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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 2 - Evidence - Meeting of December 12, 2013


OTTAWA, Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8 a.m. to study the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

TOPIC: The use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids in the agricultural sector and the measures being taken to protect pollinators against exposure.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

[English]

My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee.

Now I would like to ask the senators to introduce themselves, please.

Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.

Senator Tardif: Good morning. Claudette Tardif from Alberta.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud, Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.

Senator Dagenais: Good morning. My name is Jean-Guy Dagenais, and I am a Conservative senator from Quebec.

Senator Maltais: Ghislain Maltais, Quebec.

Senator Rivard: Senator Michel Rivard, The Laurentides, Quebec.

[English]

Senator Oh: Victor Oh from Ontario.

Senator Eaton: Good morning and welcome. Senator Eaton from Ontario.

Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.

Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you very much, honourable senators. To the witnesses, thank you for accepting our invitation to come to the committee to share your thoughts, your vision and your recommendations.

The committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. Today, we are focusing again on the use of pesticides like neonicotinoids in agriculture and what is done to prevent pollinators' exposure.

The committee's order of reference from the Senate is the following:

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 . . ."

This morning by video conference we have, from the Beaverlodge Research Farm in Alberta, Dr. Pernal, Officer-in- Charge, Sustainable Production Systems, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Dr. Pernal, do you hear us?

Stephen F. Pernal, Ph.D., Research Scientist (Apiculture), Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Yes, I do.

The Chair: We know there is a time difference, so thank you very much for accepting to be with us by video conference from Alberta.

From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Dr. Ian Alexander, Executive Director/Chief Veterinary Officer for Canada.

[Translation]

We also have Dr. Primal Silva, Executive Director of the Animal Health Science Directorate.

[English]

From Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency, we have Mr. Scott Kirby, Director, Product Assessment.

[Translation]

And lastly, joining us is Lars Juergensen, Head of the Office of Policy and Strategic Advice.

[English]

Thank you for accepting our invitation.

At this time, I am informed by the clerk that the first presenter will be Dr. Pernal by video conference, to be followed by Dr. Silva, to be followed by Mr. Kirby.

Dr. Pernal, please make your presentation.

Mr. Pernal: Thank you. Good morning, Mr. Chair and honourable senators of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. I'm Dr. Stephen Pernal, AAFC's lead scientist specializing in honeybee research, and today I'm here to represent the department.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada appreciates the opportunity to provide you with information on the important ongoing work that we are doing to help improve the health of honeybees in Canada.

I would like to start by telling you a bit about the honeybee industry. Honeybees do far more than just produce honey. Honeybees are the primary managed pollinator used for agriculture around the world. Without honeybees, many high-value food crops would be difficult or impossible to produce.

In Canada, honeybees are necessary for the pollination of many fruit, berry and vegetable crops, and in particular they are vital to the production of hybrid canola seed, planted over millions of acres by farmers across this country.

In 2012, there were approximately 8,000 honeybee keepers in Canada, both commercial and hobbyist, managing over 700,000 colonies.

Sixty-nine per cent of Canadian hives are located in the Prairie provinces, operated by 26 per cent of all Canadian beekeepers. These hives produced 85 per cent of the more than 41,000 metric tonnes of honey produced in Canada in 2012.

Honey and other hive products are valued at approximately $200 million per year, with Canada exporting more than 18,000 metric tonnes of honey worth $73 million. While the majority of beekeepers derive their income from honey production, an increasing proportion are now specializing in providing pollination services, which enables $2.1- billion worth of crops to be produced in Canada each year.

AAFC has worked with the Canadian Honey Council, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists and provincial beekeeping associations to help develop best management practices to improve the survival of bees and to help address emerging bee health issues. These efforts have led to broadly collaborative research projects examining honeybee health, as well as guides for beekeepers outlining up-to-date techniques for monitoring and treating colonies for diseases and pests.

Recently, extension publications have been produced in cooperation with the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists and the Canadian Honey Council.

Many factors have been affecting the survival and health of honeybees. These would include parasites and pathogens such as the Varroa mite, which was introduced into Canada in 1990, and the internal parasite, Nosema ceranae, which was identified in Canada in 2007. They also include honeybee viruses, which are transmitted and amplified by Varroa mites; and pesticides, both those used for general agriculture and those used by apiculturists to protect their bees from parasitic mites.

Nutrition is a factor: The effects caused by the lack of floral diversity when bees are restricted to foraging on crop monocultures and the need for adequate supplementary feeding by beekeepers.

Queen quality: Healthy, long-lived queens are very important to maintaining vigorous, productive hives. Queen health can be compromised by inadequate mating and exposure to pathogens and pesticides.

Environment: The duration and intensity of winter and spring weather is important to the survival of the colonies. Long, harsh winters or cool, long springs can result in higher levels of colony death. Unusual conditions during fall months may also delay the application of treatments for mites or preclude adequate feeding.

Cultural factors: General management techniques may vary among beekeeping operations in the production of honey or the movement of bees for pollination. These factors can also influence honeybee survival.

Evidence suggests that bees are increasingly stressed by the confluence of all of these factors. Also apparent are the increasing rates of bee winter mortality across all provinces and around the world since 2006 and 2007. In Canada, winter mortality of colonies has increased from a historical average of 10 to 15 per cent to an average of 30 per cent over the last seven years. AAFC has responded to this by focusing its research on long-term issues that affect honeybee health and survival.

For example, we are currently working on developing technologies to breed bees that are more resistant to mites and diseases. We are developing recommendations on detecting, treating and disinfecting equipment contaminated with Nosema ceranae.

We are also evaluating alternative chemical treatments for this parasite and developing residue detection techniques for the drug used to treat Nosema ceranae as well. Finally, we are surveying for agricultural and apicultural pesticide residues in hives in Alberta.

During the period of 2009 to 2014, AAFC has been and is supporting some two dozen projects, through grants and contributions under the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. These projects are taking place across Canada with provincial beekeeping associations, as well as with the private sector. These projects include mite, virus and fungus treatments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia; breeding hardier queens in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec; documenting in-hive pesticide residues in Nova Scotia; performing pollination studies in New Brunswick and Quebec; reducing neonicotinoid dusting during corn seeding in Ontario; developing best management practices for beekeepers in Ontario; and improving bee nutrition in Quebec and Nova Scotia. The funding provided for these projects amounts to almost $6 million plus an additional $600,000 for four other projects on native bee pollinators in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

The work that AAFC does with the bee sector is only part of the picture. My colleagues with me this morning are going to speak on other issues, such as importing bees into Canada and the recent incidents around pesticides and related bee mortalities. AAFC works closely with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency to address a wide range of issues facing bees and beekeepers.

In closing, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for providing us with this opportunity to speak to you today about this important topic.

[Translation]

The Chair: Thank you. I will now ask Dr. Silva to go ahead with his presentation.

[English]

Dr. Primal Silva, Executive Director, Animal Health Science Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Good morning, honourable senators of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

[Translation]

I am Dr. Primal Silva, Executive Director of Science, here representing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I am joined by my colleague Dr. Ian Alexander, Executive Director of the Animal Health Program at the agency and Chief Veterinary Officer for Canada.

[English]

We are very pleased that CFIA is invited to be part of the study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada, in particular as it relates to the factors affecting honeybee health.

The CFIA is mandated by the Government of Canada to safeguard Canada's food, animals and plants, which contributes to a safe and accessible food supply, and to ensure a strong animal and plant resource base, thereby enhancing the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment and economy.

The agency accomplishes its mandate through the implementation of mainly three programs — Food Safety, Animal Health and Plant Health. The agency works closely with a multitude of partners that includes federal government agencies — my colleagues here — provincial governments, universities, industry and international regulatory agencies.

The Animal Health program, which includes honeybee health, achieves its objectives by minimizing risks to the bee population from diseases, some of which are regulated at the federal level.

Responsibility for managing bee health in Canada is shared by federal and provincial jurisdictions. The CFIA primarily works at three levels. The CFIA works at the national level, first, by designating certain bee diseases as regulated and reportable diseases, which means that specific disease-control measures have to be applied for their control; second, by minimizing the risks of introducing bee diseases into Canada through the control of importations; and third, by providing guidance to the bee industry through the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard. The provinces work closely with industry in the implementation of bee health management plans and in their respective jurisdictions.

