Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 9 - Evidence - Meeting of April 10, 2014
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 10, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
8:02 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 this morning to the meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. Before we officially
introduce our witnesses, I would like to take this moment to ask all
senators to introduce themselves. I am Percy Mockler, a senator for New
Brunswick and chair of the committee. Now I will ask the senators to
introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Robichaud: I am Senator Fernand Robichaud from
Saint-Louis-de-Kent, in the province of New Brunswick. Good morning.
Senator Tardif: Good morning. I am Claudette Tardif from the
province of Alberta.
Senator Maltais: Good morning. I am Senator Ghislain Maltais from
Senator McIntyre: Senator Paul McIntyre from New Brunswick.
Senator Dagenais: Good morning. I am Senator Jean-Guy Dagenais
Senator Oh: Senator Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Eaton: Good morning. Nicky Eaton, Ontario.
The Chair: Good morning to the witnesses, and also good afternoon
The committee is continuing its study 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 production, honey and also honey production in
Canada; the current state of native pollinators, leaf cutter and honey bees
the factors affecting honey bee health, including disease, parasites and
pesticides in Canada and globally;
Furthermore: strategies for governments, producers and industry to ensure
On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry,
we want to thank the witnesses for accepting our invitation to appear and
share their opinions, comments and vision with us.
Honourable senators, from Belgium we have José V. Tarazona, Head of the
Pesticides Unit; and from Italy we have Agnes Rortais, Scientific Officer.
Both represent the European Food Safety Authority. I would now invite the
witnesses to make their presentations, following which the senators will ask
questions. I am informed that Ms. Rortais will be first, followed by Mr.
Tarazona. The floor is yours.
Agnes Rortais, Scientific Officer, European Food Safety Authority:
I will present to you the work that we have been doing at EFSA on the
development of an environmental risk assessment for bees.
As you may already know, bees are exposed to multiple stressors:
physical, chemical, biological and nutritional. Rather than looking at
things separately, we needed to develop an environmental risk assessment,
taking into account all these stressors. At the European Food Safety
Authority, we are working on several of these issues. We have the animal and
plant health unit, the GMO unit, the pesticides unit and also a unit to help
us in the assessment of methodologies. So it was a great opportunity to
develop multidisciplinary work at EFSA to look at all these combined effects
on bee health.
This work started in 2012, and we had to first make an inventory of all
our internal activities at EFSA in the sector of bee health. We also
conducted several consultations with member states and the different
stakeholders — scientists — to gather evidence and also research projects.
From these research projects, we identified knowledge gaps, and that was to
make further recommendations for future research and development. This is
what I'm going to present to you: a summary of all these activities.
At EFSA, we started to work on bee health in 2008, and the workload
increased steadily, though mostly in 2013. That is linked to the
neonicotinoids in that we had to make further risk assessments. José will
introduce this topic later. As of January 2014, EFSA published 16 outputs
and we are currently doing a systematic review on neonicotinoids and
development of models for the risk assessment of chemical mixtures on bees.
So far, when we looked at all the projects we've been working on at EFSA,
they are mostly in the area of risk assessment of plant protection products.
This is an active area at EFSA. However, in the area of bee health regarding
pathogens, pests, predators and pollination services, we have not been
involved that much.
Regarding the work produced by the European Commission and member states,
this is regarding research projects. We gathered about 200 projects, 20 from
European Commission but mostly from the DG Research, and the rest were from
member states. I have to say that this collection was from the last two,
three years up to five years, and most of these projects are still ongoing
so they are not in a completed state.
We also compiled other projects for information from UNEP, EPPO, FAO and
OECD, but also sister agencies like the European Environment Agency and the
European Medicines Agency. What we found from these research projects at the
European level is that most of them are on honeybees so we lack information
on wild bees. But we have to be careful when we say that this is mostly from
member states because if we look at EC funded projects, there are currently
very large projects on wild bees.
Studies on monitoring but also testing were missing, and we also missed
research data on in-hive treatments, so that's veterinary products for honey
bees. It was interesting to see that at the European Commission level, the
exposure to plant protection product was not as studied as at EFSA, and
diversity and pollination were the missing areas at the member state level.
