Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 1 - Evidence - Meeting of December 5, 2013
OTTAWA, Thursday, December 5, 2013
The Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8:02 a.m.
to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in the production
of honey, food and seed in Canada.
TOPICS: The importance of pollinators in agriculture and actions that could
to be taken to protect them.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I call the meeting to order. I welcome
you all, honourable senators, to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee
on Agriculture and Forestry.
I welcome everyone to the first meeting on our order of reference on bees. My
name is Percy Mockler, a senator from New Brunswick. At this time, I would like
to ask the senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud, Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New
Senator Tardif: Claudette Tardif from Alberta.
Senator Merchant: Welcome. Pana Merchant, Saskatchewan.
Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais, Quebec.
Senator Rivard: Michel Rivard, from the Laurentides, Quebec.
Senator Oh: Senator Oh, Ontario.
Senator Dagenais: I am Senator Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
The Chair: Thank you, honourable senators. Today the committee will
begin hearing witnesses with regard to our order of reference on the importance
of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. I
believe it is appropriate this morning to read the order of reference that we
have received from the Senate of Canada:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be
authorized to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in
the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. In particular, the
Committee shall be authorized to examine this topic within the context of:
(a) the importance of bees in pollination to produce food,
especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production and honey
production in Canada;
(b) the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honey
bees in Canada;
(c) the factors affecting honey bee health, including disease,
parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally;
(d) strategies for governments, producers and industry to ensure
bee health . . .
Honourable senators, this morning we have the honour to have with us the
Executive Director of the Canadian Honey Council, Mr. Rod Scarlett. Mr.
Scarlett, thank you for accepting our invitation to share with the committee, in
reference to our order, your comments, opinions, vision and recommendations.
The Canadian Honey Council represents over 7,000 beekeepers, also known as
apiculturists. In 2012, the honey industry recorded sales of $173 million.
Mr. Scarlett, I will now ask you to make your presentation, to be followed by
questions from the senators.
Rod Scarlett, Executive Director, Canadian Honey Council: Thank you,
chair and honourable senators, for inviting me. I also want to thank the
committee members for drafting such a reasonable and well-thought-out context
for the committee's discussions and study. I think it is an extremely well-done
document, giving you enough scope to understand the issues surrounding bees in
Canada and some of the global issues that are affecting them.
I'm going to be relatively brief in my introductions because I have met with
a number of you before. A couple of years ago, the Canadian Honey Council did
appear here. I've also made some presentations to the House of Commons standing
committee that will overlap a bit.
As the senator mentioned, we do represent all beekeepers in Canada. As of
2012, there are a little over 8,000 beekeepers in Canada. Our industry is a
little bit different than other agricultural sectors in that the number of
producers is growing in Canada. We have gone up significantly. We've also had
the number of bees in Canada increase significantly over the last decade, which
is, again, a little bit unusual and a little bit in opposition to a lot of the
public relations that we've heard out there.
What is unusual is that, while the number of beekeepers is increasing, they
are concentrated, for the most part, in B.C. and Ontario and are very small
beekeepers. They are hobbyists, people who are maybe into urban beekeeping so
may have one or two colonies. That increases the number, but we are finding that
the number of commercial beekeepers is relatively constant and represents no
more than 20 per cent of the total beekeepers in Canada. By commercial, I mean
those beekeepers who make a large percentage of their income from bees.
That can vary, and it does vary significantly from region to region in
Canada. In the Prairies, where they are not necessarily near the population
markets, they export a lot of their honey, whereas in Quebec, Ontario and B.C,
where they are closer to population markets, they can run smaller bee
operations, process their honey, package it and sell it at farmers' markets or
locally in stores and make a fairly good profit. So you don't need as many bees
and colonies to operate and be successful.
The industry has a lot of different operational functions here. Some
beekeepers make their living from 20,000 colonies, and some can make it on 50
While our association represents all beekeepers, about 85 per cent of the
honey that is created in Canada is made in the three western provinces of
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. That has a lot to do with the crop
production and the style of beekeeping occurring there.
Last year we heard that there were significant losses. The winter losses for
Canadian beekeepers averaged about 28 per cent, but 15 per cent would seem to be
where the average should be. Winter losses have a lot to do with the weather,
but a number of significant factors can be involved. I'm sure we'll be
discussing some of those. In 2012, the winter losses in Canada were about 15 per
cent, so it was a very good year. Again, a lot had to do with weather; we had a
terrific weather pattern, so beekeepers across Canada were quite successful.
I'm going to give you a bit of information on our association. The Canadian
Honey Council looks at four strategic areas. Two of those strategic areas are
hive health and stock replacement, which fit exactly with your committee's
mandate. We're very pleased that you are looking at those issues that our
association also looks at.
On hive health, we have tried to do a lot of work on pests and pesticides and
those types of issues. We've put together a pest management booklet for
beekeepers' use and we distribute it across Canada. It's about how to treat
pests and how to handle those types of things — an extremely important component
of beekeeping. In 2012, we had a major symposium in Winnipeg for beekeepers from
across Canada and all the presidents of related associations. We tried to
develop a national strategic policy that would look at things like domestic
self-sufficiency for beekeeping and perhaps look at bee health to develop a
One thing out of that committee was the development of some strategies
related to the communication of our goals. In terms of self-sufficiency, we've
put in a grant request to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to assist us in
developing that. It's a difficult issue because of our weather. We're not
necessarily capable of producing bees when various areas in the provinces need
those bees. Many of our bees, for example the queens, are imported to Canada.
Many of those packages go to Western Canada because of overwintering losses; and
you need to replace your stock to be able to create honey.