CFIA's approach to maintaining bee health is based on sound science, where comprehensive risk assessments are performed, the factors that influence bee health are evaluated and then options for risk management are developed and implemented with the collaboration of partners.

Canada enjoys a relatively high health status as compared to other countries, even though a certain number of diseases are present in Canada that affect bees. Our high bee health status has been possible through a number of complementary control measures by federal, provincial and industry partners working together, and they are all aimed at minimizing the risk to the bee population. It should also be mentioned that the diseases and threats are continuously evolving, and, in the current context of globalization, Canada must remain vigilant to maintain our health status.

As many of you are aware, bee colony losses, specifically losses during winter, are not the result of a single culprit. Many factors, such as bee pests and diseases, diet and nutrition, genetics, habitat loss, environmental stresses, exposure to chemicals, multiple exposures to different kinds of threats, and bee management practices all play a role in this.

As such, from the agency's perspective, as colleagues, we commend the efforts of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in taking a very broad view on this subject.

[Translation]

Thank you for this opportunity to provide CFIA's perspective on the matter of bee health in Canada.

The Chair: Thank you kindly, Dr. Silva.

[English]

Now I will ask Mr. Kirby to make his presentation, and, finally, it will be followed by questions from senators. Mr. Kirby, please.

[Translation]

Scott Kirby, Director, Product Assessment, Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Health Canada: Good morning, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee.

[English]

We appreciate the opportunity to provide you with information on the important work that Health Canada is undertaking to better protect honeybee and pollinator health. The mandate of Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency is to protect human health and the environment by minimizing the risks associated with pest control products while enabling access to pest management tools. We conduct science-based health assessments, environmental assessments and value assessments on pesticides before deciding whether they may be approved for use in Canada. We are very aware of how important pollinators are to our agriculture and our environment, and we are actively working with partners, both at home and abroad, to develop new approaches to better protect them.

Over the past several years, Health Canada has been monitoring reports of global bee declines and has been working closely with partners in Canada and internationally to better understand the risks that pesticides pose to bee health and how to best mitigate these risks. Honeybee health is a very complex matter, and the latest science and emerging research on honeybee health suggests that pesticide exposure may be one of several factors linked to declines of honeybee populations.

So far, some scientists who have been investigating the loss of honeybees have suggested that these factors could include honeybee pests, limited genetic diversity, diseases, harsh winter conditions, poor nutritional status, exposure to pesticides and stress.

As you've already heard, Canadian beekeepers have experienced higher than normal winter mortalities in their colonies over the past several years. The most important cause of Canadian honeybee losses appears to be associated with pests and diseases. Over the last few years, Health Canada has registered three new in-hive products to help combat these pests, and we continue to work with the beekeepers and professional organizations to better understand the challenges facing this industry.

All in-hive products must demonstrate that they do not result in unacceptable adverse effects on hive health when used according to the label directions. Although these products are designed to improve bee health by controlling parasites, they also expose bees to pesticides.

In addition to in-hive products, honeybees can be exposed to agricultural pesticides through a variety of routes, including direct exposure to airborne pesticides in the spray and dust to pesticide residues on the surface of plants as they forage or in the water they drink. Foraging bees can also be exposed to pesticides through pollen and nectar contaminated with pesticides that have been taken up by plants. Foragers can transport this pollen and nectar back to the hive, where it can be used for food for hive bees and developing larvae.

In order to ensure that the use of a pesticide will not pose an unacceptable risk to bees, it is standard practice for Health Canada to conduct pollinator risk assessments. Over the past several years, we've been working with Canadian and international partners to develop improved pollinator risk assessment methods that will allow us to better protect bees and other pollinators.

In addition to improving our science, we are also taking additional action on several other fronts to protect bees and other pollinators. In June of 2012, Health Canada announced the re-evaluation of the nitroguanidine neonicotinoid insecticides. This class of pesticides has been linked to global bee declines and to incidents of acute bee mortality in Canada.

This re-evaluation will focus on two areas. The first area of focus is the acute bee mortalities that occurred in Ontario and Quebec in 2012 and 2013. These incidents were linked to exposure to dust containing insecticide residues that were generated during the planting of treated corn and soy seed. Our assessment of these incidents led to the conclusion that current agricultural practices need to be adjusted to better prevent the exposure of bees to neonicotinoids.

In September of this year, Health Canada issued a notice of intent outlining a series of measures to better protect bees. These measures include requiring the use of dust-reducing seed flow lubricants that would reduce the amount of pesticide-contaminated dust generated when neonicotinoid-treated seeds are being planted; requiring that growers adhere to safer seed planting practices to further protect pollinators; requiring new pesticides and seed package labels with enhanced information on how to reduce pollinator exposure; and requiring evidence that neonicotinoid treatment of corn and soybean seed is needed to prevent loss of crop yields due to insects.

These measures are to be implemented in the spring of 2014, and we feel they will help to reduce the number and severity of bee mortalities and incidents next spring.

The second area of focus of the re-evaluation is to assess and mitigate risks posed to bees by neonicotinoid pesticides from all other routes of exposures, including chronic exposure to low levels of these pesticides in pollen and nectar.

This work is being done collaboratively with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. This assessment will consider all sources of reliable information, including information from other regulatory agencies, academia, industry and the open literature.

Health Canada is also actively participating in international efforts to understand the role that pesticides play in affecting bee health. Health Canada, the USEPA and Germany currently co-chair the OECD working group on pesticide effects on insect pollinators. This OECD group is responsible for communicating pollinator incidents and improving data requirements and guidance used in risk assessments, as well as identifying new ways to reduce pesticide effects.

Health Canada is also participating in the International Commission for Plant-Pollinator Relationships to further investigate specific effects of pesticides on bees and other pollinators.

We acknowledge the importance of pollinator health to both agriculture and the natural environment. We will continue to work closely with leading scientists around the world to protect both honeybees and wild pollinator populations. We are closely monitoring the situation here at home, and we will take measured action as warranted.

In closing, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for providing this opportunity to speak with you today about this important issue.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Kirby. Now we will start the session on questions.

Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, thank you for being here. In particular, Dr. Pernal, I appreciate your getting up so early in Alberta to be with us. Thank you for that.

Several of you referred to winter mortality. We are no strangers to winters, but we also aren't strangers to the concept of global warming. Has global warming had a negative effect on bee mortality? Most Canadians would probably think that as it gets warmer, it should be the opposite. Perhaps you could comment on the climate aspect of that.

I'm curious. We have representatives from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CFIA and Health Canada all at the table here. I'm hoping that the answer to this question is "yes." I hope that at some point in time you all sit down together someplace else to coordinate your activities and to exchange information for the betterment of the whole industry. I leave it to any of you to answer those two questions.

Mr. Pernal: Perhaps I'll take the first question. In response to your question regarding whether global climate change has affected winter survival, I would submit that's very difficult to answer. We have experienced higher rates of mortality over the last seven winters, and that's a fairly short time span to evaluate the effects of climate change and perhaps their effects on bees.

I suppose what I can tell you is that certainly the survival of bees is affected by unusual weather events, whether those are very warm periods or extended cold winters. People who predict climate change would suggest our weather will become more variable over time, with increasing intensity of extremes. If these predictions of climate change hold true and we do have more extreme weather, I would suggest these will potentially have a bigger impact on the survival of bees, but I can't specifically comment on whether over the last seven years climate change has had an effect on the survival of bees we've seen, at least recently.

The Chair: Thank you, doctor. At the table, would others have comments? No?

Senator Mercer: What about question two, which was about coordination of our work here? Is there a place where these three agencies could come together to talk specifically about bee health?

Dr. Silva: I will start, and I will look to my colleague, Mr. Kirby, to answer the other part on the bees.

In general, on any issue that cuts across several departments of government, we do come together and work on issues. There are a number of examples, such as food safety issues to animal health issues that affect both humans and animals. We work very closely among the federal family of departments, so Health Canada, PMRA, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada all work together on crosscutting issues of this nature.

When it comes to bee health, I'll let my colleague speak to that, but the evaluations are very comprehensive, and they do cover the environment and human health evaluations. That, in essence, engages a number of discussions, consultations and getting the information to do those types of evaluations.