Overall, as I said in my presentation, interactions are important to look
at and to move toward to have a more holistic view on the multiple
stressors. This is something that was missing overall in research projects,
this approach of looking at multiple stresses.
From this study, we made huge list of recommendations for Horizon 2020,
which is the European framework for research, in the areas of monitoring and
the development of testing methods. We need calibrated tools, field methods,
applied research to develop these protocols to have a finer view of
mortality. We also need research data on chemical residues, including
metabolites in different bee matrices to better access exposure to bees. We
need to develop multi- residual techniques with low limits of detection and
quantification. We need to have data on food intakes for bees, multiple
exposure toxicity data and also develop modelling techniques to better
approach the risk assessment of multiple stresses. It seems there is still a
lot of research to be done to better assess risks to bees, but also to
refine our assessment. Maybe Mr. Tarazona can tell you more about that.
In terms of recommendations for coordination, knowledge sharing and
collaboration, we thought that it would be valuable to develop an open
access database to store research information and data methods for the risk
assessment, not only of single but also multiple stressors on bees. This
would increase, of course, visibility, rapid access to new scientific
developments and avoid duplication of work. We need to reinforce monitoring
and data collection efforts on multiple stressors, not only single
stressors. This is probably something that will be developed further with
EFSA and the European Reference Laboratory, which is currently surveying
honeybee colonies in Europe. We also need to further strengthen
collaboration with member states, European Commission and at the
That's all for my presentation. Thank you very much for your attention
and thank you for inviting me. I'll leave the floor to José now, unless you
The Chair: Thank you very much. Now we will ask Mr. Tarazona to
make his presentation and then we will follow with questions.
José V. Tarazona, Head of the Pesticides Unit, European Food Safety
Authority: Good morning. I will also speak in English. First, I thank
you for considering the opinion of the European Food Safety Authority of
interest for your committee. We are very glad to try to contribute with the
work we have done. As was already indicated, I will specifically cover the
activities on risk assessment for pesticides.
There are two main elements that I want to highlight for you. One is the
update of the risk assessment methodology and the second is the activities
on specific pesticides and active substances, in particular the
neonicotinoids, but also insecticides like fipronil.
I will start with the update on risk assessment methodology. It's
important to mention that in this area there have been a huge amount of
scientific developments in the last years and as a consequence, EFSA, in
cooperation with the commission, considered the need for updating the
current protocol for assessing the risk for bees, requesting a significant
amount of work by the scientific panel involved in the assessment of
pesticides, which is the PPR panel in EFSA. There was a huge amount of work
done in 2011. And in May 2012 the panel published the scientific opinion on
the methodology to develop the risk assessment for bees.
One of the key elements of this opinion was to include additional end
points that were not covered in the EU regulation, in particular the
sublethal and chronic effects.
Following the adoption of the opinion by the panel, EFSA developed a
specific guidance that is used for the risk assessment of active substances
in pesticide products. In Europe, the system for the approval of pesticides,
both for new substances that are not in the market and for the renewal of
authorized products included a global assessment at the EU level of the
active substance and then a second assessment of the plant protection
product to be marketed. The second assessment is done by the member states.
The EFSA guidance covered the risk assessment of the active substances.
The guidance was published in 2013 and following some discussions because of
the complexity of the scientific information in the guidance, we are
currently conducting a restructuration of the guidance for increasing
clarity on how to apply different tiers and proposals. We are also
developing an IT tool — a special calculator — that will facilitate the use
of the guidance by industry as well as by the member states. We are
expecting to publish this restructured guidance in June of this year.
Regarding the specific activities on substances, the European regulation,
in particular the regulation 1107/2009, includes under article 21, the
possibility to review the approval of active substances in light of the new
scientific and technical knowledge, as well as monitoring data.
This article has been applied to neonicotinoids and to fipronil.
