Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 8 - Evidence - Meeting of April 3, 2014
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 3, 2014
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.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. Mr. Shutler, thank you for accepting our
invitation to be here and share your opinions, recommendations and your vision.
My name is Percy Mockler. I am a senator from New Brunswick and chair of the
committee. I would ask all senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer. I'm the deputy chair, and
I'm from Nova Scotia.
Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant, Saskatchewan.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: I am Céline Hervieux-Payette, and I am a
senator from Quebec.
Senator Robichaud: I am Fernand Robichaud, and I am a senator from
Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton, Ontario.
Senator Maltais: I am Ghislain Maltais, and I am a senator from
Senator Dagenais: I am Jean-Guy Dagenais, and I am a senator from
Senator Oh: Senator Oh, Ontario.
Senator Rivard: I am Michel Rivard and I am a senator from Quebec.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth, Manitoba.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, somewhere close to your place in Nova
The Chair: The committee is continuing its study on the importance of
pollinators in agriculture and measures to protect them.
The committee has received an order of reference from the Senate of Canada
stating 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: the importance of
bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for
crop and honey production in Canada; the current state of native pollinators,
leafcutter and honey bees in Canada —
— the factors affecting honey bee health, including disease, parasites and
pesticides in Canada and globally; and strategies for governments, producers and
industry to ensure bee health.
Our first witness this morning is Dr. Dave Shutler, Department of Biology,
Acadia University. Again, thank you, doctor, for accepting our invitation.
I will invite the witness to make his presentation, but I would also like to
remind him that, as per the instructions of our clerk, Mr. Pittman, his
presentation should not exceed seven minutes in length.
Following his presentation, a question and answer session will take place,
and each senator will be given approximately five minutes to ask questions in
the first round before the chair recognizes another senator. There will be as
many rounds of questions to the witness as time allows, and senators are not
required to ask all their questions in the first five minutes. During this
question and answer session, I would ask senators to be brief and to the point
when asking their questions. I would also ask the witness to do the same when
I would ask Dr. Shutler to make his presentation now.
Dave Shutler, Professor, Department of Biology, Acadia University:
Good morning. It's an honour to have one's opinion matter, so I'm quite honoured
to be here.
Honeybee losses in recent years can be largely ascribed to increased
industrialization of the bee industry. To make large-scale apiculture
profitable, honeybees are sometimes transported long distances, particularly in
the United States where bees might start in Florida pollinating oranges, head to
Maine to pollinate blueberries, then visit several other crops before finally
arriving in California to pollinate almonds. An estimated 60 per cent of all
honeybees in the U.S. end up in California at some time and future projections
are even higher than that.
One stress of transportation might be being locked inside a hive for days
while in transit, unable to get rid of waste, dead bees, et cetera. This
stressor is probably less of a problem for Canadian bees because pollination
circuits are generally smaller and more local. However, practices in the U.S.
may increase the likelihood of Canadian honeybees coming into contact with
weakened honeybees that have endured transport and that might be more likely to
carry parasites. I will have more about that later.
A second stress for bees can be nutritional. Honeybees obtain almost all of
their carbs from nectar, but the vast majority of their fats, vitamins, minerals
and protein come from pollen. These days, honeybees may be deployed in the
centre of large monocultures where they have access to only one kind of pollen;
for example, nothing but cranberry pollen. Imagine eating only bread for two
weeks, then only tofu, then only potatoes and so on. With each successive
deployment in a new crop, honeybees may thus face a new nutritional stress.
We are now looking at this in Maritime bees. Preliminary results indicate
that honeybees use almost no pollen from blueberry fields when they are in
blueberry fields and instead obtain pollen from other flowers. In contrast, bees
in apple orchards use apple pollen extensively. We also have found lower protein
concentrations in the pollen that honeybees collect while they're in
blueberries. We need lots more research to understand why that is the case.
In any case, we do have some preliminary evidence that poor nutrition could
be contributing to the colony losses that are such a concern.
Another class of stressors is pesticides. Every crop that bees visit has
different pesticides and, incidentally, honeybees may be more susceptible than
other target insects. A 2010 study found an average of 7.1 pesticides or
pesticide breakdown products — called residues — in North American honeybees. We
recently undertook residue screening of honeybee-collected pollen in the
Maritimes, and although average numbers of residues were lower than in the
previous study I just mentioned, most Maritime pollen still had three to four
residues. These residues were all below levels considered lethal; however, we
know very little about synergies among different residues or sublethal effects
of individual residues. Of course, the latest concern about pesticide stressors
is the neonicotinoids, and evidence is accumulating that there are problems with
The final stressor I want to emphasize is parasites. Parasites need to be
considered in the context of the other stressors I've just reviewed. Because of
movement of bees nationally and internationally, a parasite that arrives in
Florida in January is spread across North America by the end of the year. So
parasites are now being spread globally very quickly.
The fungal parasite Nosema ceranae is one of the most recent to do this.
Within a few years of its initial detection in Europe, several labs found it in
North America. Previously, varroa destructor mites — and these are like having
chipmunks suck blood from your back — made a similar global colonization, making
honeybees more susceptible to a suite of previously rare or even unknown
There is some debate about the isolated versus the synergistic effects of
each of these parasites, but evidence suggests that varroa mites are the biggest
problem, especially combined with the viruses they transit. However, if we
target only varroa, it will probably be insufficient to return honeybees to the
health they enjoyed before industrialization. A further irony is that beekeepers
in industrial settings need to use pesticides inside hives to control the bee
parasites, in particular varroa mites. Resistance to these pesticides is a
regular outcome, which has occurred for all commercial miticides that
incidentally also have toxicity to honeybees.
In sum, industrialization of apiculture stresses honeybees by limiting their
access to sufficient quantities and qualities of nutrition by exposing them to
multiple pesticide residues, probably other contaminants that I haven't talked
about, and to a suite of parasites with which they have not co-evolved. As is
the case for pesticides, these stressors have multiple potentials for their own
set of synergistic interactions. In my view, that's why we're here. If we want
to get out of the hole we're in, we will need a great deal of research that is
communicated to beekeepers; and all of this must happen in different locations
so that results have broad applicability.
Senator Ogilvie: This has been a really informative presentation with
regard to the nutrition and issues affecting honeybees. One thing struck me
immediately. In the Maritimes, hives are used in the blueberry fields and the
producers have indicated that they're very important to them for pollination of
their crops. Yet, you said the bees apparently aren't using any of the nectar in
their own development.
Mr. Shutler: It's actually the pollen they don't use. They're not
bringing pollen back to the hives. They are still pollinating, but they're not
collecting it deliberately.
Senator Ogilvie: Why would that be, do you think?
Mr. Shutler: Well, this is something we're starting to work through.
There's probably literature on this, but it could be just that they're only
going after nectar and the pollen is brushing up against them, which enables
them to pollinate blueberries successfully. We know that honeybees are not very
efficient blueberry pollinators in comparison to bumblebees and other insects
that do buzz pollination, which means they vibrate. That results in greater
fruit set, but the economics of it make honeybees more efficient overall to do
Senator Ogilvie: It's an interesting observation.
Senator Mercer: Mr. Shutler, I appreciate the work you do in Nova
Scotia. You gave an interesting and fairly simple description, for us
non-academics, of some of the problems. You talked about the problem of
pesticides, neonicotinoids, et cetera, as well as parasites. In this world of
pesticides and parasites that we're examining, which do you think is the bigger
Mr. Shutler: All I can do is speculate. The consensus seems to be that
the varroa mites are the biggest problem, but that may be changing, particularly
in the context of introducing neonicotinoids. A paper came out that found them
in all of the wetlands they sampled in the Prairies. These things are getting
into the environment, even though they're only applied to seeds. They're getting
into wetlands from agricultural fields. It's still early days to tell whether
pesticides are going to take over in terms of their importance over parasites.
Senator Mercer: Your final statement was that if we want to get out of
the hole, we will need a great deal of research and that this must happen in
different locations, et cetera. How big a job is this research? Do we need to do
research in various locations as well? Do we need to do blueberry research in
Atlantic Canada? Do we need to do research on corn and canola in Western Canada?
What would your assessment be?
Mr. Shutler: We need to take a long hard look at how we want to deploy
our efforts. We need to do it in multiple locations because of differences in
microclimates that affect the parasites that affect the bees and where the crops
have different nutritional contributions to honeybees. What we find in the
Maritimes under very similar hive conditions may not emerge in other parts of
the country and other parts of the continent.
Off the top of my head, exactly how much effort we invest in each of these
locations I couldn't say, but I think it's something that we, as a group of bee
researchers, need to sit down and think about in detail.