Mr. Kirby: There are several venues where there is exchange of information among federal departments. At the working level, our scientists meet regularly with other scientists within Agriculture Canada and CFIA. We've been participating in a wide variety of bee meetings, where Dr. Pernal has been present as well as our scientists, and they interact at that point. We've had several conference calls with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on the bee issue and speaking towards future research.

As well, more broadly, the 6NR research committee meets once a year and includes members from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, CFIA, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, as well as Natural Resources Canada.

At that meeting, PMRA identifies research priorities that will help us with our regulatory activities. The PMRA itself doesn't have a research mandate; we do regulatory science. Those other federal departments do have a research mandate. So we meet once a year and identify our research priorities, and then, as appropriate, these departments will undertake research activities to help support our regulatory activities.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Kirby.

Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this morning. My question is to Mr. Kirby of the PMRA. We've heard about the importance of the neonicotinoids in terms of production and the extent of their use across Canada. I'm wondering if you can talk about how you balance the benefits of using those products and the importance of using those products with the risk of impacting bee populations.

Mr. Kirby: Thank you for that question, senator. To answer your question, basically that's our core business. We regulate pesticides. In doing that, we review a wide and broad amount of scientific information. The scientific information includes information on the effects on the environment and the effects on human health, and we also look at value information.

The value information speaks to the importance of the chemicals, and then we balance that with the potential risks that could occur to the environment and to humans.

In evaluating that information, the risk assessment will come to a conclusion as to whether or not the risks are acceptable. Where there are risks, we look to measures to mitigate those risks. For instance we can alter use patterns. We can put in place buffer zones to try to mitigate drift off-site. At end of that process, we make a decision as to whether or not the risks are acceptable and whether there is sufficient value in that product to be registered.

Senator Buth: Essentially, the issue has come up because of bee mortality in Ontario. Have you seen that, and have you had the discussion with the industry across Canada in terms of whether or not other jurisdictions are seeing any impact?

Mr. Kirby: To date, we're looking at basically two different issues related to the neonicotinoids. The main focus of our attention right now is on the incidents that have occurred in Ontario, Quebec and, to some extent, in Manitoba. We have had two years of incidents that we've investigated. Our conclusion, based on that investigation, is that the dust generated during the planting of corn and soy seed is contaminated with the neonicotinoids and is exposing the bees and causing the incidents.

As I've said, we've taken some action to try to mitigate those risks, and, in 2014, additional measures will be implemented. The second issue speaks to that broader issue in other areas of Canada. We have not seen anything similar to Ontario and Quebec. Corn and soy specifically generate dust because they require a lubricant to prevent the seeds from coming up the machinery. Other seed treatments, such as canola, with a much smaller seed and very round, doesn't require this type of lubricant.

To date, we have not seen any other incidents similar to those in Ontario and Quebec. The re-evaluation will look at broader issues because these pesticides are also used as sprays and soil treatments, so the re-evaluation is going to look at all these other routes of exposure and assess and whether or not they are causing adverse effects in native pollinator bees, as well as other organisms.

Senator Buth: Is the re-evaluation just focused on the impact on pollinators?

Mr. Kirby: Yes, the focus of this re-evaluation is on pollinator effects.

Senator Merchant: I thank all of our special presenters today for being here.

I have two questions. The first is this: You have talked to us about the fact that hives are failing and the bees are dying. There is a bit of a disconnect in my mind. I'm only talking about bees as pollinators right now. Why have we had bumper crops in the last few years in Canada if these things that you are speaking about are happening?

Mr. Kirby: I think Dr. Pernal is trying to answer.

Mr. Pernal: If that's all right. In terms of the tremendous crops we have had in Canada, especially in this last summer, I think that, if you talk to most farmers, a lot of that would be weather. It's been very conducive weather for the production of crops and the successful harvest of high quality. Certainly, honeybees are an important factor in the production of those crops. If we look at hybrid canola seed, approximately 90 per cent of the acreage in Canada that is planted in canola is planted with hybrid seed. Farmers must buy that seed every year, and honeybees are absolutely necessary for the production of that seed. In order to get these incredible crops — most of the dollar value probably being derived from canola — there have been sufficient numbers of honeybees to produce that hybrid seed. I think that speaks to the dollar value involved with the production of that seed, the incentives provided to beekeepers for the production of bees and their resilience in meeting those pollination demands.

I think the industry has been fairly strong in bouncing back from continual wintering losses. It has cost beekeepers a lot of money to do so, and it has also depended on sources of bees that come from other countries, such as the U.S., Australia or New Zealand.

I think we have been able to meet pollination demand, but it has been a difficult struggle for beekeepers, and it has also been an expensive proposition in years where they have lost considerable numbers of bees.

Senator Merchant: My second question is about the moratorium that the European Union has placed on the use of neonicotinoids, starting in December. Do you agree with that, and do you think we should do something similar? What are your opinions?

Mr. Kirby: I don't want to comment on whether I agree or not because it's a different regulatory authority that's making the decision, and I can't speak to what went into that decision.

With respect to here in Canada, basically we've reviewed a broad amount of scientific information, and we found that the evidence that we've seen does not support a broad ban on these compounds. We've determined that there is a specific issue associated with the corn and soy in Ontario and Quebec, and, for that issue, we took action in 2012. We're taking further action this year, to be implemented in 2014.

The re-evaluation that we are conducting will look at the broad information that's out there. As well, the pesticide companies are generating a vast amount of new scientific data, which we will be reviewing, and that will speak to whether or not there are any issues with these other uses. To date, the information we've reviewed does not indicate a need for any kind of broad suspension.

Senator Merchant: Good. Thank you very much.

Senator Eaton: Good morning. Dr. Pernal, my question is to you. Out west, I think especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan, there are a lot of monocultures. Is that not right?

Mr. Pernal: That's correct.

Senator Eaton: I think you talked about supplementary feeding.

I read in your biography that one of the things you're interested in is honeybee nutrition.

Mr. Pernal: That's an area I've worked in in the past; that's correct.

Senator Eaton: How does one supplement a honeybee's nutrition if they're pollinating vast fields of monoculture?

Mr. Pernal: Beekeepers would supplement nutrition in honeybee colonies when there was a lack of forage available to bees, so at times of the year where there would be very little for bees to collect in terms of pollen or nectar. That's primarily when they would supplementary feed. A beekeeper would do that by providing sugar syrup as a carbohydrate source and, importantly, by feeding pollen or a pollen substitute, which would be a protein supplement for bees. Often, that's formulated into what we call a "patty," or a diet that's formulated much like cookie dough. It would contain sugar syrup, real pollen and often something like soy flour, which would provide a suitable protein supplement for bees to continue rearing brood. Often, when there's unsuitable forage or a lack of forage, particularly in periods before main crops are in bloom in the summer or in the fall, that would be a typical time for supplementary feeding.

I think in terms of monocultures, what's happening out there is that there are just fewer weed species for bees to forage on. There are fewer flowering plants during those times of year when the main crops are not available, so there's not the more continuous flow of pollen and nectar for bees that we'd see in years gone past. This speaks to modern agriculture — our ability to control weeds and fewer and fewer acres that are set aside and not put into crop production.

I think that's sort of the scenario that we see in Canada. Some of our crops are nutritionally relatively suitable for bee nutrition. Fortunately, canola is one, so, during the main canola flow, sources of pollen are nutritionally suitable for bees. However, there are certainly other times of year where we experience dearths and where bees need to be fed to remain productive and to fight against things like disease.

Senator Eaton: Going from supplementing their feed in the spring and the fall, you know as a gardener — I certainly do as a gardener — that, going into the winter, you have to make sure that your plants are well watered because they desiccate. Have there been tests to try to better the overwintering conditions for bees by supplementary nutrition? We have seen in the wine industry, certainly in Ontario — not Niagara but east of Toronto — that they're burying vines in the ground, and it's producing good results. Have people tried other things to help bees overwinter, or is it completely a natural phenomenon?

Mr. Pernal: There have been a lot of studies over the years to improve wintering success. In terms of economic viability for beekeepers, it's really quite critical. Since 1987, when there was a fundamental shift in our industry when packaged bees were no longer readily available from the U.S, beekeepers have had to work hard to ensure that bees survived the winter and were plentiful in the spring. There has been historical work looking at supplementary feeding for bees going into winter to ensure that the quality of bees produced in the fall is good for them to survive the winter. Historical studies have looked at the rates and the type of carbohydrate syrup feed going into colonies to improve wintering success. I think a lot of our work lately has gone into how to manage parasites, pests and, more recently, things like viruses in bees going into the winter because these also have a considerable influence on honeybee health.

