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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 6 - Evidence - Meeting of March 4, 2014


OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 6:37 p.m. to continue its study on the importance of bees and bee health and the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

Senator Percy Mockler (the 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, a senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. Before we officially introduce our witnesses, I will ask each senator to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair, please.

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

Senator Merchant: I am Pana Merchant from Saskatchewan.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: Senator Michael Rivard from Quebec.

[English]

Senator Eaton: Nicole Eaton, Ontario.

Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.

Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.

The Chair: To the witnesses, thank you very much for accepting our invitation. There is no doubt your opinions and comments will reflect the order of reference we have from the Senate of Canada, which is that the Senate of Canada empower the Agriculture and Forestry Committee 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 different topics of bee health and to recommend strategies for governments, producers, stakeholders and the industry to ensure bee health.

Honourable senators, I want to officially welcome the witnesses. We have, from Urban Bee Supplies and Education, Lindsay Dault, Owner/Operator. We also have Eliese Watson, founder of Apiaries and Bees for Communities; and also Gillian Leitch, Location Committee Member, Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative.

I have been informed by the clerk that the first presenter will be Ms. Dault, to be followed by Ms. Watson and Ms. Leitch. Following your presentations, we will have questions from the senators.

Lindsay Dault, Owner/Operator, Urban Bee Supplies and Education: I run a beekeeping supply company, so I work with a lot of urban beekeepers. Through working with them, I hear great feedback from all over Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

What I have come to discover is that most bees raised in urban areas generally tend to be quite healthy. They don't show signs of disease and sickness like those in rural areas.

The reason for that is that they have a variety of floral options. They aren't exposed to pesticides and fungicides like they are in other areas. A lot of my beekeepers who keep bees in urban and rural areas do display these signs of CCD, colony collapse disorder. They lack floral options out in those areas where they either have feast or famine, where they have either lots of floral options or they don't have any food at all. It would be like us only being able to eat bananas for three weeks and then having nothing to eat for a while.

The main issues affecting honeybees really come down to nutrition. Bees need a lot of different floral options in order to be healthy and fight off disease. It also comes down to synergy. If you have a cold and all of a sudden you get sick with pneumonia, you're likely to really be stricken by pneumonia. If honeybees are malnourished and get a cold, it's likely going to kill them. A lot of these different issues coming together end up making them very sick.

The biggest thing I think that we can do is to educate people on the importance of different floral options or planting different flowers and promoting biodiversity within a community. Places like Vancouver have done a great job in doing that, where they really do educate the residents about the importance of planting different flowers and helping that biodiversity.

Out in farmlands, they don't have that biodiversity. They have one crop and the whole area is cultivated, whereas in an urban setting there are lots of different options for the bees to feed off of. One thing is having greater biodiversity in flowers.

Also, I think farmers need to be educated in the importance of honeybee health and the health of pollinating bees as well, and the importance of them to their crops. Without the bees and all the food that they have, the crops don't amount to as much if there aren't those bees there.

Farmers also need to be educated about the use of pesticides and the timely application of them, and how to mix and apply those properly to their crops, because that is also having a big effect on honeybee health, the pesticides found in the ground or on the flowers that the bees feed off of.

All in all, a lot of what we can do comes down to education, both of farmers and of residents in communities, and they can make a big difference.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Dault.

Eliese Watson, Founder, Apiaries and Bees for Communities: Good evening, honourable senators. Thank you for the invitation to present to you my witness testimony. I would like to thank the Canadian government for sharing our concern for honeybee health and issues facing industry and producers alike.

In honeybee management, we're facing new pests and pathogens as well as increasing resistance to available treatments. There have also been growing discussions about the increasing potential for honeybee pollination in both fruit and seed crops and our slowly increasing self-sufficiency of honeybee nucleus colonies and queen production.

I am here to represent the growing population of hobbyists and small-scale beekeepers in Alberta and to share my strategies for ensuring honeybee health. Increasing public awareness of colony collapse disorder and commercial honeybee losses, as well as growing interest in urban agriculture, have generated significant increases in the number of hobbyist beekeepers.

In 2012, Alberta had the greatest number of beekeepers registered since 1988. In the last 10 years, these increases amount approximately to 25 per cent and are concentrated in the south, central and northeast regions — the areas of the province that also saw the greatest urban population growth. The increase in the number of beekeepers has also corresponded to the decrease in number of colonies per beekeeper. Though this could suggest a trend towards smaller-scale commercial operations, it is my belief that the data is reflecting an increase in the hobbyist beekeepers managing less than 10 hives.

My own experience supports this belief. Since 2010, Apiaries and Bees for Communities — my business — has imported over 450 colonies for restricted hobbyist use from the Shuswap region of British Columbia. That is limiting beekeepers to two colonies per purchase.

Hobbyists have the flexibility to manage colonies in a self-sufficient and sustainable manner because profit and honey yields are not the primary concern. Because of this luxury, many small-scale beekeepers are active in the ethical care of their hives and are finding innovative and successful ways to raise queens, respond to hive pathogens and pests, create systems for mentorship and education. I'm one of these people.

However, many hobbyist beekeepers lack a support network and are left to seek out information from unreliable social media outlets and online resources plagued with inconsistent and conflicting information. Lack of resources at the provincial level also means that these hobbyists are taking part in the management of honeybees without any regulation or observation. Municipalities are instead tasked with organizing regulations around honeybee management with little input from commercial beekeeping interests or provincial bodies.

Because of this, many in the commercial beekeeping industry have genuine concern that the growing population of hobbyists will parallel the increase of uneducated and unethical hive management, therefore causing a spread of honeybee pathogens and pests from hobbyist colonies to commercial outfits. The dichotomy of interest between industry and hobbyist participants has sterilized communication to the detriment of the entire industry.

A friend of mine once said, ``The key to an argument is getting to the heart of it: What is the real question?''

In my opinion, the Achilles heel of the connection between hobbyists and commercial management is access to information. As hobbyist beekeepers engage in the practice, they are (a) unaware or unable to access local beekeeping clubs or organizations; (b) the clubs that they engage with or start are unable to adapt to the annual growth of new beekeepers; and (c) the forum between commercial practice and hobbyist management is not meaningfully fostered by provincial commissions. This is usually because of the disorganized state of the hobbyist community, preventing opportunities for connection and collaboration, and therefore validating the commercial beekeepers' fear and doubt at the state of affairs within the hobbyist group.