Senator Buth: We really appreciate your comments. Have you done any
work looking at overwintering bees and the kind of nutrition they need going
Mr. Shutler: I haven't done any work on the nutrition they need to go
into winter, but we have looked at whether hives emerge more successfully if
they're maintained indoors versus outdoors. We found that there was higher
colony survival if they were maintained indoors.
Senator Buth: We've been hearing about overwintering losses. One
comment was that they take all of the honey away from the bees and feed them
syrup, and then they go into overwinter. If it's cold, they're not going to need
much in terms of nutrition, so that might create issues in how they overwinter.
Mr. Shutler: I would assume that beekeepers have figured out how much
honey they need to leave in the hives to let them overwinter successfully, with
some error, and to what extent they need just nectar versus pollen. Not as much
growth goes on over the winter. It's mostly just the burning of calories to keep
the queen alive. Carbs would be the major thing you would need to be sure of
before you went into overwinter conditions.
Senator Buth: You provided us with an overview of what honeybees face.
What number one recommendation would you make to us in terms of how to improve
honeybee health in Canada?
Mr. Shutler: It's such a multifaceted problem. This is a good sounding
board as a starting point to air all of the concerns that we have about the bee
industry, but as a single individual, I wouldn't want to dictate where the next
step is. We need to bring all of the bee researchers together to sort of
Senator Merchant: How is your research transferred to beekeepers? Do
they adopt some of the recommendations that you make?
Mr. Shutler: A local beekeeper meeting happens every year. My students
and I have been presenting at it for the last four or five years. I know of one
concrete example where they started treating for the Nosema fungus. We had an
old species of Nosema that's been in honeybees for as long as people have been
studying them — back to the early 1900s. When the new Nosema ceranae came in, we
weren't sure that the one medical treatment for it, Fumagilin, would work. So we
tested whether Nosema ceranae numbers dropped after treatment with Fumagilin.
The results were published and presented to beekeepers; so they went back to
using Fumagilin to reduce Nosema. That's one concrete example.
We are in contact with beekeepers as much as possible. They have been
intimately involved in directing some of the research we do. That's pretty true
for most bee researchers in North America because they need the cooperation of
beekeepers to get a lot of their data.
Senator Merchant: Do you think we need to set up national standards
for beekeeping practices? Would that help?
Mr. Shutler: I think you would want to get the beekeepers' opinion on
that before you get it from me.
If there are no enforced regulations, there need to be strong guidelines,
particularly with the use of miticides. Every beekeeper does what they feel like
is going to be most effective, and we get rotation of miticide resistance
occurring in different parts of the country. Nova Scotia might be using one
miticide whereas Ontario is using a different one because the other ones stopped
It's just a continuous problem that even strict regulation of apicultural
practices isn't going to eradicate, I don't think.
Senator Eaton: What is the difference between nectar and pollen?
Mr. Shutler: Nectar is what is made into honey. It's the liquid,
sugary stuff that flowers provide. The pollen is basically the sperm of the
flower, which gets moved from one flower to the next to make seeds.
Senator Eaton: Nectar is what the bee takes back to the hive, and the
pollen is what fertilizes the plant?
Mr. Shutler: They take pollen from flower to flower. They don't plan
that, but they do collect all of the protein they need from the pollen and they
bring that back to the hive as well. They basically have two dietary essentials,
and both pollen and nectar are essential.
Senator Eaton: Thank you for that explanation; we haven't yet
Would bumblebees be more resilient than honeybees?
Mr. Shutler: To what?
Senator Eaton: To pollinate, to survive. Are they a rarer but stronger
Mr. Shutler: It's an apples and oranges kind of thing because you
can't rear bumblebees in the same numbers as you can honeybees. You can get a
colony of, say, 50 or 100 individuals that clearly won't pollinate as many
flowers per unit colony. With honeybees, you can have 50,000 bees, so we're
talking about a huge order of magnitude. They're far more transportable, so you
can take them from blueberries to apples.
Senator Eaton: And you can't with bumblebees?
Mr. Shutler: You can, but they're pretty good with blueberries and not
so good with pollinating apples and other things. There are trade-offs in terms
of their effectiveness at pollinating and in how manageable they are.
In terms of the initial question about resistance, honeybees have a limited
part of their genome, their genes, devoted to immune function and pesticide
resistance. To some extent, that is probably shared with bumblebees because they
also suffer from pesticide exposure, but I don't know as much about their
susceptibility relative to honeybees.
Parasites are another issue for bumblebees. You can get infestations in their
colonies as well. We also know that they can both transmit parasites to
honeybees and acquire parasites from honeybees.
Senator Eaton: Can they interbreed?
Mr. Shutler: No. That would sort of be like giraffes and chihuahuas or
Senator Eaton: Among varroa mites, pesticides, nutrition and
transportation, if you took varroa mites away, what are the biggest stressors on
the average honeybee?
Mr. Shutler: Currently, I think most bee researchers would argue that
varroa is the biggest stressor.
Senator Eaton: You could get varroa because of the hives they're in,
the fact that they're transported and the fact that they're inside?
Mr. Shutler: Yes, and whether or not the beekeeper has been diligent
about treating for varroa mites. There are microclimate differences as well.
There are probably differences wherein if you get a higher density of bees in a
certain location, then transmission of varroa mites can go up.
When you start talking about ecology, I always tell my students there's no
black and white in this; it's a continuum that you need to consider in multiple
dimensions if you really want to get something you can predict with any rigour.
To follow up on the other questions, I would rank pesticides second above
nutrition, with transportation at the bottom, but as I said, that pesticide
ranking might be changing as new chemicals are being introduced.
Senator Eaton: So varroa mites, pesticides, nutrition and
transportation, that order?
Mr. Shutler: That's my sense of it.
Senator Robichaud: You told us that neonicotinoids can now be found in
the wetlands. However, we were told that this substance decomposes and quickly
disappears from the environment and is therefore not a factor. Have you analyzed
the decomposition of neonicotinoids?
Mr. Shutler: I would defer to the chemist in the group here about how
rapidly these substances decompose. I know that's the way they have been billed.
I'm not a chemist, but certainly there is evidence, including from my former PhD
student in Switzerland, who has just produced results showing that even if
they're in reduced quantities after an interval of breakdown, sort of like
half-lives, there's always a little bit of residue. Even small residues may have
consequences for honeybees.
So if they're constantly being applied, you're always going to have some
level of neonicotinoids in the environment, even though each former application
may be getting to the point where it's dissolving. If you keep adding it back
in, it's still going to be present.
The extent to which they're being used is again outside of my area of
expertise, but I know that we are seeing more and more published studies linking
neonicotinoids to various environmental problems.
Senator Robichaud: You say that researchers like you meet often with
beekeepers. How often do bee researchers get together to compare what research
they're doing, what results they're getting and in what direction they're going?
Mr. Shutler: There are annual bee meetings. There are international
bee meetings and North American bee meetings. There are national meetings in
Canada. CAPA is an organization that meets regularly, so it depends on the
individual. There's time and costs associated with attending all these
conferences, so some people are at all of them and some may get to one or two.
There's a lot of variation in how much interaction individual researchers have.
You're always connected electronically, too. Sometimes there are just simple
reports about something someone found, and other times there are full-fledged
papers that come out. So you might be a year or two behind where another lab
might be on certain issues, but there is regular turnover in terms of
Senator Robichaud: How much duplication is there?
Mr. Shutler: Surprisingly little, and that's not necessarily a good or
bad thing. As I mentioned, a study done in the Maritimes might have strong
results, whereas something done in Alberta with similar experimental design
might not get the same results.
Lots of people want to put their own stamp on their research, so you tend to
try and carve out something new all the time so that you're advancing the field.
But at the same time, the foundation on which all research is built should be
strong, and if it's just based on one small study and one small location, then
you need to start questioning that.
Senator Dagenais: I would like to thank the witness for his
presentation. You alluded to the fact that practices in the United States are
increasing the probability that Canadian bees will get parasites.
You mentioned the increased movement of bees in the United States. Are there
other factors? If so, what can we do to try to prevent contact between bees? I
imagine that this must be fairly difficult. What is your take on the situation?
Mr. Shutler: This is obviously a tricky, cross-border issue because
anything we do in Canada is not going to be isolated from what's happening in
the United States. Bees will drift, so they'll visit hives that they didn't come
from. They could travel several kilometres and carry different parasites with
them. They can carry pesticides with them and bring them into a hive that's in
Canada. Bees get moved close to the border. There are blueberries in Maine right
next to the New Brunswick border. I'm sure there are apple crops across the
border from Ontario that similarly get exposed to bees going in both directions.