Neonicotinoids were approved in the European Union between 2006 and 2009,
and, after the approval, there have been several studies and research
activities that suggest some concerns and controversy on the risk. As a
consequence, EFSA has received several mandates from the commission —
mandates for assessing some of these studies — in particular, on sublethal
effects on bees by neonicotinoids, published in 2012, one Italian project on
honeybees and one U.K. project on bumblebees. All of the information
regarding these assessments has been published by EFSA.
Following the concern, the commission mandated EFSA, in 2012, to assess,
specifically, some active substances. Initially, it was a request for five
neonicotinoids, but, based on the available information, that was restricted
to three neonicotinoids: imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam. Then
we received a second mandate to assess an insecticide that is not from the
neonicotinoids group, fipronil. The request considered the use of seed
treatment as granules. We were told to revise the risk assessment that was
used for the authorization of the substances in Europe, particularly
considering acute and chronic risks to the colonies' survival and
development, including bee behaviour and sublethal effects, and to focus on
some exposure routes, in particular, dust, residues in pollen and nectar and
The requests from the commission were based on the opinion of the panel
that I mentioned before and that was published in May 2012, and, based on
that information, EFSA conducted an assessment of all available information
and published the conclusions on the four substances during 2013.
It is important to mention that the conclusions are conclusions for the
risk assessment for the approval of the specific substances. So the mandate
is not to look for a specific connection to the current situation. It is
part of what we call the predictive risk assessment, that is, the obligation
for industry to demonstrate the safe use of the products before they are
allowed to market them or to confirm that the products can be used safely.
EFSA identified several risks, particularly acute risks, for different crops
and also a lot of data gaps and issues not finalized because the information
that was available was not sufficient to demonstrate acceptable use for the
Based on the conclusions from EFSA, the commission decided to prohibit
several of the uses of the four substances, through specific regulations
that were published in 2013. Following this decision, we are currently
addressing new elements.
First, in June 2013, in connection with the communication of these
regulations banning several uses, we received a mandate to review the risk
assessment from foliar spray. You can see that they were not part of the
mandate for 2012, so this is a new mandate that we are working on now, with
a deadline of October 2014. Also, in order to have a review of the uses that
are still approved in Europe, there was a request to the companies to
provide additional information in two years after the regulations, the
commission will assess that information and may need support from EFSA.
In cooperation and consultation with the commission and following the
request from industry, we received a new mandate in February 2014, to have a
peer review of the study protocols that industry wants to use and to be done
this year. This activity is linked to the lack of guidelines, at the OECD or
international level, for conducting, particularly, the field studies and
some specific studies on honeybees but mostly on bumblebees and solitary
bees. We are offering industry the possibility of having a review of the
study protocol in order to ensure that the study, once it is conducted, will
be suitable for the European registration.
Also, we are expecting, by next year, the new mandate to review the
outcome of these studies that are currently ongoing.
Finally, as has already been mentioned, we are conducting, in parallel, a
systematic literature review, specifically on neonicotinoids, that will be
used in order to have the risk assessment review of foliar sprays but also
for the next mandate that we are expecting from the commission. We are also
contributing to the development of test guidelines, particularly at the OECD
level, trying to present what the key elements should be, according to the
EFSA guidelines, to ensure that the protocols cover the elements that we
have identified as critical elements for the evaluation of the risk of
pesticides for bees.
With that, I will conclude. If you have any questions, I will be happy to
try to answer.
The Chair: Thank you, doctor, for your information to the
Senator Mercer: I have two quick questions. Previous witnesses
before the committee have highlighted the regional differences in how bee
issues manifest themselves across Canada. For example, certain regions have
not experienced a decline in honeybee population, and the effects of
neonicotinoids on bee health seem to vary between provinces. To what extent
are there differences between EU member states in terms of pollinator
health, and how have EU regulators managed differences between member
Ms. Rortais: Maybe I can answer. In Europe, the EC set up an EU
reference laboratory on honeybee health, which is the European Reference
Laboratory for Bee Health. They have been financed with about 3 million
euros to monitor honeybee colony losses in Europe in collaboration with
member states, and these results have been recently published and
communicated at the European Commission last Monday, which organized a
conference on bee health. The data show differences in bee colony
mortalities between north and south. They are not regional differences, as
such, as you are mentioning. But there are still geographic differences, and
the factors behind them still need to be assessed.