In 2012, one of the main issues in Ontario and Quebec was pesticide use. In
2012, the Ontario Beekeepers' Association asked the Canadian Honey Council to
put together a committee and make some recommendations regarding pesticides. Our
committee met for about six months and made approximately 64 recommendations to
the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, industry, CropLife Canada, grain and crop
growers and ourselves. We are currently following up on those recommendations. I
am pleased to say that PMRA adopted almost all of our recommendations for 2013.
That speaks highly of PMRA in recognizing the industry's needs.
We've been trying to work cooperatively with all those involved in the bee
industry — grain growers, crop growers, CropLife Canada, all beekeepers'
associations and equipment manufacturers — to address the pesticide issue,
which, although regional, has seemingly taken on a national scope. Certainly,
there is concern in areas outside Ontario and Quebec that pesticides have an
impact on bees, but we just haven't seen it to the same extent. How that impact
relates to bee diseases, other pesticides, monoculture practices for farming,
weather, environment is not known. There has not been much significant research
to know how those things all work. Again, I'm very glad to see that the
committee has taken on this task and am looking forward to seeing the
recommendations that you put forth.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Scarlett.
Senator Merchant: Good morning. I'm from Saskatchewan, as I told you.
I remember driving in Tisdale where there was a sign, which may still be there,
that reads, ``The land of rape and honey.'' This is an important issue for
I'm trying to understand the issue. From what you said this morning, you can
start beehives from the queens. How long do the bees live? Do they live over the
winter or do you have to start a new hive every year?
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly, you can overwinter. About 25 years ago the
border closed to importing bees from the United States. It used to be the
practice that beekeepers would import packages of bees, kill them off in the
winter and buy in the spring. The border closed and that changed the beekeeping
industry dramatically. We are now keepers of bees over winter. Sometimes within
storage facilities they can wrap the colony in the hives to keep them warm. For
the most part, beekeepers overwinter bees and start their colonies from there.
The bees will live throughout the winter if they are kept properly.
Senator Merchant: You don't have any trouble starting new beehives.
You have the queen bees to start the hives so it's not a problem.
Mr. Scarlett: We import a significant number of queens from Hawaii,
California and Chile. The queens help a little in the genetics and improve the
rapid growth of the colony, so they do import queens.
Senator Merchant: The purpose of bees is twofold: One is to produce
honey and the other is for the pollination of crops. This is very important to
Saskatchewan because of our crops.
With all the difficulties we are hearing about, how is it that we have bumper
crops in canola, corn and fruit? I'm trying to understand the disconnect.
Mr. Scarlett: There certainly is a disconnect between what has
appeared in the media and what is occurring in the majority of beekeeping areas
in Canada; but I don't want to downplay the dramatic effect it's had in Ontario
and Quebec, in particular the pesticide issues. Some beekeepers may lose their
operations as a result of factors that are out of their control. However, as I
tried to explain, in the rest of Canada, where the majority of honey and bees
are, it's not all that bad. In fact, it's been very good. Beekeepers are
adjusting to winter losses, to environmental issues that are out there, to a
number of things, and they are being quite successful at it, in cooperation with
Canola is a huge crop, of course, in Western Canada, and beekeepers rely on
that canola crop to be successful. The relationship between growers and
beekeepers is extremely important.
Yes, you're right that there is disconnect, and there is disconnect for a
reason, because some areas in Canada are being adversely affected. We need to
address those areas that are adversely affected without impacting those areas
that are not being affected.
Senator Merchant: Okay. That's what's we're going to learn, I guess.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here today, Mr. Scarlett.
You are our opening witness, so I want to follow up on Senator Merchant's
comments about understanding the issues affecting bees. Could you talk about bee
diseases, parasites and mites? You talked about the effect of pests on bees;
clearly, you need to control pests in the colony as well. It's trying to
understand pests and pesticides inside and outside the colony. Could you talk
about the disease side of things?
Mr. Scarlett: Sure. Every year the Canadian Association of
Professional Apiculturists puts out an overwintering report, and there are
factors cited by beekeepers that are the reasons for those overwintering losses.
Of course, weather is one of the major ones, but there is also Varroa control
for the Varroa mite that was introduced into the Canadian bee population within
the last decade or so. Beekeepers have to use products to control the mite. It
literally attaches itself to the bee and kind of sucks the blood out, so to
speak. You treat by trying to kill the mite. There's Nosema, which is a fungal
disease within the guts of a bee. Again, beekeepers have to use treatments —
pesticides, insecticides, those types of things — to kill those. Those are the
two major diseases that affect bees within Canada. Research on the relationship
between Varroa control, Nosema control and anything else out there is ongoing.
We need to continue that so that we understand those things.
Of course, there are some other diseases that, again, are controlled by
insecticides or by pesticides or other controls, such as foulbrood and small
hive beetle. These don't have as much impact as the other two. The other two are
the main two that beekeepers are concerned about. They can get fairly good
controls against a number of other bee diseases, but those two really stand out
as the ones that need to be worked on.
Senator Buth: You talked about why we're getting bees from other parts
of the world, but you didn't mention the U.S. Why not?
Mr. Scarlett: We import queens from Hawaii and from California. In
part, CFIA has put up some regional boundaries. For example, we cannot import
queen bees from other parts of the United States other than those areas.
One of the main issues that occurred this year was in Manitoba. In
particular, the overwinter losses were extreme and, because it was so high,
beekeepers weren't able to grow their colonies quick enough to make some real
good honey production. One of the requests that have come in from Manitoba
specifically is that we import packaged bees from the United States. CFIA put
together consultations and made some recommendations; November 30 was the final
date for input on those consultations. They did a risk assessment, which
indicated that there are four risks out there for importing packaged bees from
the United States. The comment period ended November 30. Some provinces are
looking forward to opening the borders; some certainly don't want that to occur.