It goes both ways. It's not just what happens in the U.S.
The long distance movements that you hear about for bees in the United States
clearly have potential implications for the bee industry in Canada. When we talk
about what we can do here, we need to be aware of what's going on in the U.S. as
well and, for that matter, globally. There are even issues with bees getting
smuggled among countries, so from Europe to here, with the implications for new
parasites arriving. We can't block every entry point in this day and age with
Senator Dagenais: Are the Americans aware of this problem? Are they
doing anything to try to prevent this on their side?
Mr. Shutler: Penn State is one institution that has done an awful lot
of work in this area. They're actually the ones that describe this problem of
moving bees around the country. As I mentioned, a parasite that arrives in
Florida in January is all over the United States by the end of the year because
the bees that come from Florida and California get mixed and they're right
beside each other in the almonds. Again, this is outside of my area of
expertise, but it would be an enormous problem. There are state regulations.
There are national regulations in states that I don't know very much about.
Again, you'd have to get every player on board about what goes on.
There are certainly import regulations. Beekeepers legally can't bring in
queens, for example, from Europe, because they carry parasites that we don't
want to introduce. There are only a couple of places left in the world where
varroa mites don't occur, and that's Australia and Hawaii. Those regulations, at
least bringing them across international borders, or in that case Hawaii to the
mainland, are in place in the states, but what steps are being taken to control
or regulate that in the U.S., I don't know.
I do know that there are some efforts in the U.K. right now to prevent
movement of bumblebees unless they are first evaluated by a veterinarian or a
beekeeper to test that they don't have parasites, but even those bees that are
deemed clean are found to have parasites if you monitor them long enough. All of
us are probably carrying a few diseases, but they're not expressed right now. We
will probably all have colds at the end of the month.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: This is my first visit to this committee,
and I feel lucky that we are talking about such an interesting topic.
You mentioned blueberries, apples and canola. In my corner of the country,
Quebec, farmers plant clover. It is not a very complicated crop to grow and, in
our opinion, it produces one of the best types of honey. Clover can also be used
as animal feed.
I know that it is better to rotate crops to improve production. In light of
that, I think that, in Quebec, corn seems to be problematic because of the
Is there a type of food for bees that is better for them but that can be used
for other agricultural purposes?
Are we taking care of bees or agriculture? Where do we begin in order to
solve the problem?
Mr. Shutler: That's another interesting continuum. We do know that
plants, both in terms of nectar production and pollen nutritional quality, vary
enormously. We talk about vegetarians needing to eat a really balanced diet to
get all the nutrition they need, and honeybees are vegetarians. They might get
really good quality of certain parts of the proteins, certain amino acids from
some flowers and, if they have access to others, collectively they might have a
really healthy hive.
We have geographic differences in what kinds of plants grow where. We have
seasonal differences in the quality of plants as it gets later in the year.
Clover is around for a good part of the year, but other plants aren't around for
very long. Striking a balance in terms of what's available for honeybees is
going to be tricky, but at least if we plant a diversity of things we can let
the honeybees tell us what works for them, assuming they are finely tuned to
their nutritional needs, which I don't think is an unreasonable expectation.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: I saw some statistics that New Zealand seems
to be very successful with their production of honey. When I buy honey here,
it's always written on the label that some of it might come from Brazil. That is
well-known brand names. It's not something sophisticated that I buy in a
specialized food store; it's in a regular food store.
Do the Brazilians do better than we do? Do the New Zealanders do better than
we do? You talked about research, and this is a worldwide problem. Why should we
sit down with just Canadians thinking about it? They use the same fertilizers
and the same pesticides around the world. Could there be some kind of consensus
from the scientific community about what would be the most rational approach?
Mr. Shutler: The most rational approach to what question?
Senator Hervieux-Payette: To have a balance between the production of
crops and the production of honey.
Mr. Shutler: You'll get a different answer from beekeepers and a
different answer from the crop people. That's something I have been thinking
By the way, this doesn't just extend to bees. All of the issues we're talking
about extend to other insects and birds. We're seeing lots of issues in aquatic
ecosystems, as I mentioned.
I think that part of any concerted effort to fix this is going to require
collaboration between beekeepers and people sowing crops. If you talk to a lot
of beekeepers, they'll say it's really hard on their bees to put them in the
blueberries. I think our data on the amount of pollen they're bringing back to
the hives is indicative of this.
It will all boil down to economics. If the beekeepers have more clout because
they have lots of profits from making honey whereas the crop producers have very
little clout because they aren't making as much money on crops, then the
beekeepers will make decisions about what crops get planted. If it's the other
way around, then the beekeepers will be at the mercy, to some extent, of people
growing crops, unless they are doing both at the same time.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: But what do the New Zealanders do better to
have better production than we do?
Mr. Shutler: It could be simply that they have not got some of the
parasites we have. I mentioned Australia being free of varroa mites. I don't
know if New Zealand is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is. I know that Nosema
ceranae has just arrived in New Zealand.
So that might change. It might simply be a parasite issue, but that's
something I don't know very much about.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: But they probably have some restrictions. I
know the bees could be exported.
Mr. Shutler: I don't know about how New Zealand regulates their
Senator Rivard: Mr. Shutler, I would like to focus on the last
sentence of your presentation. You said, "If we want to get out of the hole
we're in, we will need a great deal of research."
Right now, you're at Acadia University. Are there other universities in
Canada that are doing the same research on bee diseases or is this a specialized
field that is only being studied at Acadia?
Mr. Shutler: I think you've actually seen some of the other people who
do research on bee diseases. Dr. Stephen Pernal would be a key one, as are Dr.
Guzman and Dr. Rob Currie. All of these people do research on similar parasites
but always slightly different questions, so we do overlap to some extent.
I hesitate to call the work we do at Acadia as being particularly
specialized. Bees are only about a third of my research program right now, and
there aren't any other — I've got a couple of collaborators in the Maritimes.
Chris Cutler at Dalhousie is another person you've seen who does not work
exclusively on honeybees but does some research on them.
To find bee researchers beyond that at universities, you're at Guelph. That's
the next place. There are people in Montreal also whose research I know less
One of the other places where a lot of research used to get done was at
Environment Canada, the agriculture centre in Kentville. That was basically shut
down a few years ago. I assume there were similar labs in other parts of Canada
before that, too, but I haven't seen very much coming out of them for a while.
Senator Rivard: Where does your funding come from? Does the money come
exclusively from the federal government or are there companies that help you?
Would it be safe to say that 95 per cent of your research budget comes from the
Mr. Shutler: Most of my student funding has come indirectly via
federal money or was leveraged through federal money.
CAAP, the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program, is a current funder of
this research we've been doing on pesticides and pollen. I've had four graduate
students who got Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
grants, so that was huge. The Canadian Bee Research Fund, a non-profit, has
funded some of our research. Bee Maid has funded some of our research. We have a
couple of grant applications in right now to the provincial government in Nova
Scotia to do some work on varroa. Acadia has provided some additional dollars as
The federal government would certainly be responsible for the majority. The
beekeepers, too, had to provide seed money for some of these grants.
Senator Rivard: Surely somewhat similar research is being done in
other countries, whether it be in the United States or any other country that
produces honey. Are results being shared or are they basically being kept a
secret with every country coming to its own conclusions and making its own
recommendations? Are researchers from around the world actually talking about
problems, solutions and experiences?
Mr. Shutler: On the one hand, everyone likes to guard their own
research and be the first one to find things, so there is a certain amount of
that. But there are also a number of researchers where sometimes you'll have 12
or 15 different institutions where they'll have a co-authored paper; "let's
collect some information on this and we'll have a broad geographic scale to
present data from."
It's obviously more difficult to take research across borders for
transportation reasons. Depending on where your funding is coming from,
sometimes you cannot move those dollars to be collaborative.
There is basically a continuum of collaboration. Some people are islands unto
themselves, but I would say the majority of research that I'm part of is very
collaborative. I have not published a paper on honeybees that hasn't had two to
five co-authors, some of them at different institutions.
Senator Maltais: Thank you, Mr. Shutler. You have a very good memory.
I would like to come back to research. The committee conducted a study to
figure out how to solve the problem of bee losses, which were between 15 and 50
per cent depending on the area of the country.
A lot of research is being done. However, it is being done in a manner
similar to the way bees gather nectar: some information is gathered here and
some is gathered there, but no solution has been found. Would it be conceivable
to organize a conference for Canadian researchers, from Vancouver to
Newfoundland, that would bring together everyone who is doing research on bee
losses and find a solution? All of our Canadian researchers could propose a
solution. I have nothing against foreign researchers, far from it. However, the
problem is in Canada. Before solving the problem in Holland or New Zealand, we
should try to solve our own problem here. Would it be possible for all of the
qualitative researchers from our universities, from one ocean to the other, to
unite their efforts and propose solutions?