I do not feel that any more pressure should be placed on the commercial beekeeping community. Instead, I believe that the hobbyist community should be responsible for their actions and is completely capable of building these bridges between their backyards and rural commercial outfits. After all, they are engaging in a hobby, not their livelihood, and therefore should be able to have time and resources to make this happen.

Since 2010, I have participated in hobbyist beekeeping projects, clubs and educational programming in Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, California and Arizona. I have worked with issues of human population density, forage access for healthy honeybee development, and consulting cities and communities on how to manage municipal regulations of honeybees with excellent success.

In my experience of working with commercial outfits and small urban beekeeping organizations, I have blueprinted a strategy to ensure that the sterile communion between hobbyists and commercial apiaries can bear fruit as a means to mitigate risk for both communities and increase the adaptability of the industry and urban beekeeping movement. The blueprint is made of six steps: making information accessible; offering a forum; collaboration; mentorship; neighbourly engagement; and replicability. And on the back of the handout you all have, there's an image.

My recommendations apply mostly to the first step of making information accessible. I offer my advice on how we can mitigate the risks of spreading diseases and pests, success and failure in innovative management practices, and increased self-sufficiency by learning the demands of other beekeepers within the community and meeting those needs.

First, I feel a strategy that would benefit us would be the creation of a nationwide discussion board for hobbyists and commercial beekeepers to share information. This can include publications from research facilities and universities, provincial statistics and publications, as well as opportunities for clubs to connect and keep a pulse on urban and rural issues and development. ABC currently funds the production of such a site for free use among central and southern beekeepers called ``The Community Hive'' and since 2011 has acquired over 300 members — that's more than a third of the registered beekeeping population in Alberta.

Second, a strategic planning program should be made available for beekeeping clubs and organizations, including tools to increase the productivity of mentorship programming; regulation of members' access to colony purchases through the group form of commercial producers locally; and guidelines for creating regular workshops on hive management, disease prevention and treatment. These programs could offer statistics of honeybee management and health in urban areas for provincial observation and also decrease the weight on regional inspectors to visit urban apiaries and to track the movement of pathogens and pests within the hobbyist community.

Last is opportunities for commercial beekeepers interested in diversifying their business to connect with local clubs and organizations offering educational programming, teaching field days, and site visits. I have built my business off this model and have seen a 300 per cent growth in just three years without a dependency on honey sales or production.

I fear that without the overarching connection between commercial and hobbyist beekeepers, the divide between practice and opinion in honeybee management will stifle the potential resiliency of the industry from disease transference and tracking. I feel that the growth of the hobbyist and small-scale beekeepers will continue and, if managed right, could offer a future for quality breeding programs, increased nucleus colony production and self-sufficiency.

They have done this program in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota partners with hobbyist beekeepers and it is very successful.

As well as strengthening the industry's demands for pollination of fruit and seed crops, I also feel that hobbyist beekeepers are capable of working at satellite bee laboratories, trying out new products, sampling new techniques of honeybee management or integrated pest management practices, and data collection or stock sampling.

Hobbyists can and should be identified as resources for the industry as these individuals tend to have the education, time and interest to meet research requirements if organized, recognized and supported by the industry.

Thank you for inviting me to share my ideas with you. I look forward to your questions.

The Chair: Thank you.

Ms. Leitch, please.

Gillian Leitch, Location Committee Member, Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative: Thank you for allowing us to be here as a witness, senators. We think this whole committee is just a terrific idea, and we are very thankful that you have chosen to have such a broad focus and perspective.

We also have a very unique perspective. We are a small cooperative in Toronto. We started in about 2002. In 1985, FoodShare was created with the help of Art Eggleton to provide the creation of an urban agriculture project. It is a very strong organization now. In 2001, their beginning foray into agriculture developed into the Toronto Beekeepers Co-operative. We are 50 members strong right now.

As was mentioned, we have very low mortality rates compared to our rural partners, rural fellow beekeepers. Over the last five years we have had on average a 15 per cent mortality rate, so it is quite different than what you are hearing from the rural component.

We explained that not only are we hobbyists, but we have practices that reflect a hobby rather than a cash focus or production of honey focus.

Also, we're very lucky to have had forward-thinking mayors. In 2003, we were pesticide-free. Cosmetic pesticides were banned in Toronto about five years before Ontario took that up.

While that's true, the urban environment is still extremely hazardous for bees. It is not easy for them to forage with industrial zones and street traffic. We have a burgeoning industry in Toronto of green roofs, and there are also subsequent hazards there. They're very attractive to bees, but they offer certain hazards relating to the heat island effect of the downtown location. Bees will create habitat on a rooftop, but once the full summer season hits, they don't survive that intense heat. There's not necessarily access to water in those environments, so we're working very closely with wild bee researchers who are looking at how bees navigate these rooftop locations. Do they travel down to the street level before they go to the next location? One significant part of that is that these environments are quite isolated. They're like little garden oases, so there's quite a lot of focus right now on getting the public involved in linking these areas.

I'm part of a project called the Homegrown National Park, and that's promoted by the David Suzuki Foundation. We're looking to help homeowners see the little disparate areas in their community and join them to create a pollination corridor.

These kind of educational things are something that our co-op takes very seriously. We're very much involved in promoting proper best practices for beekeeping, but also educating the public about how bees fit into the whole global food situation. They're an integral part of the food system. We wouldn't have the food we eat without bees, and so we also look at wild bees as very much a central focus.

There are three areas where we're very concerned about seeing some change. The first one would be that in Ontario we have the Ontario Bees Act, and that limits us to sites hives within 30 metres of our property lines. It is a very difficult thing for urban beekeepers to navigate. Most of us don't have such a large property that we can have 30 metres from each property line.

Our co-op would be so much larger. We have 50 members. We would be much larger if we didn't have this barrier. We would be able to have many more location sites as a cooperative. That's one of our limits that we would like to see looked at.