We are waiting for that comment period to find out what CFIA does finally
Senator Buth: What is the issue with importing bees from the U.S.?
What is the concern?
Mr. Scarlett: CFIA has identified four major disease concerns or
risks. Small hive beetle is one of them.
Senator Buth: So it is mainly importing new diseases?
Mr. Scarlett: It's importing disease and some resistance issues for
their bees with some of the products that we use. Those are the risks that they
Senator Buth: On the resistance issue, is it because of the products
that we use in Canada that there is resistance? That is, the mites have
developed resistance to the products in the U.S.?
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct.
Senator Buth: If you imported the packages, then you'd lose the
effectiveness of the product in Canada?
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct.
Senator Tardif: Good morning, Mr. Scarlett. If I understand correctly,
beekeepers in Ontario and Quebec are most affected by bee loss as opposed to
those, for example, in Western Canada. If I understand as well, the losses of
those beekeepers in Ontario and Quebec has been because of the fact that they
are closer to corn crops that have been dusted in a certain way? I'm trying to
understand here. That's not the case with crops, for example, in Western Canada,
which might be canola-based. The reaction of the bees seems to be very different
in Ontario and Quebec as opposed to the Prairie provinces. Could you help me
understand the situation a little better?
Mr. Scarlett: Sure. The overwintering losses in Ontario and the losses
in the rest of Canada are relatively similar in numbers.
The issue in Ontario and Quebec has been that there is indication that a
class of seed treatments called neonicotinoids is impacting the bees. That seed
treatment is used on corn, soy, canola and a number of grains and oilseeds.
However, it seems like during planting of the corn and soy there was some
dusting of that seed treatment area and it released during the planting of the
seed. That event in 2012 sparked the whole issue. It was a dusting problem. In
2013, there seems to be more evidence that it's not just occurring from dusting,
but there are some other issues out there as it relates to that class of seed
treatment. It may linger longer in the soil.
I think there's a lot of research to be done on weather, on soil, on water,
and on whether the systemic nature of the seed treatment has any impact on the
bee deaths themselves. To be fair, when these products were registered by PMRA,
there was not really any emphasis placed on honeybees. No one thought that there
would be much of an impact on bees. So there were not a lot of requirements made
by PMRA to do that initial investigation work. So, in a sense, they're doing a
lot of catch-up work right now.
Senator Tardif: Now, I understand that beekeepers associations in
Ontario and Quebec are calling for a ban on the neonicotinoids, and a similar
ban has been put forward in the European Union.
What is the Canadian Honey Council's position on that? Do you think Canada
should be moving this type of ban, as they have in the European Union, or as
Ontario and Quebec have been asking for? Where do you stand on this issue?
Mr. Scarlett: Nationally, our organization has been — we need to work
with everybody involved to help mitigate the risks that may be created by the
seed treatments. So we've been working with the Canola Council of Canada, with
the Grain Farmers of Ontario, with the Grain Growers of Canada, with the
equipment producers, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, all looking at ways
in which we can mitigate the risk to beekeepers.
Thus far — and I put that proviso because it can always change, I guess, with
new evidence — but thus far we are not calling for a ban. Certainly, I think the
massive use of the seed treatment needs to be reviewed, whether or not it needs
to be on all seeds out there.
For the most part, it has been very difficult, particularly in Ontario and
Quebec, to buy non-treated seed. Whether or not the agronomics have caught up
with the economics is another question that is certainly important. We've made
significant advances in a number of areas, and I find it very difficult to
believe that we can't make some agronomic advances to help producers, grain
producers, determine whether or not they need these seed treatments in their
soils the year before. I certainly hope this committee takes a good look at the
need for those products and how to evaluate whether that need is there and
taking into account the economic implications it has to the grower.
Senator Eaton: Educate me a bit, Mr. Scarlett. What does a
neonicotinoid do on a seed crop?
Mr. Scarlett: It's an insecticide. For corn, it prevents a couple of
early pests from attacking the corn plant; for canola, it's the same thing. It's
treated on the outside of the seed. They use an adhesive to stick that treatment
on. One of the issues in Ontario was perhaps that adhesive, in 2012 and 2013,
wasn't being successful enough to keep that insecticide treatment on the seed;
and so they have developed — and it will be out next year — a new adhesive.
Senator Eaton: Say we take canola, for instance. It grows up; and the
bee, by pollinating — at what stage of the canola growth would the bee start
Mr. Scarlett: When it flowers.
Senator Eaton: So that's where they pick up the insecticide?
Mr. Scarlett: They don't necessarily pick up the insecticide from
canola; at least, we haven't seen any of that.
Senator Eaton: Or from corn?
Mr. Scarlett: Again, bees don't really get in to pollinate corn. A lot
of the issue here has to do with the dust that comes off into the air or on the
ground, so that they pick it up that way, or on the plants that are near the
fields that are being sprayed.
Senator Eaton: One of the things we heard about in another study we
were doing is that the Germans had picked up the fact that some of our bees had
flown over GM crops and they could pick it up in the honey. Are GM seeds good
for bees or bad for bees, or do they have any effect on bees?
Mr. Scarlett: As far as I know, they don't have any effect on bees.
Senator Eaton: That's good news, then, for Canada, for our research.
Mr. Scarlett: Yes. The fact that there is GM pollen in honey still has
the market closed for Canadian honey in Europe. Indications are that that will
open up again hopefully in March or April, but there may be labelling issues
Senator Eaton: But it has no effect on the bee?
Mr. Scarlett: No.