Mr. Shutler: I can see that, and understand why, this is emerging as
an issue: How can we move forward if everyone is going off in their own little
directions? To some extent that occurs, but there are also advances in our
understanding about things.
It would be a great idea if we said, "All right, we're going to organize a
conference, bringing all the Canadian bee researchers together." It wouldn't
necessarily be to say, "Here is our solution" but to say, "Here are what we
think are three or four targeted control measures we could try." For example, if
it was about varroa, let's all go back to our respective labs, and those results
could be combined into a single published paper that would evaluate those
spatial differences we obtained.
Senator Maltais: The federal government provides some of the funding
for bee research at every Canadian university. I believe that this would be an
excellent return on investment for our beekeepers, because beekeeping is a $2.5
billion industry that creates hundreds, thousands of jobs.
I believe that it would be an extraordinary service to Canadians —
particularly beekeepers who have a major problem they did not ask for — if your
knowledge were made available to Canadian society, which in return would fund
some of that research. I suggest that the universities start communicating
regularly. This is not a big secret. It is not about who is going to find the
miracle cure. All of our researchers working together will find it, so much the
better if they do so quickly because the more time passes, the more bees will
Mr. Shutler, it seems the research is too disparate. Would it be possible for
researchers from Vancouver to Newfoundland to sit down together and look at
possible solutions — I am not saying that you will find one right away — to our
bee loss problem
Mr. Shutler: On one hand, yes, there is some independence in how
research programs progress, but we're still communicating across Canada. That's
not to say we couldn't improve that level of communication to maybe speed up the
progress we're making on this front. I would not be opposed to trying to
organize a regular meeting for beekeepers and researchers. It is sort of done
already, as I said, with CAPA.
Senator Oh: Dr. Shutler, is any research done on honeybee health based
on where they are located: East coast or West Coast, in blueberry fields or
Mr. Shutler: I wouldn't say I'm familiar with any research done on
that directly, but CAPA collects data on the wintering losses. We know about
health at the really extreme state, which is mortality. Whether that can be
pinpointed to be able to say some died because they were in the blueberry fields
last summer, I don't think we have that data.
Senator Oh: Are varroa mites native to Canada?
Mr. Shutler: No. If I remember correctly, varroa mites initially
jumped from Asian honeybees in the Indonesian archipelago to European honeybees
introduced to pollinate crops. Once it got into the European honeybees and Asia,
it spread across Europe and arrived in North America in the early 1990s. Now,
it's pretty much global, aside from Australia and Hawaii.
Senator Oh: What is the size of a varroa mite?
Mr. Shutler: A varroa mite can be seen with the naked eye. It would be
like the top of a head of a pin. A varroa mite on a honeybee would be like
having a chipmunk on your back sucking your blood. It's huge in comparison to
the size of a bee. If you've ever had a tick on you, you can see it with your
naked eye, but you're much bigger than it is. Honeybees face ticks the same size
as the ones we face.
Senator Ogilvie: I note that Acadia University has historically and
currently been recognized as one of the most outstanding institutions with
regard to life sciences. I think we're seeing an example of why that has been
the case. Professor Shutler interacts with undergraduates in an ongoing, dynamic
way in the kind of manner that you have seen today.
The question has been asked a number of times in the general area starting
with Senator Robichaud's question with regard to organizing the information, how
scientists collaborate and how others have followed up on it. This is a national
problem, and we've seen all the different dimensions to it from microclimates
all the way through to the issues you have raised today. If there were one
organization that might do best at funding a collaboration of research across
the country to collect information in a manner to benefit this area, what
organization would you identify to take this on, based on your experience with
funders and national organizations?
Mr. Shutler: Historically, NSERC would be the organization to oversee
these kinds of large scale research initiatives. I saw it happen a few years ago
with the mercury initiative. I would tap large scale national networks of
researchers first. One issue would be who was directing how funds were being
allocated. I would think that beekeepers and bee researchers would be better
equipped to make those decisions.
Dr. Kevan at Guelph Universityis part of a huge research network already for
pollinator stuff. I don't know what the status of that research initiative is.
Senator Mercer: The past president of Acadia University has put in his
advertisement for the institution. I'm a big supporter of the second best school
in Nova Scotia.
Mr. Shutler: I'm in the room.
Senator Mercer: Exactly. My question continues a previous line of
You made reference to your PhD students. I'm always concerned that we're not
training enough new researchers. How many students do you have in your
Mr. Shutler: Acadia does not have a PhD program. To supervise Geoff
Williams required that he do his final years at Dalhousie, and he has since
graduated from that. Dalhousie basically has a monopoly on the PhD program in
Some Hon. Senators: Oh, oh.
Mr. Shutler: I won't go there.
Senator Mercer: That was a fair shot.
Mr. Shutler: Currently, I have only one master's student working on
honeybees, and she's very close to graduation. After that, there is no one in
the pipes because my NSERC funding has been cut. I can't guarantee student
funding beyond one year, so I'm not able to accept any graduate students right
Senator Eaton: I'd like to pick up on Senator Maltais' question and
Senator Ogilvie's question.
I applaud Senator Ogilvie — one fund that would give money — but is it
reasonable, and we have been listening to witnesses for two months, in a country
with five time zones, many different horticultural zones, from three to seven,
to have one body of researchers tasked with coming up with a solution? Perhaps
each region of the country, depending on what needs pollinating and what the
wintering conditions are, could come up with a solution? Would it not be better
to have regional solutions, and then you could exchange information at some
Mr. Shutler: There is definitely a trade-off here. We would be talking
about a stratified sampling or allocation. If 60 per cent of an area was one
crop, you'd want to have 60 per cent of your funds devoted to research on that
particular area so whatever you discovered had applicability to the entire area.
There should also be a fair degree of coordination among those horticultural
Senator Eaton: I don't disagree. Think about the monoculture of the
Prairies and then about the bee deaths in Ontario and Quebec with their corn and
soya and the blueberries in the Maritimes. They each present different problems.
Mr. Shutler: Absolutely, which is why I said that if we're going to do
research, it needs to be replicated in different locations because what we find
in blueberries might not apply to corn or canola.
Senator Robichaud: In all of the research that is being done, is
enough attention being paid to the role that bees play in the wild with regard
to the spread of parasites and other diseases to honey bees?
Mr. Shutler: I think you'll get different opinions depending on
whether you're a person who works on honeybees versus wild bees. All I can
contribute here is what I know. If we're looking at agricultural crop
pollination, we can use native bees, but it requires that you preserve
undisturbed habitat adjacent to them, and that introduces economic costs in
terms of the size of the crop areas that you can operate. I've heard of a
beekeeper in P.E.I. who has decided he's going to abandon using honeybees and
he's just going to have these undisturbed habitants where all the native bees
live. Not only do you preserve these areas where you're not sowing seeds, but
you also don't generate the density of pollinators that you do if you use these
commercial hives. Certainly we could be doing more research on this.
I mentioned earlier that we do get parasites moving from our domesticated
bees into wild bee populations and probably to some extent vice versa, although
I think the flow is probably much greater from domesticated bees to the wild
ones. Again, I think there's certainly room for more research on these things.
There's room for more research on everything.
Senator Robichaud: We've been hearing that for a while, and I support
you in that. Thank you.
The Chair: Dr. Shutler, thank you very much for sharing your ideas
Honourable senators, the committee will now hear our second panel. We welcome
two owner-operators, Mr. Brent Ash and Mr. Peter Awram. According to the clerk,
Mr. Ash will make the first presentation, to be followed by Mr. Awram.
Brent Ash, Owner/Operator, Ash Apiaries: I'm going to take just a
small amount of time for my presentation. Peter's is a little bit longer, so
I'll do mine a little quicker.
Good morning, honourable senators. Thank you for the invitation to present my
testimony and share our concerns for the Canadian honey industry.
Ash Apiaries Limited is a family owned and operated honey production and
processing business. We are located in Gilbert Plains, Manitoba, 220 miles
northwest of Winnipeg, 45 miles from the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. We
operate 7,000 hives exclusively for honey production, producing 1.5 million
pounds of honey per year. In addition, we also own and operate a honey
processing plant, which processes our honey for sale in retail, wholesale and
industrial markets. Our honey production takes place in Manitoba. However, we do
take half our hives to B.C. for winter.
I believe you've been forwarded a copy of the information that I sent to Mr.
