders, other agencies related to the European Parliament’s ENVI committee, and the European Commission through the Pollinators Initiative. Our aim is to build on the EU Bee Partnership and forge new, broader partnerships and networks in Europe and beyond; partnerships that will help turn the ambitions of the Green Deal into reality.