Senator Eaton: Does the bee council work with research being done in
universities? Do they work with Monsanto, anybody who is producing insecticides
or working on GM seeds? Do you go in there and work with them? Do you have any
relationship with them?
Mr. Scarlett: We certainly have a relationship. A lot of those major
companies — Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta — all have bee research centres. Some of
them are in North America; some are in Europe. We have had round tables with
CropLife, of which they are all members. We've had two or three round tables
with them where we are getting information from them on the products, the
research they're doing, the research on their existing products, research on new
products. So the relationship has certainly improved over the last three years,
and it needs to improve more, but they are open to hearing our issues and
working with us to address the issues.
Senator Eaton: The same with universities, obviously?
Mr. Scarlett: Yes. We would certainly like to see more money, more
research done on pollinator issues.
Senator Eaton: What about something that's very small scale but
obviously in Ontario and Quebec? How about insecticides in gardens, people
spraying their roses, people spraying their little vegetable patch, which people
are apt to do?
Mr. Scarlett: I think it's fair to say that any insecticide that's
used is going to have an impact on insects and pollination.
Senator Eaton: Even if it's not directed towards the bee?
Mr. Scarlett: Even if it's not directed towards the bee. That impact
might be minimal, but it might have an adverse effect on a cumulative basis. If
the urban public could plant pollinator-friendly flowers, it certainly helps the
local population of bees.
Senator Eaton: Thank you.
Senator Buth: Just a clarification of the issue about the seed
treatment on corn and canola: My understanding is that the issue is the dust
that comes off at seeding. It's not during the pollination at all; it's when the
seed treatment is actually applied to the seed, and then it's being seeded, and
that's in the early spring when maybe the colonies aren't quite as strong as
they should be as well. Is that correct?
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct. Certainly, one of the issues that
differentiate canola from corn is the size and shape of the seed. It's easier to
adhere to a canola seed that's round. Corn, as you know, has all kinds of
different shapes in there, so the adhesive component for corn has got to be
much, much better than it would for canola.
There is some research, too, that the intensity of the seed treatment is
greater on corn than on canola, but I'm not sure about that. Somebody far wiser,
I'm sure, will tell you later on.
Senator Ogilvie: Thank you, Mr. Scarlett. Just to finish off the last
bit, neonicotinoids are used in the West; isn't that correct?
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct.
Senator Ogilvie: You've already described the success of your bee
colonies relative to the others. Because canola is a very large crop, there
would be a fair amount of neonicotinoid use.
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct also.
Senator Ogilvie: Honeybee is not a monocultural species. How many
varieties would you say are in use across the country? A number, you would
Mr. Scarlett: There are a number of different ones.
Senator Ogilvie: Do you have any indication as to whether there are
significant differences in bees imported for use in say Eastern Canada versus
Mr. Scarlett: No. I'm probably not the right person to ask.
Senator Ogilvie: That's fine. With regard to pollinators overall, the
honeybee isn't the only pollinator, either. What would you say would be the
other one or two major pollinators in Canada?
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly bumblebees, flies and birds. They're all
pollinators in one sense of the word.
Senator Ogilvie: Bumblebees would constitute a fairly large number of
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly the greenhouse operators use bumblebees for
Senator Robichaud: I would like to follow up on Senator Ogilvie's
question. I am interested in the production of blueberries. Of course, as with
all other crops, bees play an essential role. What is the relationship between
bees or drones and those that are raised by beekeepers?
Mr. Scarlett: I'm not sure whether there is a relationship per se.
It's a matter of intensity when you're talking about blueberries. What blueberry
growers need is an intense pollination of their crop, and honeybees provide that
opportunity because you're bringing them in. Of course, bumblebees are more
natural and are just not able to pollinate to that same extent, so the
relationship is not necessarily symbiotic or anything. It's there.
Senator Robichaud: One producer told me that wild bees only need to
land on a flower once to pollinate it, while bees owned by beekeepers must land
two or three times. Is that the case?
Mr. Scarlett: Again, I'm probably not the right person to ask because
we don't deal a lot with the natural pollinators. We do deal with the honeybee
Senator Robichaud: Does the research on bees include wild bees, to
find out if diseases spread from one group to the other?
Mr. Scarlett: A fair bit of research on natural pollinators, including
bumblebees, has been done through the University of Guelph and an association
called CANPOLIN, but again, I don't know the results of all that research. I
don't follow it all that closely. The committee may want to get somebody from
that organization to give them more explicit answers.
Senator Robichaud: To your knowledge, are the bumblebees affected by
the same things that affect those that are kept in hives?
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly some of the issues are exactly the same.
Pesticides would be exactly the same. There may be some pathogens that go across
species, so I think there would be a lot of similarities. Again, the levels may
affect differently. There could be other factors that I'm just not privy to.
Senator Dagenais: I heard you mention pesticides, which can damage bee
colonies. I understand that you import queen bees from outside the country. Have
we checked with other countries to find out if they use less harmful pesticides?
Other pesticides are used in Europe; might they be less harmful if they were
used in Canada?
Mr. Scarlett: I think it's fair to say that beekeepers have tried to
keep abreast of the situation as best they can, but the products that are
available out there are more important to the crop grower, in one sense of the
word, because it's the farmers themselves who have to apply the crop.
We haven't heard anything necessarily from Europe as a replacement to the
neonicotinoids, because they put this moratorium on it. It's not a ban on the
product, but a moratorium on the product. We haven't heard what alternate
products farmers are going to use there. In fact, the indication I had from a
number of people was that it was almost sprung on the farm population there and
they are now trying to catch up to what's next.
As to other products or products that are out there in other areas, I can't
really give you a good answer. When it comes to the queens, for example, I'm not
sure if there is a lot of research or a lot of testing done on pesticide use and
a queen. If the queen is healthy, it makes it and seems to do well.
