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The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food Production in Canada

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The Report

Executive Summary

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry undertook a study on the current status of bee health and strategies for its improvement. During its study, the Committee went on fact-finding missions in Ontario and Washington, D.C. These fact-finding missions allowed the Committee to visit a beekeeper and a corn farmer in Ontario, and to meet with government officials and various stakeholders in Washington, D.C. Through its hearings in Ottawa, the Committee heard from 85 witnesses over 8 months. Witnesses included officials from the federal and provincial governments of Canada, the European Union, and Australia, as well as representatives from agriculture and agri-food associations, civil society, and academia. The purpose was to hear witnesses’ perspectives on the challenges facing bee health and how governments can help stakeholders address these challenges.

The report consists of two parts. The first part provides information on the structure of the Canadian beekeeping sector, current state of honey bees, the importance of pollinators, and consequences of bee mortality. Although the European honey bee (apis mellifera) is the main commercially-managed pollinator in Canada, leafcutter bees and bumblebees are also used commercially to pollinate certain crops. Canada is also home to over 800 species of native (i.e. wild) pollinators, but these species are difficult to rear in large enough numbers to cost-effectively pollinate crops.

While overall colony numbers have been increasing, the annual percentage of bee colony losses has been consistently above the norm of 10% to 15% since 2006/2007. Witnesses identified a number of stressors that may explain these losses, namely weather and climate change, transportation of bees, diseases and parasites, disease and parasite treatments, a lack of floral diversity, and neonicotinoid pesticides. These factors likely interact and combine to cause the high levels of bee mortality.

Pollinators play an important role in the environment, food and seed production, and honey production in Canada. They provide an important ecosystem service in the reproduction of plants. About one third of the human diet comes directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants. The commercial value of bees to crop pollination in Canada is estimated at over $2 billion annually.

Given the importance of pollinators to food production, the second part of the report addresses strategies to ensure pollinator health. The federal government, in collaboration with stakeholders and the provinces, is working on a number of measures to improve pollinator health such as the Bee Health Forum, the National Bee Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard, and the re-evaluation of three neonicotinoid pesticides.

However, additional efforts need to be pursued as challenges were also identified. While it is important to ensure the health status of bees in Canada, some witnesses stated that they would like to import honey bee packages from the United States to meet their needs. Beekeepers would also like quicker access to disease and parasite treatments that are already available in other jurisdictions. Although the PMRA has made significant progress in reducing the duration of new conditional registrations, the length of some conditional pesticide registrations was questioned. Witnesses also identified the need to increase the amount and duration of research funding to improve knowledge about pollinators. Research results need to be transferred into the field and shared with beekeepers and growers in order for them to implement innovative management practices that will improve bee health. Finally, witnesses highlighted the importance of improving the floral diversity of the Canadian landscape to enhance bee nutrition.

A bumble bee foraging for nectar on goldenrod flowers

Recommendations

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that:

  • Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency amend the Honeybee Importation Prohibition Regulations, 2004 in order to allow the importation of bee packages from the United States while developing additional methods and tools to improve the inspection of imported honey bee packages.
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada implement the bee health surveillance project on a continuous basis rather than a four-year period in order to set, in the long term, an overall picture of the health of Canadian bee colonies and in order to take appropriate long term actions to maintain the health of Canadian bee colonies.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in conjunction with the provinces and territories, and in collaboration with industry stakeholders, accelerate the implementation of the National Bee Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard through adequate funding and management activities.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency accelerate its conditional registration process in order to reduce the current number of conditional registrations granted to neonicotinoid active ingredients.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development conduct a follow-up audit to verify whether the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has implemented the recommendations described in its 2008 audit report.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Pest Management Regulatory Agency take the necessary actions to accelerate its pesticide registration process, especially in relation to new products intended to control mites and diseases affecting honey bees. Any changes in the registration process should also take into consideration the safety of humans, plants, and the environment.

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that:

  • The Pest Management Regulatory Agency keep monitoring pollinator mortality during the spring of 2015 to assess whether the protective measures adopted for the 2014 planting season were efficient.
  • The Pest Management Regulatory Agency conclude, without delay, its re-evaluation of neonicotinoid insecticides based on evidence and sound scientific principles with an objective of protecting the health of bees.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Health Canada, and the Department of Finance Canada through the Bee Health Forum, and in collaboration with the provinces and territories, increase the amount and the duration of research funding in order to undertake long-term research projects which contribute to the preservation of pollinator health.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the Bee Health Forum, and in collaboration with the provinces and territories, adopt initiatives aiming to improve management practices of hobbyist beekeepers and growers while minimizing the use of chemical products and ensuring the availability of untreated seeds.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the Bee Health Forum, and in collaboration with the provinces and territories, adopt initiatives to improve pollinator habitat such as the planting of selected wild flowering plants on median strips and highway shoulders, and on marginal land around all developments including airports and shopping centres.

Contact information

General Information:
613-990-0088 or 1-800-267-7362

Email: agfo@sen.parl.gc.ca

Mailing Address:
Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1A 0A4