As I said, we're very concerned about the situation with wild bees. While we have very good forage in Toronto, a lot of our Toronto gardeners are very aware and planting pollinator friendly plants. But, the wild bees have evolved with our native plants, and we need to promote and educate the public about planting native plants and habitat for wild bees, as well as the forage for them. We're very encouraged to see that the Ministry of Natural Resources has removed milkweed plants from the noxious weed list.

We need native plants, and we need to promote them and to educate people about why they're significant. We need to see wildflowers and native plans back on the roadsides. We need to see them in fields that are fallow. In crop rotation, they should be planted. They should be allowed. We want to see them at verges.

The concern for us, of course, is that our fellow rural beekeepers are experiencing these drastic losses — for example, 70 per cent losses in the Durham, Ontario region. These are in areas where there are corn and soy crops. So we're looking at the scenario with the neonicotinoids, and it's really scaring us.

This impacts us as hobbyists in a couple of ways. It keeps hobbyists from developing into career beekeepers. Even though they've got all of this support with best practices, they're afraid of these alarming numbers, and rightly so. It's very shocking to us that these neonicotinoids have been found in neighbouring native plants. While the crop plant grows, has that chemical and takes it up into its system so that it's completely systemic, it seems to be going into the water system as well. Honeybees and wild bees are in contact with this water. They're encountering these neonicotinoids from the water, but it's also coming up into the native plants, so it seems that it's actually poisoning plants that aren't even crop plants. It's very concerning.

We're hearing about the success of things like blueberry crops and how necessary it is that there are more beekeepers who are able to support those crops. We don't want these farmers to be looking to the States for beekeepers who can handle pollinating these crops. We can do this if we have the ability to branch out further than hobbyists. That's another obstacle that we see.

We would really like to concentrate on support for information-gathering, but one of our largest concerns is that, going forward, we hope not to see any products on the market that actually weren't tested for bees. For Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta, those products got on the market without even testing them to see if they were going to cause bee deaths, and that's of big concern to us. Going forward, we'd like to see those things tested and have more control over what reaches the market.

This is the time of the year when beekeepers are extremely anxious. We're so worried about the numbers that are going to emerge this spring because we've had such a terrible winter in Ontario.

We appreciate so much the fact that you guys are listening to us and that the Senate has agreed to have us as witnesses. It gives us so much hope. Thank you very much.

Senator Mercer: Thank you very much for being here, all three of you. It has been very informative, and it's looking at a part of the industry that we haven't looked at yet. That's important.

Perhaps somebody can put something into context for me. What number of urban beekeepers would there be across the country? I know that you're not all from the same place, but is there an estimate as to how many urban beekeepers there are?

Ms. Watson: I can speak on behalf of Alberta. Medhat Nasser was here presenting earlier in February. He is our provincial apiculturist. At the Alberta beekeepers' AGM in November, I think he said — and this is just off the top of my head because I couldn't find it in my notes — that over 90 per cent of the beehives in Alberta are managed by about 12 beekeepers. Alberta is the fifth largest honey-producing region in the world, and Canada is in the top 20 for honey production in general. The last few years have been pretty low yield. I don't know if you guys have been given that information.

In order to be considered a commercial beekeeper in Alberta, having anywhere above 200 to 600 colonies is considered commercial, but other provinces consider about 200 colonies to be a commercial enterprise. For us hobbyists, I would say probably about 25 per cent of the beekeepers in our province are below 200 hives, at least. We have 883 registered beekeepers. The challenge is that the statistics that come into our commission are registered beekeepers, and the issue that we have is that, for a lot of hobbyists, especially if beekeeping is illegal in their municipality, there's a lot of concern about registering with the province. They think that there's strong communication between the Beekeepers Commission of Alberta and the municipality bylaw, and we all know that doesn't take place. There's a lot of fear that that information could be disseminated and that they could have their bees taken away from them. I think there are a lot more hobbyists in my province than are registered.

Ms. Leitch: I would definitely say that we would've been able to double our numbers of membership every year almost. We have huge demand, huge numbers of requests to join the co-op. We just don't have sufficient locations to have enough hives to support that many learners. In the last two years, individuals who have tried to join our co-op and not been able to have gone off and started other associations. So there's the Urban Toronto Beekeepers Association, and there are groups at places like the University of Toronto, which has its own group. Each of these is trying their best to make sure that the correct information about proper maintenance and best practices is disseminated. We know there are a lot of people who are going ahead and doing it themselves, and that's of concern because it's going to affect bee health in general.

Ms. Dault: In Vancouver, pretty much every single area is allowed to keep bees, so we have large numbers of urban beekeepers. I don't know what our specific number is. I tried to find out and couldn't, but 70 to 80 per cent of our beekeepers are urban beekeepers. They have 1 to 10 to 15 hives, so they are relatively small. We have very few large operations.

Senator Mercer: That's great. Sometime in the future, if you get some numbers that you think are more solid, please don't hesitate to send them to the clerk so that we can consider that as we go through this study.

Are urban beekeepers using their honey for their own production, or are they selling it to larger processors?

Ms. Dault: I'd say their own production and selling it to families. Urban beekeepers in general are.

Senator Mercer: Sort of like a cottage industry?

Ms. Dault: Yes. Not manufacturing it.

Ms. Watson: It depends on the provincial regulation for farm gate sales. Each province has its own farm gate sales regulations. In British Columbia, for instance, if you meet general CFIA standards for farmers' market regulation, you're able to sell your honey at an outlet. A beekeeper like Bill Stagg, in the Shuswap, sells his honey at the corner store down the road from his house. They retail it for him. The Alberta CFIA regulations don't allow for resale of product unless it goes through the inspection process of the CFIA. That means that the honey needs samples, and tracking needs to be done in case there is any inquiry on the quality assurance of the product. It's challenging. You can sell at a farmers' market or sell direct, but for me to produce honey and sell it at the local market, I would have to meet the same standards as beekeepers who are selling their product to offshore markets or to packers, which makes it incredibly challenging for there to be that real cottage industry act going on. I know the province of Alberta is interested in reengaging with the cottage industry as it's a taking off, as more interest is taking place.

Senator Mercer: We've heard from many other witnesses talking about the winterization of bees, and we understand how they do it in large operations. How do you winterize bees in the city?