Senator Maltais: Welcome, Mr. Scarlett. I am happy that you are our
first witness. You represent people who make their living from beekeeping and
that is important to us. The goal of the research that will be conducted is to
improve or correct the current situation.
I am wondering about urban beekeeping. You have to understand that flowers
produced in urban areas have chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the soil and
bees ingest all of that. Pesticide producers will say that is excellent for
their health and that it is comparable to cod liver oil.
Can urban bees contaminate bees that are raised in open areas far from big
I would like to come back to the question asked by Senator Robichaud about
blueberries. I am from northern of Quebec and that is where there is the largest
production of blueberries. Temperatures are not very warm and the season is very
short, and yet the bees survive. They do not need to import a queen bee; they
have one, she is respected. Senator Merchant said that 30 per cent to 35 per
cent of queen bees were lost, but that has not been the situation at all in
northern Quebec. The pesticides have probably not made it up to that area
because there are no other crops such as wheat, soy and corn. There are
blueberries and wildflowers. So, we do not have any other pesticides. We may
have them one day with the spruce budworm. But the bees die anyway.
What are the causes and effects of raising bees in urban areas, open areas
and northern areas?
Is this related to the issue of CCD? Could you give me an example of that?
Mr. Scarlett: Again, this is somewhat personal, but I believe that the
relationship between urban bees, urban beekeepers and commercial bee operations
is more public relations than anything else.
There are some bee biosecurity issues, of course, but it wouldn't be
pesticide-related. It would be related more to pests and pathogens. Bees can't
exchange pesticides from one colony to another, but they can exchange pests or
pathogens from one colony to another. So the only real relationship would be
more on the pests and pathogen side.
With the help of CFIA recently we have adopted a bee biosecurity plan. It is
just now being extended to all beekeepers in Canada.
The one thing I will say, though, is that urban beekeeping has allowed a
broader spectrum of the public to be aware of beekeeping. With that comes
certain things — a perception that you might know more than you really know and
that what affects your one or two colonies must happen to everyone. You tell
your neighbour, so it's becoming more and more of a public domain type of issue,
which is certainly different than other types of farming. You don't see that in
other types of farming.
Senator Maltais: You know that in Quebec, we grow a lot of hothouse
tomatoes; I could mention Savoura and other companies. To my great surprise,
many committee members had the opportunity to visit these facilities. They
import Dutch drones to come and pollinate our tomatoes. Why are our bees not
able to do that? Is it because they do not like tomatoes? What is their problem?
Mr. Scarlett: I really don't know how to answer that.
Certainly, bumblebee pollination is important in greenhouses and for the
tomato industry. They use bumblebees. As the Canadian Honey Council, bumblebees
have kind of been on the sidelines for us because they are a pollinator, not a
honey producer. The pollination component of the industry is really now starting
to blossom because it's becoming more and more important for blueberries,
cranberries, tomatoes and canola seed production. It's now a part of the sector
that 10 years ago really didn't exist per se, and now it's an integral part of
our industry and a very important economic driver for our industry.
Senator Rivard: Mr. Scarlett, thank you for coming. At this point in
the discussion, the main questions have already been asked, but I would like to
come back to the importation of queen bees from Chile and California. I suppose
it is a question of cost and of relative proximity. I do not know if Russia or
China produce any, but I suppose if this decision was made, it was probably for
reasons such as those.
In the translation of what you said earlier — and our interpreters are
excellent — an acronym was mentioned; they said that ``the CIA'' was the
regulatory body. For me, the CIA is the Central Intelligence Agency. I am sure
that it is not the American spy organization that controls this. Could you tell
me again the name of the organization that oversees the importation of queen
Mr. Scarlett: It's the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Senator Rivard: Thank you, I have just understood the translation, it
is the ACIA in French or the CFIA in English. Thank you for your answer. I was
sure it did not have anything to do with spying!
Senator Maltais: You never know!
Senator Oh: Thank you, Mr. Scarlett, for being here. Have our Canadian
scientists done research into changing the genetics of bees to produce a special
species that's sort of for our harsh temperature?
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly a lot of work has been done on developing a
Canadian breed of honeybee.
Even if it's by year to year to year over wintering your own honeybees,
you'll find that the genetics improve to meet the climate.
Work has been done at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of
British Columbia on that issue specifically, but I don't think we've progressed.
We're certainly not up to the stage that the cattle producers are, for example,
on the genetic side. A lot more work needs to be done there.
Senator Oh: We heard a lot about killer bees coming up from South
America to the U.S. and into Canada. How does it affect our bee industry here?
Mr. Scarlett: As I mentioned earlier, when CFIA did its risk
assessment of packaged bees from the United States, one of the risks they
identified was the Africanized bee, so we are aware of it. CFIA is certainly
aware of it and has identified it as one of the issues that is of concern for
Senator Oh: Have they actually invaded into our territory? Have they
come into Canada?
Mr. Scarlett: The queens that are imported into Canada have to be
tested. It's the queens that will bring in the genetics. It's not the drone or
everything else. It really will be the queens, so they have to be tested.
My understanding is that no, that it has not yet come to Canada, but it is a
concern mainly because of their aggressive nature.
Senator Buth: Mr. Scarlett, we've put you through the ringer in terms
of asking you all sorts of questions that are not particularly related to honey,
so I would like to come back to honey.
Can you just give us some basic information about honey production over the
last five years and what has been happening?
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and
Statistics Canada put out quarterly honey statistics reports. I've actually got
the 2012 report in front of me, and I can give you the total honey production in
Canada. In 2012, it was about 90 million pounds, and it has gone up from 64
million pounds in 2008.