I think we are learning more about the interactions between things like suitable nutrition and disease resistance, and that's an area that's open to more study in order to improve wintering health of honeybee colonies. I think the situation we are looking at is much more dynamic. We have many more things affecting bees. These interactions have to be looked at in somewhat more detail in terms of the main driver of colony health in the winter and the biggest driver affecting colony survival.

Senator Eaton: Thank you very much, doctor.

I'd like to ask Mr. Kirby or Dr. Silva. We've heard about migratory pollinators, people who take hives and go from one crop to the next to pollinate. Does this encourage the spread of disease? Is this a good thing? Do we have a lot of migratory pollinators in Canada?

Dr. Silva: Yes, some movement happens in Canada, primarily in Western Canada, from Alberta to British Columbia, for example. By and large, compared to other countries like the U.S., Canada's migratory bee industry is very small. It certainly is a factor that we consider in disease control because if a colony is carrying certain diseases when you migrate, they can take them to a new location, and then, as they forage, they can transmit the disease. So the movement of bees through this migratory beekeeping certainly is a concern, and that is taken into consideration in our risk assessments. One of the factors that are important in Canada is that most of the provinces have movement controls, so the provincial bee health regulations have registration requirements and also movement permit types of regulations. That limits the movement of bees. In the U.S, there are largely no movement controls for bees.

Senator Eaton: If I'm a beekeeper, I can't pick up my bees and go from Ontario to Quebec without a permit?

Dr. Silva: You will need the level of approval before you can start doing that.

Senator Eaton: Thank you.

The Chair: Mr. Kirby, did you have any comments on that?

Mr. Kirby: No.

Senator Tardif: I'm interested in knowing what criteria you use to determine the weight that you give to factors, such as the protection of the environment of wildlife species like honeybees versus economic factors, in making a decision whether to approve or ban a product.

Mr. Kirby: Basically our environmental risk assessment looks at a broad range of areas, including pollinator health. Our particular group that looks at the environmental assessment will not be looking at the value. The value is looked at by another division within the PMRA. We conduct our environmental risk assessment and look at the potential risks to pollinator health from exposures of bees, so we will be looking at the possible routes of exposure, how toxic the chemicals are to the bees and whether there are potential long-term and chronic effects in the hives. We have developed recently, in conjunction with the U.S. EPA, a new Pollinator Risk Assessment Framework that has multi-tiers to look at. There is a screening level where you're looking at information that will allow you to determine whether there is a risk. If there is a risk, there are higher tiers to look at, so the data requirements become more and more rigorous. At the end of the day, the environmental risk assessment will determine whether the risk is acceptable. The criteria we use are based on acute mortality; we will be looking at whether there is acute mortality to the pollinators, as well as chronic effects affecting the hives. This would be looking at the larvae within the hive, et cetera. Based on that determination, we will make a determination as to whether or not we expect to have effects at a population level. We are not looking at whether a chemical will kill an individual bee. We're looking at whether the cumulative effect of exposure to the pesticide will have a negative impact on populations.

From the value side, they're looking at whether or not the product will have value in preventing pests from damaging crops, and then that information is brought together to our agency science management committee to make a determination as to whether the product is acceptable for registration.

Senator Tardif: You have spoken about the risk assessment for impact on the bees and the hives and the colonies, but what about the economic assessment? Where does that fit in to your overall assessment of whether you are going to ban or approve a product?

Mr. Kirby: I don't know that we do an economic assessment. We look at whether the product has value. That's the criteria our value assessment looks at. Does the product do what it states it will do? That information is then weighed against what environmental risks there are, and a decision is made as to whether or not the product is acceptable for use.

Senator Tardif: But it could be that if pesticides were not used in some instances that there would be a lower yield. Could that not be the case?

Mr. Kirby: Oh, definitely.

Senator Tardif: So there is an economic factor that comes into play, and I guess I'm wondering who makes those types of decisions.

Mr. Kirby: The agency makes a determination whether or not —

Senator Tardif: Canada does.

Mr. Kirby: Yes, is effective and has value. We also look at whether or not the product has unacceptable environmental risks. If the product does not have unacceptable risk and has value and is efficacious, then it is approved for registration.

Senator Tardif: I'll leave it at that for now. Thank you, chair.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: We know that neonicotinoids affect the nervous system of inspects, causing paralysis and death, and that they are among the most widely used insecticides in the world.

Should we not also be concerned about potential side effects on humans? We do, after all, consume very large quantities of corn and soy-derived products.

Is there any research proving that they do not pose a health risk? And in the absence of such research, should we not do some?

[English]

Mr. Kirby: Absolutely. Our health effects directorate looks at that aspect of the assessment of pesticides. They receive a large amount of data to look at as to the potential exposure of humans to residues and food, as well as by standard exposure, et cetera. They make a determination as to whether that exposure is of concern, and if it is of concern, then we would take some form of regulatory action or mitigation measure to prevent that exposure.

Basically, no pesticide is registered unless the risk to human health is acceptable, and that group will be looking at exposure from food and drink, as well as by standard and occupational exposure.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: Do you know how many tons or litres of neonicotinoids are produced annually?

[English]

Mr. Kirby: I don't have those numbers with me, but we do have sales data by province, and I can provide you with that. I can say that they are extremely widely used throughout the country and around the world. I will provide you with that information.

The Chair: Mr. Kirby, could you provide that information through the clerk, please?

Mr. Kirby: Absolutely.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Ogilvie: I have a couple of questions for Mr. Kirby. With regard to your comment that the neonicotinoids were linked to the mortality in Ontario and Quebec, the significant mortalities that occurred there in a couple of years, is there direct evidence of that or does it in some way parallel the introduction and use of the pesticide? Is there a direct, clear link between the neonicotinoids and the mortality?

Mr. Kirby: Yes, there are definitely some clear linkages. Over the course of our investigation over the past two years we have looked at a variety of information, but the strongest information comes from the analytical data we have. Bee samples, samples from comb honey, samples from comb wax, samples from plants adjacent to the bee yards, as well as soil and water samples were sent to analytical labs, and in approximately 70 per cent of the dead bees that were sampled, we found residues of the neonicotinoids.

The incidents occurred at the same time that the corn planting was occurring in both 2012 and 2013, so that adds a further linkage. There is quite strong information linking the corn and soy seeding operation with the incidents in Ontario and Quebec, and there is analytical data to show that neonicotinoids are likely a causal factor.

Senator Ogilvie: In other studies it's been shown, then, in sort of the equivalent to a double-blind study, that neonicotinoids are indeed fatal to bees; is that correct?

Mr. Kirby: Absolutely. They're very toxic, but it depends on the exposure, obviously.

Senator Ogilvie: With regard to the introduction of the neonicotinoids into the bees, one of the comments that has occurred consistently is that it's related or thought to be related to the dust or the product being in the dust from cultivating techniques, and yet most of the cultivating techniques occur considerably before, in terms of time, the actual blossoming of the plants. Is that not the case? Are the dust particles persistent in the environment at the time at which bees are most active during the pollination of the crops?

Mr. Kirby: When you are speaking of the blooming, you're talking about the crops that are being treated?

Senator Ogilvie: Yes. After all, the bees are in the vicinity of the crops when the crops are actually producing or are attractive to the bees.

Mr. Kirby: Specifically with respect to the Ontario and Quebec incidents, the time of planting coincided with the incidents. That was in May, so there are flowering plants. Not the corn, obviously, because it was being planted. There are flowering plants adjacent to the field, things like dandelions. So that is one possible route of exposure.

You are right, the pesticides are quite persistent, and they're designed to be taken up by plants. For instance, with canola, the seed is treated, and it's designed to be taken up by the plant as it grows and protect the plant from insects. So there is definitely residual activity there.

Senator Ogilvie: And that would relate to how they pick it up in the nectar and transmit it back to the hive; is that correct?

Mr. Kirby: We will be looking at that for the re-evaluation, but to date we haven't seen evidence of adverse effects based on that route of exposure. We've seen adverse effects based on exposure to the dust. The dust could be drifting into the bee yards and directly onto the hives. The bees could be flying through the dust while they're foraging. The dust could be landing in puddles where the bees go to get water. Various routes of exposure are possible from these corn planting operations, but it's not based on the systemic uptake into the corn itself.