Ms. Leitch: We use bee cozies. It's very cute, sort of like a tea cozy. I'm not sure what material is inside it, but it looks like black plastic garbage bag material, thick plastic. It's fibre-filled material. It goes down on top of the hive. We use an extra vent box with sawdust in it above that to help wick out moisture. The siting of the hive itself is meant to be in an area that will protect it from wind. If it's on a roof, then there's a parapet or something like that sited so it gets the morning sun and not too much wind.

Ms. Dault: Ours is completely different from that. We don't have the lovely weather that you guys have here.

Senator Mercer: Sure; rub it in.

Ms. Dault: If people do anything — some people don't — all we do is wrap it in black tar paper to absorb heat on nice, sunny days, which we don't have a lot of.

Ms. Watson: In Alberta, still the primary means of winterization is outdoor wintering. There are larger-scale beekeepers that do indoor wintering with controlled humidity and environments up in the peace country, but the preferred method of winterization is outdoor wintering. Because our winters are so long and the past springs have been so late, Alberta has kept their losses below 30 per cent and maintained good quality by ensuring there's enough honey stores for the hives, about 65 to 80 pounds of honey per beehive, so that the colonies can endure a later spring. As hobbyist beekeepers, we ensure that we do the same practice. Wet bees are dead bees all throughout winter. Moisture mitigation is an issue because we do have chinooks and balmy days in the middle of the winter and unusual climate. Certain regions of the province do have different challenges. In urban centres we try to manage our hives the same way they do commercially because we have good success in our province with winterization.

Senator Eaton: Thank you very much; fascinating.

Ms. Watson, in your presentation you said if managed right it could offer the future of quality bee breeding programs. Could you talk a bit about that, and increased nucleus? We've seen with our other witnesses that we seem to be importing a lot from outside the country. There seems to be a lot of controversy about whether we open the border or keep it closed. It would be nice if we actually produced more bees in this country.

Ms. Watson: Exactly. I'm really glad you brought that question up, Senator Eaton.

Basically, there are a few programs. At the University of Minnesota, Marla Spivak, quite an infamous beekeeper from there, created a varroa-sensitive hygienic — VSH — honeybee. It's basically a methodology of artificial insemination and queen rearing that seeks out certain traits. The queen will scout out varroa mites.

I've looked at some of the previous presentations. I think Dr. Guzman spoke to you as well as people from the diagnostic centre about varroa mites and the challenges that they have with colonies. Those bees are able to scout out those mites underneath the cell, pull out the dead larva and become more hygienic in their behaviour. It increases the immune system of the colony as a whole.

The benefit of the actual program is they have a team called Bee Squad. It's their masters and PhD students that work with the bee lab in Minnesota. They actually have these bees given out to hobbyists and they do programming with them. If you're looking at information on how those projects could work, they are a good sample subject to look at.

Other programming to look at is the bee programming. The contact I have at UBC is Heather Higo. You probably did have a UBC bee breeder program represented. They've done three years of research now at scouting viable queens from Western Canada. They brought them back to the lab and have done testing. Those queens have now been sent back to the beekeepers, and I think the research will be published later this spring.

There is a lot of opportunity where now commercial beekeepers are involved in hands-on management of those hives. Every conversation I've had with commercial industry and large-scale industry — we have five months of summer management of bees in Alberta — indicates that trying to meet the time line to produce honey yield, to fill out the paperwork and to inspect the hives to meet the criteria for the research to be viable can be extremely challenging. Take a sample group or community beekeepers living in the same demographic area. If we do research on beehive management of queen production where 20 beekeepers were managing 20 hives, the data inquiry and resources that we could get will be much more comprehensive and reliable simply because they're hobbyists. That's a fun part of their hobby that they can participate in.

Senator Eaton: You can become mini laboratories for the commercial side?

Ms. Watson: Completely. It's an incredibly viable project, and I have seen it work. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a beekeeper out of the United States, scientifically identified colony collapse disorder. He's got a project that is doing that, getting sample sites and information. The majority of his beekeepers are hobbyists.

I feel that if we can have the resources as hobbyists to become organized and work in conjunction with industry, we can be that resource of sample sites for research to move forward more rapidly. I have over 300 beekeepers in the Calgary area. We're organized in such a way that not a single beekeeper gets bees through me without passing an online exam and filling out an application. Those applications are then reviewed by a board, and they are given bees based on the skills they have. So we have quality assurance of the people managing the hives. Also, these people are actively participating in mentorship and apprenticeship of other beekeepers. If we were to give them the opportunity to participate in something more in depth and have a longer vision, I could see a very positive outcome for everyone.

Senator Eaton: You said somewhere that you don't give people what they want. In other words, you limit them to two. Why is that? Because there is not the supply?

Ms. Watson: No, a couple things. We get all of our bees from Bill Stagg in the Shuswap. He was the regional inspector for the region for the last six years. Basically, we have a relationship, so I kind of corner that market for my beekeepers. We get four framed nucleus colonies or baby colonies.

The reason we limit it to two is because I'm looking at trending of saturation points of honeybee colonies because there's no regulation of beekeeping in the municipality. As municipalities grow, I find in the work I've done in New York and Los Angeles that the challenge is they will legalize beekeeping and there's no way that municipalities or bylaws are able to regulate, control or mark who has bees, where are they, and the yield coming out of those hives. There are issues of saturation in commercial apiaries. You can only put so many bees per density, say, for blueberry or for canola pollination. Once you go over that point, then you end up having bees not busy doing the work that the seeders or fruit production wants.

I'm looking at saturation points and honey production. For me, not only is it the applicants taking data to ensure two colonies per beekeeper — because I don't think hobbyist beekeeping in urban settings should be for commercial production — but also it's for us to keep track of postal codes and production to see densities of beekeepers in regions. Our point is if we see densities reaching beyond where it could potentially compete with native pollinators in that community, those people sign a contract to be mentors and we then make the people apply who want bees. They don't get bees through us, but we partner them with a mentor in the neighbourhood. We say, ``You have a beekeeper that lives four houses from you. Here's their contact information. You guys should keep bees together.''

It's building that hive mentality in community and using bees as a conduit for community development in municipalities; building food security using bees as that tool, but also being able to get real, concrete data about how urban beekeeping is developing and growing within the cities I work with.

Senator Merchant: Thank you to the three women who are here. I know you're very enthusiastic about this. What motivates people in the city to want to be bee hobbyists?