In 2012, 45 per cent of that honey was generated in Alberta; 28 per cent of
that was generated in Saskatchewan; and 14 per cent of that was generated in
Manitoba. Ontario had 9 per cent, Quebec 4 per cent, and Atlantic Canada and
B.C. had 3 per cent of that total honey production.
Senator Buth: That's very helpful. How much of that honey would be
Mr. Scarlett: There were 18,224,000 kilograms of honey exported in
2012, a majority of that from the three western provinces.
Senator Buth: Exports are clearly important.
Mr. Scarlett: One figure is in kilograms and the other is in pounds,
which makes it difficult. The majority of honey exports are to the United
Senator Buth: That was my next question.
Mr. Scarlett: The next biggest exporting country, I believe, is Japan.
Senator Buth: There was a time when we heard about honey coming from
China that was not necessarily honey. Can you talk about counterfeit honey
Mr. Scarlett: It has not been an issue in Canada as much as it has
been in the United States. There is an organization called True Source Honey. A
Quebec honey exporter, Odem International, is a major player. True Source
identifies where the honey comes from. The Chinese were using various methods to
get around the export duties on honey. For example, they'd use other countries
or it wouldn't be honey but a sucrose mix. I don't think we've had that occur in
Canada that I can recall. However, it does impact honey prices for Canadians.
Our honey is basically the same price as American honey. We rely on the American
price, so anything that impacts the American price impacts the Canadian
Senator Merchant: My question is also about a reference that you made
to exporting to Europe. How is honey affected by all the problems we have been
talking about this morning, such as neonicotinoids. Is something passed on to
the honey that is objectionable to some countries?
Mr. Scarlett: It's not the pesticides in the case of exporting honey
to Europe but the GMOs. The vast majority of our exported honey comes from the
canola plant; canola is a genetically modified plant, and that pollen is in the
honey. The European Union said that it is basically a component of honey so they
won't have it. That's changing a bit through court cases, so that pollen is not
necessarily an ingredient of the honey but a part of the honey. They have yet to
determine the rules, but there may be some labeling implications. It has nothing
to do with the neonicotinoids but with the genetically modified organism.
Senator Merchant: The neonicotinoids don't affect the quality of the
honey in any way.
Mr. Scarlett: No.
Senator Merchant: That's what I wanted to know.
Mr. Scarlett: Not at all.
Senator Eaton: Do we have a national honeybee management program?
Mr. Scarlett: We have a biosecurity program.
Senator Eaton: Who is that managed by? Is it provincial or federal?
Mr. Scarlett: Right now it's a voluntary program for beekeepers that
the CHC is developing a program for.
Senator Eaton: Start at the beginning. What do you mean by
Mr. Scarlett: Like all commodities, there are biosecurity issues. This
project identifies biosecurity threats.
Senator Eaton: If somebody in Alberta sees a threat, do they let the
council know? How does it work?
Mr. Scarlett: Right now it's voluntary. It is about how you manage
your operation to minimize the risk of spreading pathogens, contracting
pathogens or pests and other types of issues. It's how you manage your risk to
ensure that your operation remains healthy and doesn't impact anyone else.
Senator Eaton: Say I'm operating a beehive operation in Alberta and
something biological threatens that operation. I would voluntarily let you know
so you would let other beekeepers in the area know. Is that how it works? Do you
send out a message? How does the information transmit?
Mr. Scarlett: We will try to address that issue in our grant
Senator Eaton: Your grant application is to whom?
Mr. Scarlett: It's to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. A lot of the
information flow goes through the provincial apiculturists. Each provincial
government has an employee responsible for bees. As you know, agriculture is a
joint federal-provincial responsibility.
Senator Eaton: Yes.
Mr. Scarlett: Most provinces have their own bee act.
Senator Eaton: There's not a national one. Are all provincial bee acts
standardized or are they different?
Mr. Scarlett: They're all different.
Senator Eaton: Here we go again to the silos in this country.
Mr. Scarlett: Going back to your original question, there is no
national bee strategy. In terms of food safety issues, honey operations have to
be registered through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Currently, we are in
the final phase of our own voluntary food safety program, which is a small
component of it. We're looking at a national self- sufficiency strategy, which
is part of that but not the whole answer.
In real answer to your question, there isn't anything yet, but we're kind of
working in stages to get there.
Senator Eaton: Would it be useful to have a recommendation that we
should have a national standard for honeybee management, or is this country too
big to have a national standard for honeybee management?
Mr. Scarlett: Every beekeeper operates as an independent businessman
and runs his operation a little differently. I don't know if a standard
operational component would necessarily work because there are so many
differences in how people manage their operations.
Senator Eaton: What about national biosecurity? If something happened
in Alberta or Quebec or elsewhere, that information would go across the country.
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly we need, and will hopefully adopt, some kind
of national biosecurity standard that goes from province to province to
province. The reporting side, which you're looking at there, is something that
we have not gotten to yet. We've developed the plan, but it's really in its
That biosecurity plan was only completed earlier this year and distributed to
beekeepers across Canada, so now the question is how do we implement this. What
do we do to make sure beekeepers can adopt some or all of this?
Senator Eaton: And want to.
Mr. Scarlett: And want to adopt. There's a whole myriad of problems we
haven't addressed yet within the operational side of that biosecurity plan that
need to be addressed. Part of that is money, part of it is federal-provincial
relationships, and part of it is who is going to do it and how. We're struggling
with that, but we're going to try to address it.
The Chair: This committee will be a partner with you.
Mr. Scarlett: Thank you.
Senator Robichaud: You represent the honey producers. What percentage
of your members' income comes from honey and what percentage comes from renting
their hives to growers?