At the moment, of course, we need to go further into the statistical
analysis of the results and this European reference laboratory has also
diagnosed bee pathogens and farming practices. There are still a lot of
other factors that also need to be included that have not been monitored. So
we will maybe have some answers, but not full answers because we need to
expand to the full environment, as I said before.
In the bee mortalities you can have geographical differences that can be
linked in some cases to exposure, to pesticides in other cases, to both
pathogens and pesticides, and in other cases, it can be habitat structure
and resources, and so forth. There could be different things but unless we
test them, we cannot say for sure what the causes are behind it.
I do not know if I answered your question properly but this is the stage
we are at in Europe. Perhaps José wants to add something to that.
Mr. Tarazona: For the pesticides, in Europe we have three zones to
be considered: north, central and south. Obviously, for the environmental
issues, including bee assessment, the regional differences are very
relevant. There are significant differences between the zones and in some
cases there may be specific needs for different crops within the same zone.
Obviously, the ecological variability is quite important in Europe.
Senator Mercer: The committee has heard from many witnesses on the
issue of importing packaged bees. In Canada, current regulations prohibit
the importation of honeybees from the United States unless they are from
Hawaii. Supporters of the prohibition suggest that the importation of
honeybee products could exhilarate the propagation of certain diseases and
To what extent do EU member states import packaged bees from overseas and
from where? How is the importation of packaged bees regulated in the EU? Is
there any trade between EU member states of packaged bees? Are there
possible effects on bee health in doing so?
Ms. Rortais: I am not a specialist in this area and at EFSA we do
not deal with bee trade issues. However, recently we assessed the risk of
entry of two bee pests, the small hive beetle and the Tropilaelaps mite,
into the EU through trade and other means. In the risk assessment opinion,
we highlighted the need for reinforcement of training of inspectors at the
border to reinforce control of packaged bees.
You asked about the amount but, I don't have that number. I could send
the information to you but I need to check it first. I cannot give you a
Senator Mercer: If you have access to that, we would appreciate
your sending it to the committee. Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Tarazona, do you have any comment?
Mr. Tarazona: No, that is not my area. Sorry.
Senator Buth: Thank you for taking the time to be with us today.
Mr. Tarazona, I am familiar with the regulatory process for the approval
of GMO crops. Can you explain if it is the same process where EFSA makes a
scientific decision; that decision goes to the European Commission, which is
composed of member states and they make the decision as to whether something
will be commercialized; is that the same process for pesticides?
Mr. Tarazona: The role is the same regarding EFSA. EFSA is a risk
assessment and communication body. EFSA is not involved at all in risk
management decision-making or approval.
Nevertheless, for pesticides the process is a bit different in the sense
that there are two steps: The dossiers are sent first to a member state
covering the active substance — the molecule that identifies the properties
as pesticide. The risk assessment is then done by the member state, and EFSA
is involved in a peer review of the risk assessment that has been conducted
by the rapporteur member state. All member states are involved in that
process of the risk assessments. EFSA's conclusion is then sent to the
commission and the member states and the commission will take the final
decision on approval. The member states are much more involved in the risk
assessment of pesticides than for GMOs.
Also, EFSA is involved in the process for active substances only, not for
the real product that is in the market. The authorization of the marketed
product is still at the level of member states.
Senator Buth: Thank you for that explanation.
You mentioned the report from 2013 that you published on the risk
assessment that showed some acute risks and then the data gaps. Did you have
a recommendation to the commission from that report?
Mr. Tarazona: We have a recommendation in the sense that all
conclusions have a format, and we clarified the issue that cannot be
finalized: the data gaps in the information that, in our opinion, are still
needed for an assessment. Also, we have a specific identification of key
concerns that are the outcome of the evaluation. We have no recommendation
for approval or against approval; that is clear. We have a recommendation in
terms of the concerns about the outcome of the risk assessment and the
elements that have not been finalized, how they can be finalized, and what
kind of information needs to be submitted.