Senator Ogilvie: These studies you referred to that the United States is undertaking, and I understand you are collaborating with, are designed to determine which of those potential sources of the infection of the pesticide is actually contributing to the uptake of the pesticide, is that correct, as opposed to indirect evidence?

Mr. Kirby: Yes. The studies that are being required by both Canada and the United States are going to be addressing the broader issue of exposure through uptake into plants, exposure because of soil drenches and exposure through water that would be adjacent to the field. The risk assessment framework is looking at that.

Senator Ogilvie: As a final observation, are you trying now to determine that there is a direct relationship as opposed to a suspicion of a direct relationship?

Mr. Kirby: With respect to the incidents in the spring of 2012 and 2013, we feel there is definitely a direct relationship. However, with the broader question of neonicotinoids and other routes of exposure, then, yes, that's what this re-evaluation is trying to determine.

The Chair: Dr. Pernal, do you have any comments?

Mr. Pernal: Not at this point. I think the questions have been well answered by my colleagues so far.

The Chair: Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Welcome, gentlemen. In Quebec, we have an old expression that goes, the weaker the patient, the more doctors tending to him. I am glad to see so many doctors concerned with bee health. It tells us that bees are in rough shape.

I would like to focus on one very specific point. I am from Quebec, which along with all of eastern Canada — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — produces a huge volume of blueberries. In fact, we are responsible for something like 80 per cent of blueberry production in Canada. And the sector is being affected right now.

Canada is the world's second largest blueberry producer. That is a fact. Now, the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick governments have done extensive research because they do not have the same type of bees out east that they do out west, on the other side of the Rockies, in British Columbia. You agree that the types of bees are not the same.

In New Brunswick, they have blue orchard bees. At the beginning of your remarks, you mentioned that three factors were causing bee colony losses, including parasites and pesticides. In Quebec, we add coated seeds, and that somewhat speaks to the issue Senator Ogilvie raised because coated seeds are a major cause of death in bees. And you are well aware since everything is covered with pesticides during flowering season.

Coated seed and pesticide makers will claim the opposite; they will argue that the products are terrific for bees, almost as beneficial as cod liver oil. But that is not the case.

Health Canada and the provinces are doing research. Last year, Quebec had its worst crop. But what we are seeing is that the farther north you go, including Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec, you do not have any pesticides because the only thing that grows is blueberries. There are no coated seeds or pesticides, so the crops have been excellent. Those who claim that pesticides and all manner of dusting are not harmful to bees are lying to us.

Is there anything we can do about parasites? Can we deal with them without eliminating bees? Fifty per cent is a lot. Has anything in your research shown whether we can get rid of bee-killing parasites?

That is your area of responsibility. We will speak to the right people, as far as pesticides go.

[English]

The Chair: Mr. Pernal, Dr. Silva or Mr. Kirby, can you bring clarity?

Mr. Pernal: Perhaps I'll start by offering a few comments. Blueberry ecosystems in Eastern Canada are much different than what occurs in Western Canada. The species that is grown in that part of the country is primarily low- bush blueberries. The honourable senator is quite correct. It's a very important crop, and it's certainly a high-value crop that is produced in these provinces. Certainly, the health of bees is a great concern.

In terms of the type of honeybee that is used in Eastern Canada, there wouldn't be a substantial difference in genetics from that used in Western Canada, but there are different species of bees that are used to supplement pollination on low-bush blueberries. These would include bumblebees, which are commercially purchased at times and put on fields for supplemental pollination, and also, at times, alfalfa leafcutter bees.

Regarding the senator's question on the control of parasites, I can speak to that in a honeybee context. Again, this is by far the managed pollinator that is used to the greatest extent in agriculture. One of the two greatest parasites affecting honeybee health would be the external mite Varroa destructor. This is the large external mite that looks kind of like a wood tick on bees if you were looking at bees. We have had a succession of pesticides that are used within honeybee colonies that specifically kill Varroa mites. A number of products have been used, and the mites have quickly developed resistance to these pesticides. We currently do have a fairly effective product on the market that is regulated and approved in Canada for the control of Varroa mites. I think our bigger concern is whether this may be the end of the line for many of these synthetic pesticides used to control Varroa mites, and it's a fairly significant concern for the industry. We do have alternative products that are naturally based and that are used in rotation, but they tend to have lower degrees of efficacy and are more greatly affected by temperature.

We do have a current suite of products registered for Varroa destructor control, some of which are highly efficacious, but, certainly, Varroa management in general is a concern for the industry because it would be rated among the top factors in terms of overwintering survival of honeybee colonies. Certainly, ongoing research into Varroa control is a very high priority in terms of the health of honeybees.

The second very important parasite in honeybee survival is an internal parasite you may have heard me refer to earlier called Nosema ceranae. That's the scientific name. It doesn't have a common name. This causes a disease of honeybees that can affect their productivity and their winter survival. We do have a product available for suppressing Nosema ceranae in bees. This product has been used against a closely related species for over 50 years now, and we're concerned about its potential for resistance development. We do have a product registered, but I would say our means of maintaining control of this parasite are very precarious because we have few alternatives and this is a very old product. Certainly, I've been involved in looking at some alternative strategies to control this internal parasite through disinfection methods and management. I should also point out that it's a very new species on honeybees. It's only been detected in Canada since 2007 and was only found in Europe a few years before that.

Those are some general comments about the management of those two parasites, but I would suggest that, although we do have some current strategies in place, they are of paramount concern for the industry. We need to continue working on management strategies for those two parasites because they're among the two biggest reasons for increased mortality in honeybees.

I should also point out that the Varroa mite is one of the agents that disseminate honeybee viruses. By controlling Varroa mites, we also do a better job of reducing the transmission and the amplification of viruses among honeybee colonies. Certainly parasites are a major concern. We do have some products that are registered, but we certainly need to maintain this fight against controlling these two parasites. We need to look at additional methods of treatment, should the current ones run their course and parasites become resistant to these products.

The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Pernal.

Do the witnesses have any other comments?

Mr. Kirby: Just to say that our agency is the agency that registers the products that are used in-hive to combat Varroa mite, and that as new products come online to our agency, we try to do our best to get them out in time.

The Chair: Dr. Silva, and then we'll go back to Senator Maltais.

Dr. Silva: To add to what my colleague said on this, CFIA tries to reduce that risk of the resistance developing in bees against some of these treatments. When we do risk assessments to allow importations from other countries, we look very carefully at resistance to certain antibiotics — for example, oxytetracycline resistance of American Foulbrood — whether that is a factor in allowing the importation.

In countries where such resistance is predominant and has started spreading, we do not allow those importations to take place. Hence, we try to regulate at the level of importations into the country, while all the controls that Dr. Pernal mentioned, and my colleague Mr. Kirby mentioned, are trying to again minimize that risk at the domestic level; so we go at it from both fronts.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Quebec and Ontario produce a large quantity of greenhouse crops and they import bumble bees from Holland. Can your department, your agency, assure beekeepers that the imported bees adhere to Canadian standards, that the bees are healthy and do not carry parasites? In short, I would like to know whether you regulate the importation of bees.

[English]

Dr. Silva: Yes, we certainly do. It is regulated by the Canadian government. CFIA, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is in charge of importations into the country. Currently we allow bee queens and packages to come only from Australia, New Zealand and Chile, where we have determined that the health status of the bees is equivalent to ours.

From the U.S., we allow only the importation of honeybee queens, and that is only from California and Hawaii. That also happens. Queens can be visually inspected and hand-picked, so we can assure that only healthy bees come to Canada, and they all require export certification, so the country actually has to certify when the bees are sent into Canada.

All these measures are designed to reduce the introduction of new diseases into Canada, or aggravating the diseases that are currently here.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Are you familiar with Anicet Desrochers's research? That does not ring any bells. With the help of researchers in California, she is trying to develop a queen that could tolerate Canada's climate. The Quebec government's report talks about that. I do not think "Her Majesty the Queen" would go very far today in this cold weather, but these researchers are exploring the possibility of producing such a queen. Do you know anything about it?

[English]

Dr. Silva: I cannot say I specifically know that research, but I will look to my colleague in Agriculture, Dr. Pernal, whether he has come across this research.