Ms. Leitch: It's a connection with nature. It's something that's really lacking. It's the sense of connectedness. The minute you start to learn about these little creatures, you don't just learn about them; you learn about the plants they evolved with. It's easy for people to go to a garden centre and say, ``I like this, I like this and I like this.'' Once you start to plant pollinator-friendly plants, you have all these different species of wild bees coming into your garden, and it's so engaging. That sense of connectedness; a lot of people don't even have green space in their own home environment, so there's a deep sense of disconnect that I think they're trying to fill.

There's a huge message coming from bees right now. These creatures are the canaries in the coal mine. They're speaking a loud message. We're hearing it from so many different realms — climate issues and all these different issues we're facing — and these creatures are speaking a loud message. People are realizing that they have to listen. Getting involved with this helps you connect with people who can fill in these gaps for you. A wealth of knowledge is filling in that connection.

Ms. Dault: A lot of people call me and say, ``I'd like to help save the bees; what can I do? I want to keep a beehive. I want to save the bees.''

Senator Merchant: I understand that people are motivated for different reasons to do the things they do. What is the cost of setting up a colony?

Ms. Leitch: In Toronto, we would say it's about $500 to have one hive. Most often you will suggest two because that sort of management makes sense. If your hive doesn't do so well coming into the fall, you might want to merge the two hives together. Having two is a useful way to start off. It's a great idea to limit people to two. Most environments probably don't support a lot more than that. If you were to have two hives, you are looking at about $1,000 for suiting up, the various hive tools, the bees and the structures themselves.

Ms. Watson: Lindsay, you sell equipment. Is that accurate?

Ms. Dault: Yes. That's your initial investment and you don't have to buy that again, so you're just looking at purchasing bees the year after.

Senator Merchant: The maintenance would be how much, then, over and above the starting fee?

Ms. Dault: Let's say $100 to $250 for a colony.

Senator Merchant: Per year?

Ms. Dault: But that is if you lose your hive. A lot of people are very successful, especially in urban areas, with keeping their bees alive year after year.

Ms. Watson: Honeybees are prolific, so if you can get them to survive a winter, especially if they come out strong, you can take a single strong colony and split it into eight. I've done that several years in a row. The challenge is that if you lose your colonies over the year, the replacement fee for a package, whether it's from air — Otaki, from New Zealand, which 98 per cent of the bees come from overseas in Alberta — that stock is $150 per package, including delivery.

It comes with about two pounds of bees in a wooden box or in a tube, depending if it's from Australia or New Zealand, with a queen in a cage and a feeder can. You just shake those bees into the box. Usually commercial beekeepers have combs, but hobbyist beekeepers who are starting out from scratch don't have combs or start from the beginning and it's a slower build-up.

The first year you produce wax; the second year you produce bees; and the third year is when you really start to see honey yields. Starting up or being innovative in the business is a long-term project development, just like any form of animal husbandry, farming or agriculture. Time management is the initial investment, especially if you're looking at revenue made from honey yield. It takes about three years before you will actually start making a return on investment.

Senator Merchant: I'm interested because I come from Saskatchewan and we're a farming area. We're always interested in attracting young people to agriculture because there's got to be a continuum. Do you find that bee hobbyists in urban areas are older, retired people who have more time to spend on this, or is it young people who are interested and who might carry on a little bit longer?

Ms. Dault: I think we all have a different demographic. In Vancouver, I cover the whole spectrum. I've had 14-year-olds start with beekeeping and I've had 65-year-olds and everything in between. So there isn't one set group. But definitely any of the young people have to have good jobs to sustain that, because $1,000, when you're 20, is a lot of money.

Senator Merchant: It takes a little bit of time, too.

Ms. Dault: I don't think it's a huge investment of time, but the money is more the issue for people, I think.

Ms. Watson: I think, personally, that beekeeping is probably the most viable method of agriculture investment for young people to look at, because you can be a beekeeper and own only one acre of land or live in the city. Conventional practice is to manage colonies on other people's land.

The buy-in, if you're going to get into farming, whether it's diversified or more modern farming strategies — people do community-supported agriculture development or food box-type programming — a lot of times they have to come into land use agreements and leases, which are really finicky. If you put five years of work into soil and building it up, and then they decide to develop it, it's not a viable business model. So that can dishearten young farmers from investing.

But as beekeepers, a start-up investment of 200 beehives, buying out a retired beekeeper's yard — or you can buy yards in hives locations — it does take three years to create a yield, but any sort of animal husbandry or farming initiative is going to take time for production. It allows for the investment to be mobile as well.

I currently have fewer than 50 colonies, but if I were to invest and get to, say, 200 to 600 colonies, I could get pollination contracts. Out east, the second largest honey producer in New Brunswick has fewer than 1,000 beehives. Blueberry and cranberry production is offering $150 to $160 per hive for pollination.

I think there's a lot of opportunity for us to meet those demands. Your province is self-sufficient in honeybee production. I think you import less than 20 per cent of your bees from out of province in packages. I think Saskatchewan could be a viable model that truly goes against what the lobby is between Manitoba and Alberta, who are eager to open the border to bring in packages of bees to meet the demand for pollination of both canola and fruit crops.

I think that if we take a paced effort with this, we could become self-sufficient so we're not dealing with the pathogens and diseases. The American beekeeping industry — and I've been all over that country doing programming and identifying issues — is collapsing and they're struggling to make it work. I would hate to see the potential of this country in apiculture diversification, but also in meeting yield for production, collapse just because we were impatient.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: I would like to compare our regulations on the operation of a hive in an urban area. I heard Ms. Leitch say that in Ontario, an urban hive could not be active less than 30 metres from a residence or a public road. Did I understand correctly? It is 30 metres?

In other provinces, in Alberta, in British Columbia, are there similar regulations regarding the distances to maintain?

[English]

Ms. Leitch: That's correct.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: It is the same thing in each province. Do regulations come from the province or the municipalities involved?

Ms. Leitch: No, only in Ontario, I think.

Senator Rivard: Therefore, in Ontario, it is the province.

In Quebec, every owner of an urban hive must be registered with the ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation. There is a Ministry of Agriculture in each of your provinces. Is it the ministry that controls regulation? Are there inspectors that come by regularly?