Senator Buth: Did EFSA make a recommendation in terms of the
moratorium on the neonicotinoids?
Mr. Tarazona: No. We are considering the information on the risk.
There has been some misunderstanding of the EU legislation. The legislation
for pesticides in Europe, in many countries, is based on what we call ``the
positive list.'' The active substances need to be on the list in order for
the member state to approve the plant protection products. The commission
took the neonicotinoids off the list for several uses previously allowed. It
is not a temporary ban. The indication for two years is to provide
confirmatory data for the uses that can still be authorized.
Senator Buth: What active substances have been removed from the
Mr. Tarazona: The positive list includes the actives but also the
crops and uses. Several crops and uses have been removed from the list of
acceptable uses. There are several uses that are still approved in Europe.
Senator Buth: What uses are still approved in Europe?
Mr. Tarazona: I cannot provide information on the products
authorized in the member states, but I can send the committee the
information regarding the active substances — it is a long list. There is a
database of the active substances that can be used with the approval
conditions handled by the commission. I will look for the information for
Senator Buth: That would be very helpful because we get a lot of
conflicting information about the fact that the EU has banned all the
substances; and that there is a moratorium on the substances. Clearly, this
is much more complex, perhaps, than we hear in different reports.
Senator Tardif: Good morning. The committee has received
conflicting testimony about how long the neonicotinoids persist in the
environment. Some witnesses have told the committee that they tend to
disintegrate in nature after a few months and become harmless. Others told
us that toxic concentrations persist in the environment for many years and
accumulate over time. Have you studied this issue or looked at studies that
speak to this issue?
Mr. Tarazona: In the conclusions we have what we call a list of
end points summarizing the outcome of the relevant assessment. Obviously,
that includes the degradation routes and the time for degradation of the
different active substances in different compartments: water, soil and other
matrices such as sediments.
Yes, we have looked at that information and it is part of our
Senator Tardif: What might those conclusions be, if I may ask? Do
they have a sublethal effect that continues over time?
Mr. Tarazona: With all the chemicals, there is a degradation. What
we have on the list is the half-life for degradation, estimating how much
time each substance needs to be degraded. There is not a single number. It
depends on conditions such as the temperature of the soil and the water.
There is not a single answer to your question. Every substance behaves in a
different way, and all the information is available from the conclusions of
EFSA, at least for the EU conditions. The degradation will be different in
different parts of Europe. It will be different in different parts of the
year, so there is not a single answer.
Senator Tardif: Canada's approach to regulating is different than
what is used, from what I understand, in the European Union. I'm not sure
how familiar you are with the Canadian approach to regulatory change. How
would you see your approach as being different from the Canadian approach?
Mr. Tarazona: I am not fully familiar with the system. I have some
contacts with Canadian colleagues that are responsible for the registration
and risk assessment of pesticides, but one of the main elements in the EU
system are the two processes for the implementation, the approval of the
active substance and then the approval of the final product on the market.
I am not sure if the process in Canada is the same or not. Here in Europe
we have two steps. First is the active substance, which is handled at the EU
level. The second is the approval of the real product that is used by the
farmers. This is in the hands of the member states. The member states
Senator Tardif: If I understood correctly, it is the member states
that ultimately make the decision to approve the product; is that correct?
Mr. Tarazona: That is correct. The limitation for the member
states is that the active substances need to be approved at the EU level.
Senator Buth: I have a question for clarification. In Canada, the
PMRA first approves the active substance; then they look at the formulation
and the use, et cetera. They go through a similar process but, of course, in
Canada, since we are one country, they make the overarching decision. I just
wanted to clarify that.
Senator Eaton: Good morning. Dr. Tarazona, when you're talking
about peer review, you do a peer review through the different member states.
Is the standard of testing the same on the same crop or are there different
crops and different standards of testing? We know in the U.K. they have not
banned the use of neonics.
Mr. Tarazona: The standards are basically the same, but the peer
review includes the specific uses. The risk assessment is for every use, so
the conclusion of the risk assessment can be different for different crops.
