The Beecome European Beekeeping Congress took place on March 22-24 in Blaj, Romania during the Honey Festival. With participants from all over Europe, the event was an important exchange on beekeeping, bee health and policy surrounding our pollinators. BeeLife European Beekeeping Coordination, along with the European Professional Beekeepers Association (EPBA), also took part in the discussion, with three key messages regarding the health of our pollinators, biodiversity and the quality of the environment.
1. We need to adopt EFSA's Bee Guidance document
The “Guidance on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees (Apis mellifera, Bombus sp. and solitary bees” or often called “Bee Guidance document”, prepared by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2013, offers significant improvements for risk assessment methods.
Since its publication almost six years ago, EU Member States continue to postpone the adoption of the EFSA guidance document which envisages improved protection of bees from dangerous pesticides. The document even served for the 2013 partial ban on three neonicotinoid substances (imidacloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin). However, the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) has now the chance to improve European efforts for the protection of bees, pollinators and biodiversity. During its following sessions on phytopharmaceuticals, the Committee will be able to put to the vote and approve the guidance document, which BeeLife and its members continue to support.
In addition to enhancing risk assessment of bee-harming products, the adoption of the Bee Guidance document would also send a strong message that the European community is undertaking important measures towards the protection of bees, other pollinators and their role within nature.
2. A Pollinator Index as an indicator can significantly benefit the next Common Agricultural Policy
The EU is currently reforming its Common Agricultural Policy (post-2020), and one of the main goals is achieving a more sustainable agricultural system. For this purpose, BeeLife insists that a Pollinator Index (supported by DG ENVI) should be included since it can provide significant advantages to the results measurement. In collaboration with bees, we can more accurately measure the results of what we are doing in the field and how can we improve our agricultural system to make it more sustainable.
Using a Pollinator Index can serve as a proxy indicator for pollination services, the health and quality of the environment, and even help improving result measurements of policies included in the CAP. As stated in BeeLife’s document “Why We Need Bees as Indicators in the next CAP”, the benefits of a Pollinator Index present an excellent opportunity for the sustainability of agriculture in the EU.
3. The systematic grant of emergency authorisations for banned bee-harming products needs to stop
European beekeepers have a first-hand experience on the negative impact of some plant protection products on bees. Based on the evidence introduced by new risk assessment methods, the European Commission decided to partially ban three neonicotinoid substances in 2013 and then extend the ban to all open-air uses in 2018. However, adverse effects of neonicotinoids continue to be a threat as several Member States recurrently issue emergency authorisations.
Constant derogations to the EU-wide ban and the grant of emergency authorisations continue putting to risk the balance of ecosystems, the livelihood of beekeepers, along with their necessary collaboration with agriculture for pollination services, and the cultural value of our relation to bees.
“Emergency authorisations” for banned or non-approved pesticides can only be used in “exceptional circumstances”, for example, when a danger to crops or the environment leave the farmer or Member State with no other choice than to use the pesticide. However, this mechanism is being abused. Between 2013 and 2016, Member States granted over 1,100 emergency authorisations, 62 of which authorised the use of neonicotinoids. Moreover, there are worrying cases such as that of Romania, which has issued an emergency authorisation for neonicotinoid-family products for six years in a row, including 2019.
These cases show that article 53 of Regulation (EC) 1107/2009, is being abused. Not only is the “emergency” condition questionable, but often the established notification procedures are not followed. We need to open the conversation towards new forms in which EU regulation is respected, thus opening the benefits of developments and results of new risk assessment methods to all of Europe.
President of BeeLife, Francesco Panella, stresses the importance of these three points. “The first and undeniable priority of modern agriculture is to preserve the essential element of fertility: biodiversity. Stopping the gradual and dramatic decline of small life forms - bacteria, insects, pollinators and bees - is the challenge for preserving the food production of tomorrow. Bees can be an exceptional indicator for the impact of our current production methods and pest control. It is no longer time to look away but to refine the tools of understanding, because change is possible. We're still on time ... maybe!”
BeeLife firmly believes in the great potential in the collaboration of our bees and our agricultural system. All of our propositions are looking for ways to improve this collaboration, to allow nature to help ensure our food security. From protecting our bees to improving this collaboration, we can envision an even more bee-friendly farming in the future.