Mr. Scarlett: As I mentioned, it has changed dramatically. I would
like to give you an absolute percentage, but I don't think I can. I can tell
you, for example, that I believe about 70,000 colonies are used in Alberta for
pollination for canola, but that's not exclusive. They still get honey
production from that. It's the same for blueberries or cranberries. Whatever
colonies go out there for the pollination, they will come back and still produce
honey. They just won't produce as much. The rental income that those people get
can range from, I believe, $125 to $175 a colony, depending on the crop and
whether it's blueberries or canola.
Senator Robichaud: You say those hives that are rented do not produce
as much honey?
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct, because they're not there for honey
generation. They're there for pollination purposes. Cranberries and blueberries
in particular are not especially good crops for honey production.
Senator Robichaud: Oh, no?
Mr. Scarlett: They're just not as nutritious. In fact, from my
understanding, you almost have to supplement feed to the colonies while they're
In the case of canola, again, they're not out there for honey production.
They're out there to pollinate. Your concentration levels are out there to
ensure that as many flowers as possible are pollinated. That's different from
putting colonies out beside a commercial canola operation, which you wouldn't
put near the intensity.
Senator Robichaud: I'm sort of lost, but somehow maybe I'll figure it
out after a while.
Mr. Scarlett: It has to do with the intensity levels of the colony for
canola, and it has to do really with the nutritional value of the flowers for
blueberries and cranberries as it relates to honey production.
Senator Robichaud: So blueberry producers should have flowers around
their operation so they can have another source of feed?
Mr. Scarlett: A lot of the beekeepers who bring in their colonies to
work on the pollination side, as I say, supplement feed. I'm not sure blueberry
producers themselves really are that much interested in planting flowers.
Getting their crop pollinated is what they're worried about.
Senator Dagenais: Mr. Scarlett, obviously we are always afraid of the
spread of diseases, which can sometimes affect humans as well as animals. You
said that you imported queen bees from other countries. Are you afraid of the
transmission of diseases that could come in from outside the country?
Mr. Scarlett: Certainly, and that's one of the issues that CFIA looks
at all the time. They conduct their risk assessments. Bees are not any different
from cattle or sheep. There is risk inherent in importing from other countries.
We have to be cognizant of that. Whether or not beekeepers are wanting to accept
that risk, however, is another matter. I think it should be left up to the
beekeepers to determine whether or not the risk is acceptable.
Senator Dagenais: Just a supplementary question. I imagine that the
bees arrive at the border. We know that at the border, there are agricultural
offices. Do they check the origin? Are there inspections conducted at the border
when the bees arrive?
Mr. Scarlett: That's correct. I think most queens are inspected. When
we had an outbreak of small hive beetle in Canada through the importation of the
queens, that's when the inspections really picked up, and almost all queens were
inspected. Usually it's done by the provincial apiculturists, the provinces
themselves, but they are inspected.
Senator Maltais: I hope you have not found our questions too taxing;
rest assured that we are very happy to have you with us.
There is one question that is bothering me, and I do not know if you will be
able to answer it. We mentioned that more than 80 per cent of honey production
is concentrated in central Canada, in three provinces. I believe that Ontario,
Quebec and the Maritimes also produce honey. I have noticed in some research,
some reports, that there are two places in Canada that are not very affected.
However, they are two opposite places, Victoria Island and Newfoundland.
Is the salty air good for the queen bees, and is there an explanation for
this? There are very few pesticides in both of these places. On Victoria Island,
I know that they use very few pesticides, and in Newfoundland the pesticide
freezes before it reaches the ground, so it is not dangerous.
Can anyone really be certain? You represent the beekeepers, perhaps you are
an apiculturist yourself; I don't know, but I tend to think that our bee problem
comes from the insecticides that are sprayed throughout not only Canada, but
also parts of Europe and the United States. What would you say to that?
Mr. Scarlett: Respectfully, I'm not necessarily sure that pesticides
are the main concern of beekeepers in Canada. You mentioned Vancouver Island and
Newfoundland. Newfoundland is not a member of the CHC. There aren't enough
colonies there to warrant membership, I guess. Vancouver Island had some
overwintering issues this year. There were some fairly significant winter
All I can really say is that depending on where you are, there may be
different reasons for your colonies not doing or doing well. Whatever
indications are, whether it be monoculture, pesticides, pathogens or pests, each
operation may be different. I hope that the committee focuses on the broad range
and doesn't get too focused on the pesticide issue. Yes, it is an extremely
important issue and one that's dramatically hurt a number of beekeepers in
Quebec and Ontario, and we need to address that for sure, but there are some
broader issues there that also are extremely important that I hope you do look
Senator Maltais: Take for example Victoria, in British Columbia.
Victoria bees are the luckiest ones in Canada: they have Butchart Garden, the
most extraordinary garden of them all and the most beautiful flowers in Canada.
They should therefore be in good health and produce good honey, but that is not
Senator Dagenais asked a brief question about inspecting queen bees when they
arrive in Canada. How do the customs officers inspect the queen bee to find out
if she is healthy or not? How exactly do they inspect the queen, at the border?
Do they use a scanner?
Mr. Scarlett: Some of it is visual. Certainly, visual inspection is
probably by far the most common method, but CFIA has put in boundaries, regions
where those queens can be produced. Those queens have to be produced under
certain circumstances. They inspect those people, those operations that are
exporting. So there is some of that. It's not like you pull out the queen from
the cage, put it under a microscope, look for everything and then put it back.
That's not feasible.
Senator Maltais: My question may seem trivial, but I doubt that anyone
around this table has inspected a queen bee before.