Senator Eaton: We know in this country that in our western
provinces where we grow a lot of canola neonics have not played a
substantial part, but in the middle of the country, in Quebec and Ontario,
where they grow more corn and soya, the honeybee death is higher, people
feel, because of neonics and the way the different crops are seeded. But
that is not the case in the EU. It has been the same throughout, no matter
what the crop is?
Mr. Tarazona: We have specific requirements for the crop so the
assessment is different for the conditions of the crop and also the
applications. The risk if you spray over the crop or if you use seeds
treated with insecticides is different. This has been assessed in Europe.
The concept has been that some of the uses have been banned but not all
the uses. I will send this information to you later on.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much.
Ms. Rortais, you talked at the beginning about physical, biological,
nutritional and environmental stressors on honeybees. Can you prioritize
them for me? Can you prioritize that list? Which would you place at the top
of your list? Is overwintering in southern states the same as it is in
Ms. Rortais: With the first question, I cannot prioritize,
although some people do it. The reason for not prioritizing is that there is
also a variance that is linked, as I said, to the environment, the way the
environment is set up. As your colleague said before, there are geographic
differences so you need to have a careful look at the environment and what
it looks like. When I say the environment, it's in terms of habitat
structure, of crop, whether you have different heterogeneous or homogeneous
crop systems. It could also be in terms of microclimate. It could be also in
terms of pathogen loads, or there could also be exposure to chemicals. It
really depends on what you've got where you are.
You cannot prioritize because in some areas it could well be that
pathogen is the most critical problem, and in other areas it could be both
pathogens and chemicals. In others, intense agricultural exposure could be
higher. It is case-by- case, I think. It's very difficult to prioritize when
you don't know what the environment looks like.
Senator Eaton: Are you saying case-by-case, country-by-country or
crop-by-country, or are you really talking geographically?
Ms. Rortais: I think it is a combination of all this, because you
have to take into account all stakeholders. You have the farmers, the
beekeepers; you have also the natural environment. These are the different
layers that you could have.
Senator Eaton: Are varroa mites a problem in the EU?
Ms. Rortais: From what we sampled, as I mentioned before, from
this new program that was conducted in 17 member states, we have a wide
variation from a few per cent to 87 per cent varroa. It could be possible
that in the way the questionnaire was interpreted by beekeepers, there may
be some kind of bias in the reporting of the varroas. When you have to
interpret varroas you have to be careful about whether it's the reporting or
whether it's a true geographic difference.
I'm sorry for not being more precise than that, but I'm a scientist and
as a scientist you always have to be very careful in analyzing all the
information that you have, to have the full picture.
Senator Eaton: We know that about political polls. Thank you very
Senator Robichaud: Did I hear correctly in your presentation that
you were still in the process of defining a protocol for risk assessment of
insecticides? If so, at what stage are you in the process? Did I
misunderstand what you said?
Mr. Tarazona: Sorry if I was not sufficiently clear. There are two
levels. One is the guidance. The EFSA guidance is already published. The
guidance means how to use the results of the studies. This was published,
but nevertheless we are conducting a restructuring of the guidance.
In order to get the information for the risk assessment, you need to
conduct some studies. Many of the studies that are suggested in the guidance
have no guidelines that have been agreed upon internationally, normally at
What we are doing now is in the EFSA guidance there are some suggestions
on how to conduct those studies, and we are offering the possibility of
revising protocols for conducting those studies. The protocol is for a
particular study. The results of the study will be used according to the
In other words, if you have the study as a protocol, if the protocol has
been already agreed at the international level, obviously we have no
problems. If not, we are offering support on how to perform the study.
Senator Robichaud: Madam, would you care to add?
Ms. Rortais: I would say that the protocols need some
implementations. As I said also in my presentation, this is one of our
recommendations. For example, for sublethal effects we need validated
protocols, and the OECD is working on it. This is very urgent. We urgently
need validated protocols for sublethal effects. That's a reality. That's
something that was highlighted in our report.