Pittman. This addresses our feelings and opinions on some of the issues
concerning bee health and the current state of honeybees in Canada. You have
also received a copy of our response to the CFIA risk assessment released in the
fall of 2013. I'll touch on a few areas of concern that were not covered in my
Other witnesses have touched on the bee supply issue, but here's the
situation as it unfolds this spring in Manitoba. On March 23, it was minus 20,
and the snow in most of our bee yards was 2.5 feet deep. We have no idea how
many of the hives wintered will live or at what strength they will be. March and
April are critical months. This is the time where the bees will be reaching the
end of their lifespan.
On March 24, we received notice from our New Zealand package bee supplier
that orders were going to be cut by at least 25 per cent due to a shortage of
available bees. They were also asking for voluntary reductions of package order
numbers to minimize reductions to other beekeepers who suffered large losses.
Not good news.
Fearing disease or other pests were the cause of the shortage and wondering
if we should even take the packages that may be available due to bee health
concerns, we asked, "Why the shortage of bees?" The answer was economics.
Apparently, Manuka honey has increased in price enough that beekeepers in New
Zealand have decided to keep their bees in order to increase honey production
rather than sell the bees in packages.
Another reason given for the shortage of bees is the reduced number of New
Zealand beekeepers willing to follow the CFIA protocols, saying that they are
Industry has known since the United States border was closed in 1987 that
package bee production in New Zealand is a secondary industry. How can our
industry depend on them as our best package bee supply option? For Ash Apiaries
Limited alone, this results in a shortage of 600 packages, 135,000 pounds of
honey or $300,000 in lost revenue.
Honey prices are based on the world market, where the largest producers or
exporters have the greatest impact on setting the price. Over time, world honey
price will move to reflect the cost of production for the largest producing
countries. Currently, there is foreign honey coming into Canada at reduced
prices, not prices that are based on our cost of production. Therefore, we need
opportunities to decrease our cost of production and minimize our risk in
preparation for when honey prices drop.
In 1987, before border closure, Canada produced 70 million pounds of honey
and ranked seventh in the world for honey production. In 2012, after drastic
increases in canola acres, Canada produced only 80 million pounds, and we ranked
14th in world honey production. We all hear of government's plans to create
business opportunities, often granting money to entrepreneurs for business
start-up. How about providing a bee supply option for us to increase hive
numbers and honey production to match the canola acreage increase? Canadian
honey production is not keeping pace with the rest of Canadian agriculture or
world honey production.
Many of our current problems with honeybee health can be managed by looking
to nature and asking how the hive works as a unit in nature. For example, the
whole purpose of the colony is to reproduce, not to produce honey or pollinate
crops. Therefore, the colony builds in numbers until it is strong enough to
swarm. The main colony will do this a number of times throughout the year. Over
time, the parent nest becomes contaminated with pests. The bees will then leave
the old nest or die. This is natural. Bees are an organism, and all organisms
In swarming, the bees remove themselves from the comb, providing time for the
bees to cleanse themselves before starting a new colony. During the build-up
phase, bees out-pace parasites. Package bees are basically a swarm looking for a
new home. Currently, we keep bees on comb year-round, which is a system of
promoting resistance, comb disease, hive virus loads, Nosema disease and
propagating varroa mites.
Our equipment needs a break. Freezing kills many viruses and diseases. It
also gives the honey producer time to clean, disinfect and sort through
equipment. It is time to use the minus 40-degree temperatures that Manitoba
provides to our advantage. This will also decrease miticide use and reduce the
risk of chemical residues being found in the honey.
There has been some talk about self-sufficiency in the bee industry. While it
may be the goal for some, our livelihood is centred on honey production. In
order to do our job efficiently and profitably, we need to have the best,
healthiest bees possible. That involves using the best expertise to provide us
the most options for a successful harvest. Given our climate and other limiting
factors, it makes more sense to hire or purchase some of our inputs than try to
do everything ourselves.
The CFIA has announced that the review of the risk assessment is complete yet
the border is still closed. This was expected. They reviewed their own document.
What is strange is that instead of publishing their results, the CFIA is still
accepting comments. What more do they want?
There are two types of honeybee health problems. The first is natural,
controlled by nature, cannot be eliminated, must be managed by producer, and the
second is man-made. The honeybee world is changing, and we need the tools and
options to be able to adapt to the current environmental conditions, the new
reality. One of these tools is readily available: package bees from the United
States. Other options will take years, centuries or may never be developed
through research, either genetic or chemical. Bee genetics are complicated and
progress is slow. It has been 30 years since the first talk of the super bee
that could be produced, one of the promises when the border was closed, and we
still haven't seen one developed.
Many of our issues cannot be controlled but must be managed with the proper
tools. We do not consider package bees from the United States to be a silver
bullet that will cure all of our problems. It is an option or a tool to help us
through the high winter losses as part of an IPM strategy, an expense reduction
mechanism and an opportunity to reduce our overall risk. Our biggest risk is not
the bees dying; it's being able to source the bees for replacement.
We are deeply concerned with the general health of the bee, but we need to be
able to access a higher quality and more stable supply of bees for quick
replenishment of our dead or unhealthy hives, and this supply is located in the
It is our feeling that the government has to decide if they want a commercial
honey production pollination industry or a cottage industry.
The Chair: Mr. Ash, thank you.
Now we will go to our second presenter, Mr. Awram.
Peter Awram, Owner/Operator, Honeyview Farm: I believe you all have my
handout in front of you. I start out with a long-winded description of myself,
our company and my dad, which is basically to say that we have looked at bees
from the government side, the scientist side, as the producer and as the
pollinator, all of those things.
I would like to present you with an overview of the situation in beekeeping
today, as I see it.
On page 3 of my handout, you'll see beehive numbers in Canada over time. In
around 2006, sudden drops in hive numbers occurred simultaneously in Canada and
the U.S. This is the incident that resulted in us being here in front of you
However, if you look in the years preceding 2006, you will see there were
already fluctuations in the numbers, indicating that there were already
problems. In fact, at Honeyview Farm, our first big loss of bees was in 2000,
long before colony collapse disorder became a household word.
I would like to draw your attention to just after 1987, when the border
closed to packages; one third of the hives in Canada disappeared essentially
If you look at the other end of the graph, at the latest two years, you will
see that the numbers have finally risen above those 1987 levels, to over
700,000. This has been trumpeted as a great achievement by a lot of people,
including the CFIA, but if you look at the graph and the trends that we were
seeing before 1987, we could be at 1.5 million hives or greater if that had
If you take our bee numbers now and look at them by province, what you'll see
is that in reality only Alberta and Nova Scotia have increased their hive
numbers since 1987, and their advantage appears to be pollination, hybrid canola
in Alberta and blueberries in Nova Scotia.
I will skip over the next few pages. On page 7, the evidence seems clear that
the major problem we face is disease build-up. Beekeepers in Canada are on a
treadmill; diseases are building up over time, and pesticides are not working
Moving on to miticides, residues are building up in the comb, and we just
don't have the weather to allow us to increase our numbers. I'm saying that
coming from B.C.
Bees have simple immune systems, and they use behavioral methods to deal with
diseases. Brent covered swarms and packages quite well, so I'm going to skip
over that part of my presentation. What he said is correct and I agree with him.
I'm on page 9 now. The CFIA has blocked beekeepers from using this method,
and they have produced a risk assessment that claims there are four significant
threats to Canada, and these claims are all misleading or outright false. No one
with an unbiased viewpoint and an understanding of the bee industry could have
come to the conclusions this risk assessment did.
To show you how unscientific it was, I'm going to one of these claims. On
page 10, I have a quote from the risk assessment:
American foulbrood occurs in the continental U.S. and Canada; however,
strains resistant to OTC (rAFB) have been widely reported in the U.S.
They give three references. That first reference, Miyagi, describes the first
finding — solitary finding — of oxytetracycline resistance in the U.S., in
Minnesota in 1998. The only other reference of consequence is the last one, and
I reproduced the table from it. That table clearly shows that the highest
incidence of oxytetracycline resistant foulbrood is in Alberta. If you'd seen
that, you'd think Alberta is this terrible hotbed of disease resistance and we
should just stay away from that place. The risk assessment does acknowledge
that, though in other parts they seem to totally ignore that point.
I've just used a technique found throughout the risk assessment; namely,
pointing out some awful fact but not all the relevant data there.
The truth is that resistant AFB is widespread in the U.S., but it is also
widespread in Canada, and it does not matter; AFB is not a problem. While it is
a serious disease, beekeepers have it under control. There are very
straightforward methods for dealing with it.