Senator Rivard: Thank you Mr. Chair. In February of this year, a
master's candidate at Laval University, Olivier Samson Robert, carried out a
study showing that when beehives are located five kilometres away from a place
where seeds were sprayed with neonicotinoids, the risk of contamination is
Given that information, could a first precautionary measure be taken by
suggesting that beehives be located at least five kilometres away, because it
has been proven that bees rarely forage beyond a five-kilometre radius. So as a
first measure, beekeepers could be asked to move away from a field that has been
sprayed. What do you think?
Mr. Scarlett: It could be a measure, but I'm not sure that it's a
workable solution, just given the fact that, for example, in southern Ontario,
the amount of corn and soy grown would absolutely limit the feasibility of a
beekeeper having an operation. That's probably the same in areas of southern
Quebec also, where the corn is grown. It would necessitate beekeepers removing
themselves from that area completely. That's certainly not the solution that I
think beekeepers are looking for. They're looking for that cooperative effort to
mitigate the risks so that they can run a successful operation and so can the
Senator Rivard: Let us assume that it is not a workable solution, as
you said. Do you believe that statistic that bees rarely forage beyond a
five-kilometre radius on average, is that true? Do you have that information?
Mr. Scarlett: I believe that's true. I have been told that bees can go
approximately two or two and a half kilometres in any direction, and that's what
they do when they go out on their flights to collect pollen.
Senator Tardif: Mr. Scarlett, you have indicated the need for more
research several times in your presentation this morning. According to you, what
areas are critical? In what areas do we need research, and what's critical at
this point in time?
Mr. Scarlett: I think that right now there needs to be some emphasis
on the bundling of pesticides, viruses, pathogens and pests. By ``bundling'' I
mean that there's been research on neonicotinoids, but there hasn't been
research on neonicotinoids, fungicides or high Varroa count or high Nosema
count, fungicides and neonicotinoids. It is the cumulative effects of everything
and where the trigger points are off of those cumulative effects. That, in my
opinion, is where there seems to be a lack of conclusive evidence, and, because
there's a lack of conclusive evidence, individuals get to draw their own
conclusions that it's one or another, without anything necessarily scientific
out there that's verifiable.
Senator Tardif: By ``bundling'' do you mean the interaction between
all of these factors and what is coming into play there?
Mr. Scarlett: Correct. What becomes the dominant effect, and is that
dominant effect adversely affecting the health of the pollinator, the bee?
Senator Tardif: Thank you.
Senator Robichaud: If I want to become a beekeeper and want to import
bees, do I have to be registered anywhere to be a part of the association, start
the operation and import the bees?
Mr. Scarlett: That will depend on where you are. As I mentioned, each
province has its own bee act. Some provinces require beekeepers to register.
Others are voluntary. Others are commissions; you have 50 hives before you
register. In each province, it's different.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Scarlett, I don't know if you're the person to ask
this. Do we have commercial migratory beekeepers?
Mr. Scarlett: Most definitely. We have beekeepers in Ontario that take
their colonies to pollinate the blueberry crops in New Brunswick and Nova
Scotia. We have producers in Alberta that overwinter colonies in southern
British Columbia and pollinate crops out in British Columbia. Not nearly to the
extent that the Americans have with their almond crops, but it is now beginning
to occur more and more in Canada.
Senator Eaton: Could that be a cause of spreading disease?
Mr. Scarlett: That's certainly a concern. It's a concern that the
Americans have, and I believe it's going to be a concern that beekeepers across
Canada will have to pay more and more attention to — the interprovincial, inter-
regional transfer of bees. Because this is such a new component of the business,
I'm not sure that there's been a lot of emphasis placed on that, but that is one
of the areas of emphasis for bee biosecurity.
Senator Maltais: Mr. Scarlett, I know that Quebec has an income
stabilization insurance program for registered apiculturists. Can you tell me if
the other provinces have the same thing?
Mr. Scarlett: No, it does not. Some provinces have insurance-type
programs for overwintering losses. Some provinces have a honey production
insurance-type program, but there's nothing that's universal across all
Senator Maltais: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Scarlett, thank you very much for the comments you have
provided to the committee from the Canadian Honey Council. We want to assure
you, since you're our first witness, that the committee's mandate with the order
of reference we have is to help provide all stakeholders with scientific data
that will enable us to continue moving forward for beekeepers and also for the
Please feel free at any time, as you continue watching what is happening with
this committee, to intervene by way of calling the clerk and providing any data
that you want to provide.
One of your graphs says that in 2012 and 2013, commencing from Alberta to
Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, and even Manitoba, we've had
losses due to overwintering anywhere between a minimum of 24 to 47 per cent of
our colonies. Can you provide us with a similar graph or would you have that
information this morning for the years 2009 and 2010?
Mr. Scarlett: I can provide the graph, and I can give you rough
estimates from the graph on a national percentage of overwintering losses.
The Chair: For the record, could you do that please?
Mr. Scarlett: I will do that.
The Chair: Do you have any suggestions that you would recommend the
committee to visit an infrastructure across Canada or North America when it
comes to scientific data that would enable the committee to enhance its
knowledge and/or witnesses?
Mr. Scarlett: Could I provide that after some thought?
The Chair: Absolutely.
Mr. Scarlett: I really would like to suggest that perhaps it would be
good for the committee to visit a beekeeping operation so that you could
understand things like biosecurity and food safety and what's involved in a
beekeeping operation. That would be one suggestion, but there are some others I
would like to maybe take back to my board and give you some suggestion with
The Chair: We appreciate that. The last comment from the chair is that
we have had provincial agriculture departments asking us and supporting the
order of reference of the Senate on the particular bee situation.
Thank you very much, Mr. Scarlett from the Canadian Honey Council.
Honourable senators, I now declare the meeting adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)