Senator Robichaud: How close are you to realizing your goal of
having that protocol in place?
Mr. Tarazona: We are trying to cooperate with the OECD. There are
a lot of activities at the OECD. Some of the protocols are very close to
being finalized. For the sublethal effects they are still far away in some
cases. Even the end points, the parameters that you need to measure in the
study protocols are still not fully defined.
The question is that we cannot wait. If something is really relevant, we
cannot wait until the protocol has been agreed upon at the international
level, so we are using scientific recommendations in the guidance to have
some recommendations on protocols for bee studies. It's just in the interim
approach, not to postpone the decision-making until the protocols are
This, at least in Europe, but I guess in Canada, is normal practice. When
you have a scientific concern before there is a final protocol, something
needs to be done. That is an agreement between the industry and the
authority. The support to the applicants in Europe is with the member
states, and the EFSA is supporting that.
Senator Maltais: I will ask a multi-facetted question. First, what
is the average mortality rate in EU beehives? Second, is there a difference
between the mortality rates in Western and Eastern countries, taking into
account the Alps? Third, do you export packaged bees overseas?
Ms. Rortais: The reports EFSA published in 2009 included the
colony mortality in Europe. From this report the baseline mortality was 10
per cent. We now have the new EPILOBEE project that I mentioned earlier to
your colleagues. The results from this project were presented last Monday,
so it's very fresh. There is mortality that spans from, as far as I
remember, around 5 per cent to over 30 per cent. I would need to go back to
the precise data because this is all very new; it's just a couple of days.
I don't have the data, it's just on my mind, but it's considered to be
around 10 or 15 per cent, as far as I remember. That's over thousands of
colonies that have been sampled in Europe. From the EFSA report, which was
conducted in a harmonized way, 10 per cent was the baseline.
I hope I answered your first subquestion. Did you understand me?
Senator Maltais: Yes.
Ms. Rortais: Okay. For the second question, you asked me about
this gradient difference between east and west. Again, from the recent study
we show that there is a difference that is not east-west, but north and
south. The highest mortalities are from northern countries, Northern Europe.
It's Denmark, U.K., Sweden, Finland, and I think maybe I'm missing one
country. The average in the centre of Europe and the lowest mortality is in
the southern parts. This is your second subquestion.
It's the preliminary analysis that was communicated last Monday, so I
think these people who collected thousands of data still need to assess and
go through statistical analysis to show the full picture, but these are the
first preliminary results that we have: north to south.
The third subquestion was about packaging bees. What was your question
again? Was it how much we export?
Senator Maltais: Does the European Community export packaged bees?
Ms. Rortais: It's not my area of expertise so I cannot answer you,
but I can find information and send it to you if this is okay.
Senator Dagenais: You clearly explained that bee mortality rates
vary among EU countries, same as they vary between Canada's Eastern and
Do you know whether the countries have a protocol for centralizing
databases containing information on mortality rates?
Do you know whether the rates fluctuate in a similar manner around the
world? What are you doing in your field to try to address or at least use
those fluctuations in mortality rates?
Ms. Rortais: I would say that in the States, you have the Bee
Informed Partnership. The Bee Informed Partnership is a system that is
automated, so beekeepers can report mortalities. It's a huge database that
is available where, for many years, they have reported colony losses.
In Europe, as I said before, we have the EPILOBEE project. In 2009,
following the recommendations of EFSA, the European Commission decided to
set up a European reference laboratory, and this reference laboratory
started two years ago — this European pan-surveillance monitoring project in
17 member states. All the data were filled in a web- based database. It is
The good thing about this European data collection effort is that it is
the first, it's very exhaustive and harmonized, and is the first time we
started up a strong protocol. It is fully implemented. This is something we
would like to expand to all of European member states — not only the 17
member states but 27 member states, but it costs a lot of money. It's also
mostly based on voluntary support from beekeepers who are collecting this
information for further analysis.