[English]

Ms. Dault: Not on a regular basis at all in our province. If you request it then you get an inspection. For large-scale commercial beekeepers they do have them, but not in small urban areas.

Ms. Watson: To the best of my knowledge, Ontario is the only province that the commission actually has regulations on the locations of beehives to residential property lines. I haven't heard of anything, at least in the Western provinces, of that sort of regulation coming from a provincial mandate.

I do know that it's consistent that municipalities are responsible for the regulation of apiculture within that municipality. The City of Toronto, for instance, has to go under the distinction of the province, but the cities of Calgary or Edmonton or Vancouver are strictly regulated within those city limits.

As far as inspections go, an issue in our province is that over 85 per cent to 90 per cent of our populations are up in the Peace Country, so the northern regions. Because of the daylight hour lengths and also the crops available up there to meet pollination concerns, almost all of our research and our inspectors are in the northern provinces.

We don't really have access to inspectors if necessary, so we're responsible. I personally take the responsibility for doing inspections in my city to ensure that hive health is maintained. The Calgary and District Bee Club does the same. They have people in the club who are on call to do those inspections, but we're private individuals. We're independent.

Ms. Leitch: We actually do have good support for inspections. Despite the fact that there is this 30-metre rule, there is great rapport between the inspectors and our Ontario Beekeepers' Association. Therefore I think there are hobbyists who wouldn't be scared to have an inspector come despite the fact that they're breaking the 30-metre rule.

Most of us are more concerned that our hives are healthy and that we're not spreading disease amongst other hives. For the most part — and it's definitely what we advocate — that inspection is the best idea and we have access to good inspection.

[Translation]

Senator Rivard: It is always said that Quebec is a distinct society. It is also distinct for bees. In Quebec, there must be a fence at least 2.5 metres high and the fence must be closed — a chain link fence where bees can get through cannot be installed — and the distance between dwellings, in Quebec, is 4.5 metres and not 30 metres. So once again, Quebec is different, when it comes to bees, naturally.

[English]

Ms. Dault: In Vancouver we have that as well. I don't know what the distance from the fence is, but you have to have a fence around your yard. It can't be chain-linked but some kind of fence around it, or you raise it eight feet above the ground. It's the same thing.

Senator Robichaud: Ms. Leitch, you mentioned your members have interest in wild bees.

Ms. Leitch: Definitely.

Senator Robichaud: How do you assess how many there are?

Ms. Leitch: There is some fantastic research going on through the University of Toronto and through York University. Dr. Laurence Packer wrote the book Keeping the Bees, which is a fabulous book with fabulous research. Scott MacIvor, one of his students at both York and U of T, is doing wild bee research. We have hives on the Royal York Hotel. Scott MacIvor has cavities across North America. It's a little box that allows wild bees to make their home inside. He takes those boxes, hatches those bees in the spring and assesses which bees are in which location. We know that we have 150 species of bees in Toronto and over 400 in Ontario. So it is very important to us. They're a huge part of the pollinator process.

We definitely want to make sure that we don't have saturation where we have too many honeybees in one location to offset the functioning of the wild bee populations. There's a tremendous amount of research that we just hope continues. Guelph University is also doing a lot of research. It is very important to us.

On the question you were asking about what draws people to it, it's this sense of connectedness that's so important. Wild bees evolved with our native plants. In Ontario, and our co-op in particular, we are very concerned with making sure that people are not only aware of what is a pollinator friendly plant but also trying to focus on native plants because they evolved together. There is a great significance for keeping them in our midst.

Ms. Watson: As far as pollinators go with wild bees, there are two major groupings. There are solitary bees, so leafcutter bees — which you have learned quite a bit about — mason bees and carder bees. They make their habitats in cavities, in ground or decomposing wood, using leaf or soil matter as their nesting site. They're excellent because they tend not to be territorial over the nesting location and are really successful and resilient at pollinating during times of dearth, so when there is no nectar available.

As well, those sites work for solitary vespids, or wasps, which are carnivorous and keep down aphid, katydids and caterpillar populations. They are less territorial of the nesting site as well, so compared to bald-headed hornets and wasps in your backyard in the season, if you have a healthy solitary wasp or bee population you tend to have a pretty healthy ecosystem.

I ran a non-for-profit called the Community Pollinator Foundation for three years running and I had to stop. I had to wear too many hats when it comes to bees. We ran a project called the Bumblebee Rescue and Foster Parent Program. There's been a really large movement out of Europe for civil-based research. Similar to what I'm recommending with nucleus colony and queen production using hobbyist beekeepers, you work in conjunction with people where you're able to create statistics and goals such as in bird-watching campaigns. The same would be done with bees. This has worked successfully at finding new species or species at risk in new nesting sites and creating protected spaces in the United States.

Through the Bumblebee Rescue and Foster Parent Program, we had a team of 12 dedicated volunteers that gathered on Saturdays. Throughout the year, usually in the spring and late summer, we had an online forum where people could fill out forms letting us know what they had for bees. We had about 150 calls our first season and, in those calls, we identified bumblebee population, solitary bee populations, wasp populations and honeybee swarms. Of those populations, we removed 56 bumblebee nests from underneath staircases, compost piles and soffits. We took those nests of bees, put them into wooden boxes and brought them back to Mount Royal University where we worked in connection with Dr. Robin Owen. He works with Dr. Ralph Cartar at the University of Alberta, in the Entomology Department. We managed to raise enough money to hire a summer student to do research on these samples to identify bee health, population and species.

Then on Sundays, foster parents were called and they came and got a little wooden box full of bumblebees. They would put them out in their backyard and the bumblebee nests would get to finish their life cycle without being poisoned or killed.

The neat thing is that Calgary and region is home to 12 distinct species of bumblebee, which is the highest diversity of bumblebee species in a single region anywhere in the world. There are only 300 species of bumblebee and they're mostly found north of the equator. So we have a unique opportunity to look at long-term research in the Kananaskis region — done through the universities — on bumblebee health and forestry partnerships, new logging, primary and secondary succession plants and seeing how bumblebees survive. Through the data on bumblebee research we found really interesting things coming from emergence rates.