Mr. Pernal: I can't say I'm intimately familiar with that research, but certainly there are stock selection programs ongoing across Canada. Typically they're regionalized. We do have the capacity, through proper export and import protocols, to export stock to the U.S. to be propagated in the very early spring in California, and then it's sold and brought back to Canada.

If there was stock in Quebec that was produced that was of benefit to the Canadian industry, it could be multiplied in the early season in California and shipped back to Canada, again using proper export and import protocols laid down by CFIA.

Senator Oh: Thank you, panel, for coming here this morning. My question is open to all.

Children are the main consumers of honey. We find residues of antibiotic in honey. Is that a cause of concern for children — antibiotics in the honey?

Mr. Kirby: I can't speak to antibiotics. I can speak to pesticide residues, if that's what you're asking.

Senator Oh: I will ask for both.

Mr. Kirby: Yes, we look, again, at residues of pesticides in various commodities, and the residues that are allowed in honey are far beyond any level of concern for all the Canadian population, including children and infants; a residue limit is established, and that limit is very protective of all populations.

Dr. Ian D. Alexander, Executive Director/Chief Veterinary Officer for Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: I could add to what Mr. Kirby said. In terms of the work of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we are the food inspection arm that looks at all different food commodities in Canada, including honey, and we do testing for residues, including antibiotics and pesticides. We base our compliance approaches, our enforcement, on the basis of standards that are set by Health Canada; and that would include the PMRA, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, as well as Health Canada's Veterinary Drugs Directorate, who would set safe levels for residues in commodities of veterinary drugs, including antibiotics, in all species of animals.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: I want to thank our witnesses for being here this morning. Most of my questions were put by the other senators, so thank you for your answers. I would, however, like some further clarification.

You discussed Canada's inspection of queen and bee imports from certain countries, but I would like you to elaborate on that. Is there a quarantine period? I know customs has veterinarians, but I would like you to comment specifically on how those queens are inspected.

I imagine other countries want to export them but are not able to because of certain parasites. Is that the case?

[English]

Dr. Alexander: Thank you for that question. As Dr. Silva mentioned earlier, we do have certification standards for countries from which we import bees, whether it be queens themselves or for queens and package bees. We call them "package" bees if the queen is accompanied by worker bees. The standards that we require are to certify the disease status of those bees, and that is largely on the basis of a history of the health of the bees in the country from which we are importing. That is also followed up, in the case of importation, with an actual inspection of those bees. That is done by the country from whence they're shipped, but there would also be visual inspection at the time of importation, once the bees are imported.

I don't believe there is any official quarantine period, although every province, as was mentioned earlier, does have its own set of standards and regulations with regard to importations.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: My question will probably be for Mr. Pernal. When the effects of pesticides, insecticides and commercial bee parasites are being studied, how much focus is placed on native bumble bees in the wild?

[English]

Mr. Pernal: That is a very good question. Certainly, the health of native pollinators, those bees that are in the wild, is of concern for all Canadians. To be honest, less is known about native pollinators than honeybees because honeybees have been much more intensively studied. As I've mentioned before, they are the primary pollinators in agriculture and are managed for the production of our crops.

More is known about species of bumblebees because they can be commercially managed, to a lesser extent, and commercially purchased. Bumblebees are pollinators native to Canada. Some data are available about the parasite complex in bumblebees, but this is less well known than in honeybees.

Probably even less information is known about other native species of bees in Canada, and bear in mind that there are several hundred native bee species in Canada outside of honeybees.

I think the short answer is that we don't know a tremendous amount about native pollinators in terms of disease complexes. Recently, much more work has been done on the exposure of native bees to pesticides, and we have perhaps a slightly better understanding of some of the parasite complexes that may affect them, but it is certainly less well known than species we manage in agriculture. The types of bees we manage in agriculture, outside of honeybees, would be bumblebees and, primarily, alfalfa leafcutter bees. We're more familiar with the latter two in terms of native species. I would admit there's probably a paucity of information about diseases affecting native bees, and while there's an increasingly better understanding of the nature of pesticides, there is much to learn.

Senator Robichaud: Would it be important to know whether our native bees have any resistance to whatever affects the other bees, and just what traits they have to prevent them from being infected by those pesticides or herbicides or whatever we're using that could then be transferred to the other bees?

Mr. Pernal: That is correct. One subject area of interest would be pathogen spillover, which means this: Do pathogens or parasites that exist in one species of bee, whether they're honeybees or bumblebees, transfer over incidentally to the other bee species? There could be mechanisms of resistance, as you suggest. We simply don't know that at this point. There may be differential effects of pesticides. Lately, I have seen studies that have looked at the simultaneous effects of a pesticide applied to a crop on a field, their effects on honeybee colonies and their effects on native bees, which can be quite different. Keep in mind that honeybees, as an organism, are quite resistant. They have large colonies, and I would submit that they have a certain buffering capacity in terms of their exposure to low amounts of pesticides. That capacity might not always be present in some of our native bee species. I have seen many more studies that look at effects on native bees. I think our knowledge in that area is increasing, but I certainly would admit that we have gaps that need addressing.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: I have a follow-up question. The second largest consumer of blueberries in Eastern Canada is the black bear. Have you looked into whether parasites spread to bear meat?

[English]

Mr. Kirby: The short answer to that question is no. Our risk assessment framework does look at effects on mammals, but we have surrogate organisms. For instance, our studies on honeybees are meant to be a surrogate for native pollinators, and the studies we receive for mammals are laboratory mammals and are meant to be surrogates for a broad range of organisms. Usually, the animals that are tested in the laboratory are meant to be sensitive enough that they will cover other species.

Senator Buth: My question is for CFIA. Talking to beekeepers on the Prairies, the question I get is, "Why can't we import bees from the U.S., especially the queens?" You mentioned California because it would be much cheaper than importing bees from further away. They're concerned about the cost of importing bees from other areas. Can you talk about the factors that you look at specifically in terms of importation?

Dr. Silva: Certainly. Thank you, Senator Buth, for that question. The primary reason we have import restrictions into Canada from the U.S. is the disease status in the U.S. As I said, Canada enjoys a higher health status on many fronts, and we also have better control measures in Canada. One of the specific risk factors that we have looked at, in terms of the U.S. and Canada, is Africanized honeybees, which is the Africanized genetic in honeybees. It is an undesirable trait with a lot more aggressive bees and bee stings on human as well as. Canada has not reported Africanized honeybee genetics here. That is one of the factors.

Dr. Pernal referred to the development of resistance against some of the last lines of defence. One of the ones we are concerned about is a chemical called Amitraz, used for Varroa mite. In the U.S., this is being reported quite heavily now, so we want to limit that coming into Canada.

One of the other factors is the small hive beetle, another concern for us. We do have that happening occasionally, but the difference in Canada is that we have control programs. If and when these things happen, for example, in Quebec and in Ontario in the last few years, very specific control measures are taken to eliminate those threats.

Another one is oxytetracycline-resistant American foulbrood pathogen, which I mentioned earlier. When we consider the overall disease status between the two countries, there are clear differences. When we look at the controls, we have provincial regulations. We have control measures in Canada. We have movement controls.

We have reporting requirements. When we see certain diseases, they must be reported immediately to CFIA, for example, and to provincial authorities, and then we take control measures. We also have movement controls in the country. We have a national program on bee health. The U.S. doesn't have a national program on bee health. Certainly a very high rate of migratory bee industry.

When we consider all these factors together, that's the reason for maintaining those restrictions. We do allow the queens, as we said, and that is to help the industry, and that is from specific locations, California and Hawaii, and they are visually inspected. Many beekeepers have used that facility. In 2012, for example, we have figures of 190,000 bees being imported into Canada from California, from the U.S.

Senator Buth: What is it about California that is special?

Dr. Silva: They do surveillance in California, so we have a higher level of confidence in bee health. You need to have data in order to authenticate the importation.

Senator Buth: I have a question for Dr. Pernal. Are honeybees native to Canada?

Mr. Pernal: No, honeybees are not native to North America. They were introduced with settlers hundreds of years ago.

Senator Buth: Thank you.

The Chair: Before we go to Senator Tardif, I will now ask Senator Mercer. He had a supplementary.

Senator Mercer: I wanted to follow up on Senator Buth's first question and your answer about the importation of bees from the United States. We are pretty close neighbours. Do they not have some of the same problems that we're having, and that's why this committee is examining the problem? Do they not have the same issues that we have?