Furthermore — I'm on page 12 now — I show a table about how the risk
assessment describes B.C.: 1998, the first case reported. I just told you the
first case in the U.S. was 1998. There were a few incidental findings in the
early 2000s, then there are no other cases reported. Here is their conclusion:
Although AFB is present in Canada, rAFB has only been reported sporadically
since the late 1990s, in limited areas.
That is absolutely true, but it is totally misleading. There is no commercial
beekeeper in B.C. who would dream that their operation is free of resistant AFB.
In fact, most of Canada would say the same thing. The reason is that no one
tests for it. As I say, it's not a problem.
When I read this in the paper, I went straight out to our warehouse, pulled
out an infected comb that we'd locked away and gave it to the provincial
apiculturists for testing. It came back resistant to AFB. We have 4,000 hives,
which is 10 per cent of the hives in B.C.
There are similar problems about the other three threats the CFIA lists. I've
given you more information in the handout, and I can talk about them later.
But the biggest problem in there is what is not said. There is no analysis of
whether closing the border ever stopped or even slowed down the entry of
diseases. We have over 8,000 kilometres of common land border with the U.S. The
bees are right up to the border on both sides in many places.
When the bees cross, they're not handing their passport to a crossing agent
who says, "Are you carrying any diseases?" As well, even the diseases themselves
can cross the border without any help. The small hive beetle will fly 16
kilometres all by itself, and it's proven this; it's come into Canada several
The diseases that the CFIA worries about have crossed thousands of miles of
ocean to Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. There is no way that a land border
has ever stopped or slowed them down.
What I really hope to have gotten across to you is that there is no
significant difference in the disease profile between Canada and the U.S., and
the numbers back this up. On page 14, I show that the hive populations over time
in both countries are more or less constant over the last 15 years.
That is not to say that the U.S. and Canada are doing well. On page 15, I
show a ranking of some of the major honey-producing regions in the world. The
U.S. is around the middle, but Canada is truly abysmal in those numbers. New
Zealand is less than 3 per cent the size of Canada yet still has over 60 per
cent the number of bees.
However, the one thing the table does show is that Canada is very good at
producing honey. If we had 10 million hives, the way the European Union or China
does, we would produce more honey than the rest of the world.
On my last page, page 16, there is a map that shows you where Canada is in
relation to these other countries I've mentioned. It is just farthest north. It
is too cold to reliably overwinter bees and make up losses. The U.S. could be a
major player, but it is dominated by crops that are useless to bees.
But there is the potential to create the largest beekeeping region in the
world by working with the U.S. Canada can produce honey, then end the season and
send packages that way. The U.S. can do pollination of almonds and overwinter
bees and send packages back here. A new queen in a package twice a year — that
alone, without any pesticides or anything, would reduce disease levels
In addition, as Brent said, when the bees are separated from the comb, a
whole raft of other disease treatment possibilities is possible.
The Chair: Thank you. I have a personal comment, with the indulgence
of the senators.
Where I come from, in agriculture in New Brunswick, many times they tell us
that we need to talk to producers. This morning, your comments are very relevant
to what I hear from the farmers where I come from.
Senator Mercer: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here.
The chair is right: It's important for us to talk to producers. You work on
the ground and you see what the results of all of this other talk on the
Mr. Awram, I gather you're proposing the border be opened between Canada and
the U.S. and that we have a free movement of bees back and forth. Would you also
suggest that would provide an opportunity for our producers to winter their
hives in a warmer climate?
Mr. Awram: There are two different options. There are straight
packages, which is where only bees cross, and that is the way the border was
before 1987. You were never allowed to move a comb across.
As I've mentioned, comb diseases do build up in comb. I favour the package
way, because you are forced to use packages, and it means you have these added
advantages of the disease control effects that occur.
As I say, though, the disease profile is the same. There is no real reason to
stop a comb from going across. That's basically it.
So you could do it either way. I think the package solution would be favoured
by quite a few people and would be a suitable compromise.
Senator Mercer: If we go to the United States and see research, the
question we'll have to answer is whether there is much of a difference anymore
between the health of their bees and our bees, and if there is a problem.
With regard to CFIA "threats" — those are your words — are you suggesting
that there has been really no follow-up on them since the border has been
closed; they haven't revisited it or updated anything since 1987?
Mr. Awram: This is not the first risk assessment to come out. There
was a previous one. This one pretty much duplicates what was said in the
What's not there is a look at the data to check its reliability. They make
broad claims of doing these huge surveys, but it's not really true. They make
claims about how the U.S. has no understanding of the beekeeping industry. I
would say that the U.S. has a far greater understanding. Their research program
surpasses Canada's by orders of magnitude. The amount of documentation they have
about where mites are and how resistant mites are is far greater than what we
see in Canada; but that's not what the CFIA says. They say the exact opposite —
that Canada has a great program, which would surprise any beekeeper, and that
the U.S. has a lousy one. You can go to the website, beeinformed.org, where all
the results are posted by the U.S.
Mr. Ash: With regard to the bees on comb, we wouldn't be opposed to
the comb moving back and forth. However, as Mr. Awram pointed out, that is where
most of the problems would take place. I'm speaking as a honey producer. Some
pollinators out there who are in the pollination industry would have a different
opinion on that issue.
Senator Mercer: I come from Nova Scotia. As you drive into Nova Scotia
from New Brunswick, there is a sign on the highway that says it is illegal to
import bees into Nova Scotia. We don't employ anybody who stamps the passports
of those bees coming from New Brunswick. It would be a growth industry.
I would ask the researchers to tell us if we have heard from the right
witnesses from the CFIA to answer some of these questions raised.
Senator Buth: You've concentrated on the issue surrounding bee
packages and the border. I think you made a compelling case in terms of the
information you have provided.
Could you comment on any other management issues that you face? Mr. Ash,
could you comment on your relationship with canola producers, whether canola is
important to you and whether you've had any issues in terms of the
Mr. Ash: Canola is very important to us. As you know, a lot of the
canola acres are in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
We can't say that we've noticed any particular problem with the
neonicotinoids. Maybe, it's a double-edged sword. We can't just tell the farmers
they can't use them. We don't have that kind of control. There's a lot less
ground and aerial spraying. It might be better for us to have them in the soil
and the seed treated that way versus the way things were done in the past.
We haven't noticed a huge problem with that. We work with our producers and
our farmers. Most of them are good friends. We don't put our hives directly in
their fields. We usually have them set aside in an old farmyard off to the side
of the fields so they're not directly in the line of spray or in where the
seeding is not being done. Canola is seeded in a different way than corn and
soybean are seeded. That being said, we are getting more corn and soybean into
our province, but we haven't noticed a great deal of problems yet.
Senator Buth: Do you keep your bees primarily on canola?
Mr. Ash: We're pretty much 50 per cent canola and 50 per cent wheat.
Soybean and corn are starting to make inroads, but the vast majority is canola
Senator Buth: It's interesting that you make those comments. We
recently received a report from the Australian regulatory agency that says the
same thing: The use of neonics has actually reduced the amount of aerial and
foliar spraying, so they see it as a benefit.
What about other management issues in terms of varroa mites? How do you
manage varroa mites?
Mr. Ash: We treat twice a year. We use the allowed hard chemical
Apivar and formic acid as well. Our mite loads and levels dictate which product
we have to use. Last year we had significant losses, in excess of 65 per cent,
so we had a lot of new bee packages from New Zealand. A lot of bees died and
when they die, the varroa dies too, so we had to restart. We hope to have better
success this year.
Senator Buth: Is the 65 per cent an overwintering loss?
Mr. Ash: That is a total loss. Everyone calculates their losses
differently. We take it as a total number. We'll cull 10 per cent of the hives
in the fall in a normal year; 10 per cent will die over winter; and 10 per cent
will die in the spring. Our overwintering loss is usually about 30 per cent,
which we consider normal, so last year was quite devastating.
Senator Buth: What about comparing that to previous years?
Mr. Ash: Normally we count on 30 per cent per year. That's the number
we go by. Some years it can be more or less. We make arrangements by having our
packages ordered ahead of time from New Zealand. The packages I talked about
earlier were ordered in September. We never know what the strength of the bees
will be over the winter.
Senator Buth: If you cannot get the packages this spring, what will
Mr. Ash: We hope the bees are strong enough so we can make them up out
of our own, but then we forgo honey production in order to get our numbers back.
That's our only option. We don't have any other place to get new bees. We could
buy nucs and bees from other producers, but only to a point. When you have a
year like last year, when Manitoba had high losses, then there aren't enough
available. The people that provide those nucs and bees also had high losses, so
they didn't have enough to supply to others. There is no way you can depend on
any of the other supplies.