I feel like there is a lot of potential for us to take this movement in media, culture and the interest of people wanting to get back to nature and actively create programming to actually see success stories around pollinator health and having that reflect back into industry, whether it comes to bumblebee or leafcutter bee pollination, greenhouses, alfalfa, canola or whatever.

I had to cancel the program because I couldn't manage it, but I still get emails every single day of the year asking for it. It was on the Discovery Channel.

Ms. Leitch: I would add one more thing. In Ontario, we have one extinct bumblebee. Within the last — I'm not sure how many years — but definitely it was a very common bumblebee called the rusty patch bumblebee. We have not found it in any of the sites. One of the researchers through Dr. Laurence Packer's lab has specifically looked for this bee, and it's just no longer there.

Of the 150 wild bee species we have, we are losing them. It is quite drastic.

Senator Robichaud: There are spray cans on the market that you just aim.

Ms. Leitch: Yes.

Senator Robichaud: How long does the effect of that poison last in the environment?

Ms. Leitch: I would assume that is a product that is probably no longer effective once dry. Once it is on the organism, it is probably similar to Roundup in the sense that once it is wet, it has got its nasty capabilities, but once dry, it is probably not a remnant. I am not really sure.

Ms. Watson: Personally, I consider that the cosmetic use for one-time treatments for removing a wasp or ant issue in an urban or rural setting isn't really the issue when it comes to pollinator health. It is large-scale systemic chemical use.

I know in municipalities around us there's an herbicide used in the ditches called Restore. Through the European Union, it is actually banned and is seen systemically through three generations of animal digestion, defecate, fertilizer, plant production, and consistent carriers of that chemical.

I think there's a bigger issue than over-the-counter products that are used for one-time treatment of pests.

Senator Robichaud: You mentioned floral diversity and the lack of such in some places. But we have it along highways on both sides and the median. After a while, they just cut that right to the ground. Have you ever made suggestions that maybe flowers could somehow be planted? That would provide a lot of forage for the bees.

Ms. Leitch: Absolutely. It is one of the major areas we have to look at. I mentioned the fact that the Ministry of Natural Resources has removed milkweed from the Noxious Weed Act. These are plants that belong at the roadside and at the verges of the crop field. When the crop field is not being used that year, they belong there. They don't have to be coddled. That's their environment; that's where they grew up.

We have changed the environment and almost eradicated them. We need to bring them back. It is not going to be an issue of pouring money into it, because it is almost like ``let them do it for us.'' Don't stop this beautiful process of nature; let it do its work.

We really do want to bring awareness to the fact that it is not just parkland or people's rambling gardens that we need to look at. The alleyways and roadsides are places where a monarch butterfly would be happy to land and raise its young.

But throughout the States, Monsanto has created such a great herbicide that even on the verges there's not even one popping up. The monarch butterflies are literally starving. They follow the path of the milkweed. As it dries up in the south, they go to the juicier milkweed in the north. That's why they come to our door. What brings them to us is the milkweed plant.

So we absolutely have to stop seeing these things as weeds. This is an archaic thought from agricultural practices. Toronto is no longer agricultural, but we're still dealing with the fact that if you have wild flowers or native plants in your front yard, your neighbour may ask to have them cut down. There's a height requirement, and there are all these different requirements about what something should look like.

Nature is what we should be endorsing, and that's an aspect of nature that we absolutely have to change our mind about.

Ms. Dault: Mark Winston did a study on canola crops and found that when a farmer planted 100 per cent of his crop with canola, he would gross $27,000 off of it. If he planted only 70 per cent of that in canola and left the other 30 per cent uncultivated, he would gross $65,000 off that crop.

It's not that we need to necessarily plant a lot of stuff; we just need to have that land viable for those pollinators to live in.

Ms. Watson: I don't know how the research here happens — I don't have the data — but the Xerces Society of the United States based out of Portland is an invertebrate conservation society. They were included in the 2008 farm bill in the United States. It actually offers tax deductions to large-scale industrial farmers who offer hedgerows that encourage invertebrate pollination. Farmers especially on the eastern seaboard particularly focused around berry crops are seeing a lot more profit, not only because the native bees are staying on site, but they're also able to manage their own hives and keep them there year round because nectar is actually available year round on the site.

The biggest issue with monoculture as honey production goes is that as soon as they aren't in flower, you are in dearth and the bees start eating the honey that beekeepers are supposed to sell; so you either get moved or the yields decrease dramatically.

There's a lot of research now looking at the importance of hedgerows and monoculture, but also recognizing those flower crops that are currently in the ditches, and controlling cuts.

With alfalfa and canola it is hard — especially alfalfa. If there's an opportunity for them to get three cuts instead of two in a season, the first dry day after flower, they are cutting that down whether you are a beekeeper in the neighbourhood or not. It is very challenging to work with farmers. But definitely hedgerows are an optimistic opportunity.

Ms. Dault: Where I live in Delta in Vancouver, they actually do that subsidy for farmers as well. It's the only municipality in the Lower Mainland that does it, and we have seen big success with that.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: It interesting to listen to you. As they say, you are a flower person, and that does seem good. It must be said.

Senator Robichaud: And that is without bees.

Senator Dagenais: You see, that added a bit of — excuse-me, Mr. Chair. It is my sentimental side. It happens sometimes.

When you compare the health of urban bees to that of bees from large farms, do you note any differences in their illnesses?

[English]

Ms. Leitch: I don't know that there's a distinction in the threat of pests versus pesticides. The hazards are similar.

We have varroa and all of those viruses and hazards, but we also have the hazard of the heat island effect. We have the industrial zones and streets and all those things that bees have to navigate. So our areas are just so small and often not connected. A population might become healthy, but talking about the saturation, its normal size can't be realized because it is a bit of an island of a floral oasis in amongst industry or inhospitable environments.

We definitely have all of the other hazards that the rest of the non-urban areas have, except we don't have the neonicotinoids. For us, that seems to be speaking volumes. One year we had our hives in Guelph, which was in a rural location, and we had much higher losses. It speaks to this prevalence of the neonicotinoids and fungicides as having a huge impact.

Ms. Watson: In my opinion, it is both ways. Yes, of course, especially since a lot of hobbyist beekeepers are either purchasing bees from commercial beekeepers or purchasing bees through packages of overseas production and importation, we are facing the same pathogens and pests that commercial apiaries are managing.