Dr. Silva: I will start off, and I will also look to Dr. Pernal.

Yes, they certainly do, but their problems are perhaps a lot more complex than ours. They have a higher level of problems and issues than we currently have with bees in terms of some of the bee health. Certainly the resistance and, again, some of the treatments that can be used for mites, for example. They have a higher level of that and for some of the diseases.

Africanized honeybees were first introduced onto the American continent from Brazil, and since then they have spread northwards. In some of the southern U.S. states there are reports of Africanized honeybees coming in. Certainly they have a higher level of problems to face currently on bee health.

The Chair: Dr. Pernal, do you want to comment?

Mr. Pernal: In general, I would agree with Dr. Silva. Historically, if we look at the disease profile of the U.S. industry, they have tended to have disease and pest problems for many years before Canada has, and I think a lot of the controls we have over importation have really allowed us many years before some of these pests and parasites have become established in Canada.

The other thing to remember is that we do import queens from the U.S, as has been pointed out, to a very large degree, and the reason we can do this is because of mitigation of risks. By bringing in queens, we can have export protocols in place regarding inspections and packaging of queens, which provides an acceptable level of risk for the transmission of some of these pest and pathogen problems that exist in the U.S.

Some of them in Canada we simply do not have, whereas others, other risk factors that at least were identified in the recent risk assessment by CFIA, we have to a very limited degree, and as Dr. Silva pointed out, they are controlled by things like movement controls and restrictions within individual provinces that prohibit the movement of colonies, et cetera.

Yes, there are similar things we have on either side of the border, but certainly the degree to which we have them in Canada or, in fact, their absence, really dictates whether CFIA has determined whether the importation of bees from the U.S. is desirable.

Again, just to remind the committee that the degree of risk in importing package bees, which is between one and three pounds of bees with a queen, is much different than importing an individual queen with a very small number of attendant workers. There are differences in the risks associated with importing individual honeybee queens as opposed to package bees, and this has all fed into CFIA's risk assessment.

The Chair: Senator Buth has another supplementary question, and then we will go to Senator Tardif.

Senator Buth: Supplementary to Senator Mercer's supplementary.

A question to Mr. Kirby: In terms of this issue, Senator Mercer asked if the U.S. has the same problems. I'm wondering, if you take a look the U.S. in terms of corn and soy production, it's massive. Do they have the same issues of exposure in their corn and soybean industries to the neonicotinoids?

Mr. Kirby: From what we've heard from the U.S., the level of incidence reported there doesn't seem to be the same as here. That may be a reporting issue as opposed to factual, what's actually happening on the ground, but from our discussions with them, they are not seeing south of the border the degree of problem that we are.

Senator Buth: Very interesting.

Senator Tardif: My question is for Dr. Pernal. As an Albertan, I was delighted to learn that Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada has a research station in Beaverlodge. Now, Beaverlodge is a small community in northwestern Alberta. Why Beaverlodge? What's particular about Beaverlodge?

Mr. Pernal: As you know, senator, northern Alberta is a wonderful place to live, and I can't figure out why more people don't live there to start with. In truth, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada still operates a research farm in northern Alberta, so we're sort of a smaller sub-unit of the research branch network currently in Alberta. We still operate larger research centres in Lacombe, Alberta, and a very large centre in Lethbridge, Alberta.

We've been here for almost 100 years now, and the reason I'm here is because we are located in the Peace River district, which is a large area of agriculture in northern Alberta and also northeastern British Columbia. Historically, this part of the country is associated with very high-intensity beekeeping. Our colonies here have among the highest production of honey per colony anywhere in the world, and it's still very much an active beekeeping area.

Agriculture Canada had at one time three research scientists like me working here studying honeybee management and breeding and pest issues. It's historically been a very important place for the production of bees in Canada, and I think that's led to the legacy of my having a position at this site.

There is also a high degree of forage-seed production in northern Alberta, and in years gone by there were also research programs looking at alfalfa leafcutter bees here at this site and related to the production of forage seed in this region.

For those reasons that's why I'm here, but at one time we also used to have two scientists at the central farm in Ottawa.

Senator Tardif: Thank you for that explanation.

[Translation]

The Chair: We will wrap things up with Senator Dagenais and Senator Eaton.

Senator Dagenais: Dr. Silva, I am not sure whether you have observed this phenomenon, but it is possible for the queen to change in a bee colony. Does a queen moving to a different colony hurt the colony, or does it simply have no effect at all?

[English]

Dr. Silva: I will answer in general, and I will again refer the question to Dr. Pernal as well.

The change in terms of new introduction, whether it is a change that is happening in the queen itself, produces a change in the colony with the new introduction that is somewhat different — That is if it is referring to the bee health, but if it is referring to the change in the behaviour, I think the question is probably best answered by Dr. Pernal.

Mr. Pernal: Yes, we can have a change in a queen in a colony for different reasons. A beekeeper will annually or biannually normally replace a queen in a colony for good management practices. Younger queens have higher rates of reproduction, and that will benefit the population and productivity of the colony as a whole; so that would be a normal management practice. A colony may replace its own queen by supersedure if a queen is failing, or a colony could swarm, leading to replacement of the queen through that natural process.

Whenever a queen is replaced, there is a break in the brood-rearing cycle. That will slow down the productivity of the colony for a few weeks, and that will depend on what time of the season that happens. Certainly we don't want to see that happen in the middle of the production season in the middle of summer.

We can have queens replaced for several reasons, depending on the context. If you're referring to one of those types of situations, I can perhaps somewhat better answer your question.

The Chair: To conclude, Senator Eaton to be completed by Senator Merchant and Senator Robichaud, please.

Senator Eaton: Last week, we heard from the beekeeping council that you're setting up a biosecurity forum, perhaps, or sort of a national registry. Do we have one where you keep track of diseased hives or where the outbreaks are across the country?

Dr. Silva: I can start, and I'll also look to my colleague Dr. Alexander as well. CFIA has published a national farm- level biosecurity standard for bees, and that's now been adapted by the producers and the provinces, so it's currently being implemented; and the biosecurity standard —

Senator Eaton: Could you tell us what is being implemented?

Dr. Silva: It looks at the best practices in terms of ensuring the bee health — practices such as the sanitary procedures, the management practices that help, all the measures that one needs to look at in terms of minimizing the introduction of diseases, or if you have certain diseases then to control the spread within the hives.

There are many different ways diseases can spread in a colony, or from one producer to another. The bee standards are to make sure that those risks are minimized by their proper application.

There are many different modules that the beekeepers will have to adapt to that. It is voluntary, and it is beneficial to the producers to do so; so the Canadian Honey Council is actively promoting this assessment.

Senator Eaton: Can I ask you why it is voluntary? Surely, if there is a disease outbreak in Quebec somewhere, beekeepers in Ontario would want to know about it or beekeepers in the Maritimes, the direct neighbours. Why is it voluntary?

Dr. Silva: There are two aspects to this one. When it comes to controlling diseases, there are very specific actions that are disease-control related. I mentioned that there are reporting requirements.

At the federal level, there are reporting requirements. When you notice certain diseases, you must take certain action. At the provincial level, there is an expanded list of diseases that the provinces regulate. Similarly, they have to be reported.

The actions that follow can be treating, sometimes, the destruction of some of the affected hives, all minimized again to try and eliminate the risk at source. That is a disease-control action, which is distinct from the biosecurity standard.

The biosecurity standard is a guide in the practices that you generally apply, whether you have diseases or not, but in order to minimize the introduction and have a better control of the general hygiene in the bee industry.

Senator Eaton: Is there a difference between what the provinces demand, and are there differences between them and what the federal government demands?

Dr. Silva: Yes, certainly there are. As I said, the federal level controls the bee health at three levels, with the reporting requirements on certain diseases. We have an obligation to our international world animal health organization to report the occurrence of certain diseases. That is one part of it. Importation is the other, and then the bee biosecurity standard.

At the provincial level, they are the implementers of the bee health in terms of the provincial regulations, which somewhat mirror federal, but they go on to the next level, and some of them include a number of other diseases, and then specific measures that need to be taken for disease control.

Senator Eaton: Would it help if they were standardized between the provinces?