As well, it involves changing comb with other producers. As we stated before,
the comb is where a lot of the diseases start, so it's not something we want to
do. We've made the decision not to do it that way, and that's the way we've done
Mr. Awram: You're talking about management techniques. We work in both
B.C. and Alberta. That is not a fun thing to do. It is expensive to move bees
and you have to duplicate your equipment. We do that because it makes the
survival rate of our bees better.
We used to overwinter and stay all summer in the Fraser Valley. That was the
worst possible overwintering. We can take the bees up to the mountains, where
there are no pesticides, so that's better. Also, we can take the bees to Alberta
for the summer, which provides us with the best overwintering you can imagine.
What matters most is that in the fall they have good forage and bring it into
the hive. That is the biggest factor in how well the bees go through winter, as
long as the diseases have been kept in check.
Senator Robichaud: You said that to rebuild your hives, you have to
forgo honey production. Would you please explain that?
Mr. Ash: We do splits or nucs. We take our stronger hives and split
some of the bees and brood out of the stronger hives into a new hive with a new
queen, and they start from there. However, it sets back your parent hive and
takes some of the honey production that it may have had because it won't build
back up as quickly. You lose some honey production out of each parent hive that
Senator Robichaud: Is the amount considerable?
Mr. Ash: It depends on the year. If farmers plant their crops early,
it can be considerable, but if we get a year like this one where it will be a
little bit later and the bees are a little stronger, it might be negligible. It
can be considerable, yes.
Senator Merchant: What role can the federal government play in your
business? Do they keep surveys? Are there national surveys of diseases and pest
control methods — or these provincial surveys that are done — and is there a
role for the federal government?
Mr. Awram: Yes, there is. My point is that one of their roles is to
get out of the way from stopping bees from coming. The other thing is surveys,
as you say.
One of the biggest problems we had when all this started happening is that we
didn't know what we had before. For the longest time, they found, "Oh, there's
this new virus — the Israeli acute paralysis virus," or something else. This is
found in 90 per cent of the hives that fell down. It must be the cause. Then
they would go back to a 30-year-old sample and find the same thing.
There is definitely value to having good, comprehensive surveys of what is
Senator Merchant: Are they doing such national surveys in other
Mr. Awram: The U.S. is very good at this. They do a survey every year,
and it is actually part of their responsibility under world trade agreements —
of which Canada is also a signatory — under which they can only prevent the
imports of bees from places that have a different disease profile.
Senator Merchant: I'm asking you this because in our notes I see there
was an initiative by the Canadian Honey Council to have a survey, and it was
voted down by members from eastern provinces. I know you're not from the eastern
provinces, but do you know what that was about?
Mr. Awram: As I pointed out in my talk, we haven't done many surveys.
Resistant AFB is widespread across the country. Everyone knows that. In fact,
the U.S. diagnostic labs know that, because they get samples from Canada and
test them. It's in their data, but clearly it's not apparent to the CFIA. It's
apparent to all commercial beekeepers, but not in any fashion that we can point
to and say, "That's what it is."
Mr. Ash: In regard to the report you mentioned, the Canadian Honey
Council wanted to go ahead and to do a report like that, but when they voted on
it at the council, they couldn't get the resolution to go ahead with the
program. They did have a lot of work done on it as far as getting funding
organized and procedures, but it never went ahead, because Eastern Canada didn't
want it. It's my understanding that they didn't want it.
Senator Merchant: Was there a reason for it?
Mr. Ash: It might show something that we have that the risk assessment
says we don't have.
Senator Merchant: I'm looking at a chart, and I'm not sure if it came
from Mr. Ash or Mr. Awram. I'm looking at Saskatchewan, because I'm from there.
It says that the percentage of inspected hives with disease is 7 per cent, which
is the highest. B.C. is 4 per cent, Alberta is 1 per cent and Manitoba is 1.5
per cent. Why is Saskatchewan 7 per cent?
Mr. Ash: I don't know why it would be 7 per cent. I assume there have
been a couple of beekeepers who sent samples in to find out what it is, and they
found out they have the disease.
There is a number on that page, when you're talking Saskatchewan. It shows
the percentage of hives inspected, and I think it's a very low number. I don't
really know what their inspection program entails, but I suspect it's not a
strong inspection program; it's more of a voluntary program.
As beekeepers, we don't always tell everyone what our problems are. It might
be one of those situations where, if you've got it and you don't know what it
is, you might send it in, but if you know what it is, you deal with it yourself.
Senator Eaton: One of our witnesses from British Columbia who bred
bees was saying he cut his production in half, if I remember correctly, because
of the economics; it was cheaper to get bees from New Zealand and Hawaii. Do you
know anything about that?
Mr. Awram: I can certainly address that. There is this myth that
Canada can produce its own bees, and it was circulating before the border
closed. My father was told several times, "Why are you against closing the
border? You're going to make millions doing this. You'll be incredibly rich
because you'll be able to produce bees."
I didn't come here business class; I didn't drive up in a limo. It hasn't
Senator Eaton: So you don't know of anybody else in B.C. who is
Mr. Awram: There are plenty of people who breed bees. The problem is
that people need queens in April and May. I'm from Vancouver, the Lower
Mainland. Everyone knows what Vancouver is famous for, and it's certainly not
sun. To breed bees to make queens, you need two weeks of hot, sunny weather —
over 20 degrees. Right now, it's certainly far warmer there than it is here —
we're getting 17 and 18 degrees, just to make you jealous — but there is no way
you could mate a queen.
Today, we are receiving 400 queens from Hawaii. We will receive another 200
queens next week. This is when we need the queens. We're a little bit earlier
than the Alberta people, but you cannot raise queens at a time when they're
I went through your transcript of the talk by the breeder you reference. He
suggested they were looking for a breeder who could produce 100,000 or 200,000
queens. I had that capability. Two hundred thousand queens at $25 apiece is $5
million a year. If I had the weather to do that, I would be doing that, but it's
just not there. It's not possible. In fact, the rain has been so bad in the last
two years right into June that you would have raised queens faster in Alberta
than you would have in B.C.
Senator Eaton: We've heard about nutrition and what should remain with
bees to overwinter them. Do you know about a lot of research, or is there enough
research being done on nutrition? I would imagine that, being honey producers,
you remove the honey from the comb in the late fall and it's what you leave for
the bees to eat over the winter. Have I got that straight?
Mr. Ash: To a point. We don't remove all the honey from the bees; not
all the frames are extracted. The brood frames that contain the eggs are left
alone. So there is honey in the hive, and there is pollen left in the hive. We
supplement them with a sugar solution to ensure they have enough to carry them
through the winter.
Senator Eaton: If we have a long winter —
Mr. Ash: They still have enough.
Senator Eaton: So you go and make sure —
Mr. Ash: Yes. We feed ours in the fall, and you can feed enough sugar
or corn syrup. Coupled with the honey in the boxes and the pollen, there is
enough food in there to last into the spring.
Senator Eaton: Nutrition is not the problem.
Mr. Ash: Nutrition would be a problem in the form of pollen in the
spring. If some areas don't have a fall flow of pollen, you could have a
shortage of pollen. Pollen is used when they start to raise brood in the spring;
they need that pollen to feed to the brood. That's the protein.
Senator Eaton: Where you are in Manitoba, are there enough strips of
land left for indigenous wildflowers and weeds they can feed on when they get
out of the hive before they go into crop pollination?
Mr. Ash: Right now I would say yes, but that number is shrinking.
Agriculture is more and more progressive and more bush and willows are going
down. We've never had a problem with it before.
Senator Eaton: What about along highways and in ditches?
Mr. Ash: Highways and ditches are different because those flowers
don't come into effect until the canola is already blooming. It's nice to have a
source of pollen other than canola, such as clovers, alfalfa and wildflowers. It
would be nice to have more, but it is difficult because they get sprayed often
with the fields so close.
Senator Eaton: I see. It's not the province but the residue from
Mr. Ash: That is right. We have a fair amount of bush. Most of our bee
yards have trees for spring pollen — the spring pollen comes from willow and
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Ash, at one point you said —
It could be time to take advantage of the minus 40-degree temperature so that
it would reduce the risk. Would you elaborate on that? At first you said that
they're under three feet of snow. If they are under three feet of snow, it
doesn't get to minus 40 because snow acts as an insulation. Talk to me about
Mr. Ash: The minus 40 does come into play. The bees culled in the fall
are in boxes stored away in the sheds where the temperature is the same as it is
outside. Some of the diseases that were in the comb, the Nosema and spores, are
killed by cold weather. We could remove the bees from the comb and send them in
a package to California and stack the boxes in the shed. Some of the problems we
have today are fixed by the cold weather. We could reintroduce bees in the
spring into those combs, which would be healthier because the cold killed many
of the diseases. The process involves removing the bees from the comb.