The positive part of hobbyist beekeeping is that an individual beekeeper's tools carrying disease in general, like fungals, are isolated to their yard. If that beekeeper has two hives, their hives will be the ones that get sick and die. A commercial outfit that has 200 hives and up can do a hive inspection of 75 to 200 hives in a day and a half. You have a hard time tracking and controlling the movement of disease through a commercial apiary. The impacts of the pathogens are much more intense since they're dependent on a mortgage payment for the yield of the crop. Those two main things make them similar.

What makes me concerned is something I have seen consistently among hobbyists — and you may not like that I'm saying this — is that they have the opportunity of inspecting their hives more often, so they're able to track disease taking place in their hive if they know what to look for. The challenge is that if they haven't seen it, they probably don't know it exists. Often there are diseases, especially viruses, that spread through a colony through varroa mite activity; and varroa mite is in every single beehive. I tell everyone to just commit — you have them. You are not keeping bees; you are keeping bees and mites. They're the little pets that get to come along with the bees.

The challenge in mitigating risks in hobbyists is the larger outbreaks that have alarm bells going off identifying trending of pathogen development in hobbyist groups, unless you have an organized club or a leadership within that community that is able to identify those factors and then increase understanding and awareness around those diseases.

American foulbrood, which is an incredibly terrible disease, is a spore-forming bacterium that will exist in old equipment for 60 to 80 years. It is resistant to heat and cold. You have to have your stuff irradiated. Now, certain types are resistant to antibiotics. Beekeepers can end up with foulbrood not know why their hive didn't make it, unless they have people in the community to share that information and disseminate it and inspect the hives if an inspector is able to make it. You have that and it's great. It is really hard to track those two parallels.

If their hives are surviving at high rates, that is excellent. As far as my community goes, I can't give honest statistics on what the true survival rate is of the beekeepers I have. They're not answering the surveys at a rate that I would be confident giving a percentage on.

Consistently, the same issues that are commercial, we're facing, but the rates are different.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: Urban areas have many more cultivated flowers because garden space is so limited, but pesticides are used on those cultivated flowers.

Have you noticed if these pesticides have an effect on bee health?

[English]

Ms. Leitch: In Toronto, we have been pesticide-free since 2003. While it is a slow process getting people to abide that ban, we have had it for so long. As well, Ontario has been cosmetic pesticide-free since 2008, I believe. We're getting to a successful state where people aren't using them as frequently. It is useful to note, however, that Toronto is a great city for fabulous gardeners who plant the diversity with at least three species per season. They plant in drifts and do all of those things with different sizes and shapes. Our bees start from very tiny to very large, so we need to have a flower size for each bee size.

However, research is showing that forage and nectar sources are not the limiting factor and, in fact, access to water and undisturbed soil are important. So many wild bees are solitary or nesting bees, so habitat creation and conservation for wild bees in our urban setting is most important.

As we're going ahead with green roof projects, we want to make sure that water and shade are available. We don't want to encourage all these bees with all these flowers and then kill them at the peak of the season when the heat is just too much for them. Those considerations are what we're really looking at.

Ms. Dault: In urban areas, bees have much more floral variety so they are healthier. Even if they go to a flower that has a pesticide, it might not affect them as much as those bees on mono-crops and don't have a lot of variety in their diet. We don't see the death of bees as we would in other areas just because they are so healthy in the first place.

Ms. Watson: The representative for Alberta, Mr. Scott Meers, presented at the Integrated Pest Management Conference in Edmonton in January. He said that in canola crops, there are three to seven pounds of sprayed chemical per acre — sorry, for corn it is 3,000 to 7,000 pounds per acre of neonicotinoid sprays. In urban centres, even if you do live in a community that has cosmetic spraying or treatment, the actual long-term effects of that wouldn't be as intense as the monoculture intensities.

I have seen abnormalities in hive behaviour after heavy rains in areas where Green Drop or cosmetic treatments have been used; but those have been abnormal situations, like the perfect storm, so to speak. In general, I haven't seen any signs of poisoning outside of just strange conditions.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: What does this honey produced in cities taste like? Is it as good as the honey produced in rural areas? When do you plan to put it on the market?

You spoke of a 15 per cent mortality rate, which is much lower than that of producers, of large-scale beekeepers. I do not think that you are experiencing a shortfall.

Are American urban beekeepers covered by the Farm Bill?

[English]

Ms. Watson: I'm not really sure that the farm bill pertains to apiculture.

As for invertebrate conservation, the Xerces Society worked in conjunction in 2008. I'm not sure what is in the new farm bill since the Senate in the United States has been having so much fun with everything down there. Aren't you guys glad you aren't in the American Senate?

As far as the yield and the flavour differences are concerned, specifically in Alberta, it is very distinct. Canola is a brassica — part of the cabbage family. If you have driven through a canola field or been downwind, you've noticed its pungent smell. Canola pollination is very challenging for beekeepers to manage because once the hive has filled the cells with honey and capped it — so ripened the honey to 14 per cent to 21 per cent moisture content to have a perfect texture — canola honey will actually crystallize within the cells of the wax in up to two weeks depending on temperature. Beekeepers who do canola pollination need to take that honey off — radial extract it out as fast as possible.

Pure canola honey has a stinky flavour to it. It has a scent. Commercial beekeepers tend to blend that canola honey with the sweet clover that comes on later in the season. It gives it a distinct sweet clover flavour. It doesn't smell at all like a mixture of canola and clover; the clover dominance takes over.

The pollen and product itself is a golden yellow colour. I've found in urban apiaries pollen that is green, pink, purple, orange, black and yellow — a lot of diversity. The bees tend to pollinate specific species of plants consistently at certain times of the year. So you have a patchwork quilt of colour differences within the pollen of the hive. I can harvest honey from my hives in the spring and it will be a bright yellow because it's a dandelion flow in the spring. I'll have clover, but in the fall, I'll have a lot of different, richer colours from pollen-rich plants like thistle and other herbs and bolting plants found in the urban setting. It is definitely a diverse flavour and colour is distinct compared to rural pollination in Alberta.

The Chair: To the witnesses, thank you very much for being here and for your presentations. There's no doubt that the presentations have been an eye-opener to the other side of the industry, which is very important.

(The committee adjourned.)