Dr. Silva: When you compare what each of the provinces has — in fact, we have information on that, and we can share it with the committee, if you so wish — they are somewhat similar because the risks to Canada are somewhat similar for all provinces, but there are certain differences as well. There are certain minor differences between provinces.

A certain province or a region may decide not to have a controlled program for a certain disease, principally because they haven't seen it happening, and there are geographical differences within Canada where some of these diseases occur, some historical reasons as well.

The Chair: Supplementary questions.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Have the effects of predators on hives been identified? And I do not mean the black bears Senator Maltais was referring to. I was reading that, in France, the Asian hornet is doing so much damage to beehives that it is completely destroying them. Is the same thing happening in Canada; are we seeing signs that the same phenomenon is emerging here? What is the hornet? A wasp?

[English]

Mr. Pernal: I could probably comment on that. I believe the species the senator is referring to is the Vespa velutina, which is an introduced wasp to Europe. As you are quite correct, it does predate and feed on honeybee colonies. This wasp is a potential concern for Canada. It has not been found in North America, and certainly that would be an introduced species that CFIA would be very concerned about, if it were found in Canada.

I believe the answer is it's one of several exotic threats to Canada that we're very concerned about and we're monitoring for, and certainly any incidence of its introduction into Canada would be dealt with very quickly. Certainly the CFIA would be concerned about that.

Senator Buth: We've just started this study on bee health. Your appearance here today has helped to us to understand some of the large issues that are affecting bees. Can you tell me what recommendations you would have for us regarding what more we need to do to ensure bee health in Canada?

Dr. Silva: I can start. From the experience in the last close to two hours, I think the questions are very broad and the interest of the committee, both from your order of reference as well as the questions, is very broad; and that's the way it should be looked at. I firmly believe that bee health is complex and multi-dimensional and also a multi-jurisdictional issue. It needs to be looked at that way.

Many factors need to be looked at, and you certainly had a lot of questions on how the government responds to certain situations. Keeping the bee health is a shared responsibility. What I mean by that is the federal government, the provincial governments and industry, working together on this, and the universities do play a fairly strong part, too, because of the research part of it. Dr. Pernal has talked about some of the research Agriculture Canada is doing, and there are provincial agencies that do this, as well as universities.

Some of the knowledge gaps we have in these areas and how best to address them and some of the questions need to be looked at from the Canadian perspective, what is unique in Canada and what is best for Canada. There is also global knowledge on some of these things, and we need to look at that.

When it comes to any of the international regulatory agencies, organizations like CFIA and PMRA, we are in touch with our counterparts and trying to regulate so that our responses are balanced at the international level. I would very much like to leave those thoughts with you in terms of doing things that are best for Canada — if we know there are certain knowledge gaps, looking at that and how we can bring the best available knowledge to bear on ensuring the status of bee health in Canada.

The Chair: Any other comments, Dr. Pernal?

Mr. Pernal: I think my general comments would echo those of Dr. Silva, to ensure the Government of Canada has the capacity to meet knowledge gaps, whether it be surveillance for things like exotic pests in Canada, which currently we do not perform as a federal government, at least on a systematic basis; and also as a general comment making sure we have adequate research capacity within the department and just to maintain that and perhaps enhance that going forward.

Mr. Kirby: My comment will echo both Dr. Pernal's and Dr. Silva's comments. As you know, we don't have a research capacity at the PMRA. We rely on the research that's conducted by our colleagues, both federally and provincially, as well as in academia; I would echo their comments that because we need that information, this is an area that requires some effort to enhance that capacity.

The Chair: Thank you.

Senator Merchant: Most of our discussion this morning has been on bee health and concerns about the bees as pollinators. There was a question earlier about the honey, and I wondered if maybe someone could indulge me a little bit.

With respect to the honey, then, how do these problems that we have noticed in the honeybees translate to the quality of honey, to the health concerns maybe about transferring some of these products that we're using to control the disease on to the honey? Sometimes when you buy honey, there are different kinds of honey, such as cloverleaf honey, I believe. What's special about that? What about the pasteurization of honey? Does that help with some of these other things that we're concerned about now with regards to bee health? I would like a bit of an education here.

Mr. Pernal: Perhaps I could make a few general comments, and my colleagues can join in.

Certainly honey as a food product, and the purity of honey as a food product, is of utmost importance to the Canadian beekeeping industry because without a pure food product, there certainly will be no market.

Having said that, Canada has good domestic surveillance for pesticides and antibiotics in honey. That's conducted by the food safety arm of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and there is good surveillance on honey being imported into Canada and blended and sold in Canada as a product of other countries, plus Canadian honey; and certainly there is domestic surveillance of honeybee producers that produce honey and put product on store shelves in addition to packers.

I think there is some reassurance that we have mechanisms and agencies in place to maintain the quality and purity of honey as a pure food product in Canada. Also, beekeepers will not have a market if their food product is not pure.

Having said that, part of the irony around that is we have some very difficult parasites to control within bee colonies, and we use very specific pesticides within bee colonies to control things like Varroa mite. Although we may see the potential for agricultural pesticides for crops to come into the beehive and deposit themselves in wax or honey, there is also the propensity for that deposition to occur with some of the products we use in hives to control things like mites. A lot of our work has been looking at minimizing that exposure to honey and keeping it safe as a food product. It is kind of an irony that in a difficult situation, to keep bees healthy, we have to use these products that selectively kill mites.

Now, the other aspect of that isn't so much a food safety aspect, but these in-hive pesticides we use do have effects on bee health as well. Pesticides that kill mites usually are only separated by a narrow window in terms of dose at which levels they would kill bees. The other issue surrounding this is the health of bees relative to some of the in-hive pesticides we use to control mites.

We do have active monitoring over the quality of honey as a food product, both for pesticides and antibiotics, and we do have to use some of these products to keep bees healthy, although we are looking at a number of alternative strategies that minimize or perhaps, in some cases, will eliminate pesticide use.

In terms of your question about clover honey, clover honey is produced from one of a few clover species in Canada. It's commonly produced in Western Canada, where we have good stands of clover, and it's a very high-quality, light honey that is desirable for export markets for blending because of its light colour, and it's great-tasting as well. It's one of the many varietal types of honey that is available in the marketplace.

Senator Merchant: Why do we pasteurize honey?

Mr. Pernal: Pasteurization for honey is not exactly the same as pasteurization for milk. I think I will start by saying honey as a raw food product is very safe for people. One historical concern with honey is the presence of botulism spores. To my knowledge, the last survey for botulism spores in Canada that can cause illness in infants was such that it was almost undetectable.

Really, the main reason heat treatment of honey is done in Canada is to make sure honey exists in a liquid state for a long period of time on the store shelf. Honey is heated to dissolve all the tiny crystals of sugar that might be in the honey. It's filtered, and when it's packed in that form, it stays liquid for a long time on the store shelf.

You shouldn't be left with the impression that honey is unsafe because it's loaded with pesticides or disease- containing products. Honey is an extremely safe product to eat raw, and much honey is sold or consumed raw. Heat treatment, although it does have the propensity to control some disease and organisms, is not really used as a disease- control step in most situations in Canada. It's mainly to extend shelf life in terms of liquid honey. Don't worry about consuming honey; it's a good product.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: When the label says the honey is pasteurized, people think the process is the same as it is for milk, where anything that could pose a health risk to humans has been removed. Are you saying that is not completely true when a honey product is labelled as pasteurized?

[English]

Mr. Pernal: That's correct. If people think that non-pasteurized honey is going to harm them, that's really a misconception; and although there may be some evidence of that for getting rid of botulism spores, I would contend botulism is at very low rates in honey across the country. Heat treatment of honey — and it's not truly pasteurization as it would be for milk — mainly has the benefit of increasing shelf life in terms of a liquid product.

The Chair: As we conclude with your remarks, Dr. Pernal, I would like to bring to the attention of the officials of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CFIA and Health Canada, as we proceed with the order of reference as we study, and with other witnesses, if you feel that you want to add any comments or you want to contact the committee, please do it through the clerk. We would certainly welcome your comments.

On this, honourable senators, since this is the last meeting of 2013, I would like to take this opportunity again to acknowledge and recognize the professionalism of our officials and public servants from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, CFIA and Health Canada, and we want to thank you for being here this morning; and to the support staff, the chair will say, on behalf of the senators, best wishes, Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.

Now, the chair will declare the meeting adjourned.

(The committee adjourned.)