In years past, we used to kill them, but I'm not saying that would be done
any more. It would be nice to be able to shake them into packages and send them
south to somebody else — sell them someplace else — and bring in new ones in the
spring. That would help with the minus 40 temperatures. You would have to remove
the bees from comb, freeze the boxes, bring the boxes out in the spring and put
new bees into the boxes.
Senator Robichaud: The bees you remove cannot be sent anywhere. They
Mr. Ash: Yes. They could be killed or they just die. Ideally, we would
be able to sell them, say for almond pollination. If I sell that package in the
states and they can be hived for almond pollination. When that beekeeper is
done, he can put them in a package and ship them back to me. Doing that removes
the bees from the comb and gives the varroa no place to lay eggs. The varroa
reproduces by laying eggs inside the brood. Once you remove the bees and the
brood from the comb, the varroa are just stuck to the bee. The package could be
treated with the strip or with formic acid or in some way. That particular
product is not in the combs and doesn't touch the beehive, only the bee. Once
you kill the adult varroa, the bees would come in clean and you can start off
Senator Robichaud: Does the lifespan of the bees allow you to do that?
You have them for a while on your farm and then you take them out, send them
somewhere else and then take them back. I thought the lifespan of bees wouldn't
Mr. Ash: The lifespan allows that because bees propagate quickly. If
we were to buy a package from California, those bees would be fairly young. At
that time of year, they live for about a month, and then they die except for the
queen. In that one month, the queen lays thousands of eggs, which start to hatch
as the old bees die off. The hive builds faster that way. She lays many more
eggs than are needed. Bees propagate quickly, and you can get a honey crop out
of two pounds of bees in the spring.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you to our two guests. My question is
relatively simple and is for Mr. Ash.
In your presentation, you mentioned that we might see the arrival of new
fungicides, and as such, with a new chemical composition, you might see that as
an improvement. But are you not concerned that the arrival of new fungicides can
also lead to the arrival of new diseases?
Mr. Ash: You're referring to the correspondence that was handed out
earlier, I assume. That's through a conversation I had with the Canadian Canola
Council. There is new chemistry coming out for crop fungicides, not bee
fungicides, for canola, for example. I guess the researchers told us that there
is a link between the fungicides we're currently using on canola crops and the
chemicals that we're using for mite control. Their feeling is that there could
be a reaction between the two, and it's not a good one for the bees. In talking
with the Canadian Canola Council, I've been told that a new fungicide family
will be introduced in the short term. Short term to them could be in the next
five years so I don't know exactly when it is coming. You'll have to talk to
Bayer or Monsanto about when it's coming out. That's what I have been told by
the canola council.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: Have you read the Canadian Food Inspection
Agency's report on risk assessment? What are your thoughts on the September 2013
report? It is a rather substantive report prepared by experts.
Do you agree with the findings of that report?
Mr. Awram: That is the report I was referring to. My description of
the AFB is directly from that report. That is the one where there are four
different things. I would have to say that there are serious errors pretty much
on every page of that report. It is clear that the people doing that do not
understand the beekeeping industry and did not look at the references they
referred to. What they say the references say and what they actually say are
often very different.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: Were you consulted after they tabled the
report? Did they talk to the producers?
Mr. Awram: We all sent in responses: Brent, Michael Paradis, Kevin
Nixon, I, and many others. We haven't had any kind of response to those
concerns. We don't know how they're reacting to that.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: It's a concern to me.
You may laugh at my next question: What happens to the bees during the winter
in B.C. or in Quebec? Do they freeze? Do you keep them just warm enough to stay
alive? What's the procedure during the cold months?
Mr. Awram: It depends on the place. Where we winter them in B.C., we
put on an insulated top the function of which is actually more to keep the rain
off than it is to provide insulation. In the colder areas, where Brent lives,
they will wrap it up substantially; they'll put on thick layers of insulation,
with a lot of top, but they will always have an entrance where the bees can get
in and out. They need to be able to recycle the air and get rid of excess
There will also be people who winter indoors. Mike Paradis, a witness you've
had, is a good example of that.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each. There are a lot of Alberta
beekeepers who bring their hives to B.C. to overwinter. Brent brings his hives
to B.C. to winter.
There are a lot of methods, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: So it's quite a manpower thing because a
hive is quite large.
Mr. Awram: It's quite a lot of extra work to do the overwintering, and
it is very disheartening if you have massive losses.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: If you want to import from the United States
so that you start the season on time and you fill the gap of what you have lost
— 60 or 30 per cent — why would the ones coming from Hawaii be accepted but not
the ones from California?
Mr. Awram: California does not have the ability to send us packages.
They can only provide queens. Queens will let you split the good hives you have.
California will supply packages and queens. You can get the package early
enough, you can build it up and get a honey crop off of it.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: The very first year you import them?
Mr. Awram: Absolutely, the very first year.
Senator Hervieux-Payette: What's the lifespan?
Mr. Awram: You could keep that package indefinitely. It's a new hive,
and it's fine.
When you're dealing with bees, the hive is really the organism, and the bees
are more like the cells or the hair on your head. That's not that a great
analogy, but the hive is the important thing, and that's what continues on. As
with your body, a lot of your skin cells are dying all the time, and that's what
Senator Rivard: A witness from Saskatchewan appeared before our
committee and talked to us about life insurance — if we can call it that — to
compensate for the massive loss of bee colonies, likely caused by extreme cold.
Is this product offered as insurance in your province, and if so, do you think
it would be beneficial to opt in?
Mr. Ash: In Manitoba, we have what is called bee mortality insurance,
and I think that's what you're referring to. We've had that now coming up on
Under the current way we keep bees, yes, we need the bee mortality insurance.
We went through it; it was good. The problem with it is that after they pay you
for your losses, where do you go to buy the bees? If you lose and you get paid
out $300,000 for your bees, where do I go to buy them? New Zealand is already
sold out, and they can't produce any more. Australia is not really an option.
The money doesn't do you any good. You need the bees; you need the supply of
But the program is based on the package bee. The price you get paid is based
on the New Zealand price for packages. But if the supply is not there, it
doesn't do you any good.
Senator Rivard: The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists
showed that the number of hives has steadily increased. In 2008, there were
608,000 and, in 2013, there were 719,000, despite the neonicotinoids, diseases,
and the massive cold-weather-related losses. Are there simply more beekeepers or
are you importing more bees? In my mind, there can be no other explanation.
Mr. Awram: As I said, Alberta and Nova Scotia are really the only
places where they increased. You can see in Alberta that the increase correlates
almost exactly with the increase in hybrid canola pollination.
I don't know as much about it in Nova Scotia, but again there have been
increases in blueberry acres. You can also see slight increases in Ontario and
Quebec, and I assume that's associated with the increased blueberry
pollinations. But if you look in other places, there's no increase.
Senator Oh: How much of Canada's honey is consumed domestically and
how much is for export?
Mr. Ash: Canada consumes, I believe, 30 million pounds. We produce
roughly 70 or 80 million pounds. I do have the numbers; I can give them to you
later. We do consume a fair amount of honey. It works out to a pound or pound
and a half per person.
Senator Oh: So a lot is for export.
Mr. Ash: Mostly for export.
Senator Robichaud: First a point on information and then a question:
They have a sign at the Nova Scotia border now for the bees not to go into Nova
Scotia. The New Brunswick bees know how to read, so they turn around and come
Mr. Awram, you made a very strong statement about the CFIA report: "That is
absolutely true, but it's totally misleading." In our report, how do you suggest
we treat that assessment? Do we just disregard it because it's not based on
science? We're being told that whatever we do — whatever recommendations — has
to be based on good solid science.
Mr. Ash: I'm going to let Peter go first because it was in his
Mr. Awram: I meant that specific sentence that I brought out. The
reason that sentence was absolutely true, that there had been no findings of
resistant AFB, goes back to the question I was asked about the testing. We don't
know; no one does sufficient testing to see what is actually here. That is the
failing of that report, all through it. The numbers are not there because the
beekeepers know them, because they're dealing with it day after day; but the
actual government numbers that you can trust, they don't exist because it's not
We have a national bee diagnostic lab in Beaverlodge. It's seriously
Regarding that report, I agree: We should use science, and that's what I was
trying to portray. We need to use science.
Mr. Ash: Research isn't absolute. That whole report is based on the
worst case in the United States and the best case in Canada. The problem with
that is that we have no national program in Canada. They don't know what we have
or we don't have; we have no national program that says we're clean versus the
So right down to it, that's what it's based on.
The Chair: Thank you. To both producers/farmers, you have been very
educational and informative.
(The committee adjourned.)