Yes, there are databases where colony losses are reported, but if we only
collect numbers on mortality, it's not self- explaining. So we also need to
collect, as I said, all the factors that may influence bees in the
environment: pathogens, but also chemical exposure and veterinary products
that the beekeepers use. We also need to know about the landscape structure,
which also has an effect not only on honeybees but wild bees. This
information has to be gathered in a common database to be analyzed, together
with bee mortality.
This is something that we recommend strongly.
The next step is to collect information from the environment and link
this information to bee mortality. I hope I answered your question.
The Chair: Mr. Tarazona, do you have any comments on those
Mr. Tarazona: No, thank you. That's not my field.
Senator McIntyre: We all understand the importance of bees, not
only for honey production but also for the key role they play in both the
agricultural system and the preservation of a healthy ecosystem. Keeping
this in mind, I understand that farmers, governments, beekeepers, seed
dealers, pesticide manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, academics and
scientists are all working in variety of ways to find solutions to this
complex issue of bee health.
What is the relationship between these various groups and the European
Food Safety Authority? Is there good cooperation between them?
Mr. Tarazona: Regarding specifically the assessment of pesticides,
the European Food Safety Authority is based on the scientific panels, and
they are independent scientists in academia and that is researchers and
additional independent scientists from different research laboratories,
universities and institutes in Europe. So there is a connection between the
authority and the scientific world through the activities on the panels and
the working groups.
We also have a direct contact with the experts in the member states; for
example, the peer review is done in close cooperation with the experts in
member states. We also have contacts with industry and NGOs through the
stakeholder platform. We are trying to collect all the information.
In many of the cases, as much as this is needed, we have hearings of
specific experts but also public consultations that everybody can send
information to us. We organize specific colloquiums, scientific activities
and information sessions to try to create a network that has all the
expertise required for the assessment of pesticides.
It is similar in all the other fields. Perhaps Agnes can complete the
picture specifically for the bee assessment.
Senator McIntyre: Ms. Rortais, would you wish to present your
Ms. Rortais: For bees, we recently organized a scientific
colloquium at EFSA. This is one way of gathering people from different
angles, with different perspectives — NGOs, farmers, industries, beekeepers,
scientists, regulators, people from the European Commission, risk managers —
everybody was there at the meeting we organized last May. In that respect,
we try to gather all people to have a better view of the problem and all the
At the European Commission level, there is currently a research project
called SUPER-B that is coordinated by Dr. Biesmeijer. This project will look
at pollination services and that includes honeybees and also wild bees,
because the different stakeholders need to be involved. There are also, on
the science level, the honeybee specialists and the wild bee specialists,
and we need to gather them, because when we are talking about pollination,
it's not only honey bees but also wild bees. The recent project shows that
it is also very important to have information on the wild pollinators that
play an important role in pollination.
These are the recent activities that gather all stakeholders. In the
SUPER-B, you have the scientists, industry, NGOs and the European
Commission. This should start in the coming months.
Senator Oh: Good morning. Is there any direct cooperation between
Canada and the EU countries? We have only two countries in the North America
— mainly U.S. and Canada — and you have 27 member states, so it must be
tough on pollination issues.
Mr. Tarazona: Specifically in the area of pesticides, last week at
the OECD meeting we had the pleasure of being with colleagues responsible
for the pesticide risk assessment and authorization in Canada for the risk
assessment. In the past, we have tried to establish cooperation to ensure
the information for the risk assessments is similar.
There are some connections and we have also planned some specific
cooperation in the risk assessment of neonicotinoids for bees, because that
is of high relevance both in Canada and in the EU. My understanding from our
colleagues in Canada is they are also conducting the assessment, and it will
probably result in more cooperation between Europe and Canada. That is
Senator Oh: My second question is —
The Chair: Ms. Rortais, do you want to comment and then we will go
to the second question of Senator Oh?
Ms. Rortais: Yes, I just want to add that last year and this year
we had collaborations with Canada through a cluster of pollinators on
pollinators' issues. That's for the bee aspect, and this was precisely with
Health Canada. Within this cluster, there were also representatives from
USDA, EPA and some of these people are also participating in the OECD
working group that EFSA also joined.
Senator Oh: My second question is: Are we the first government
body or committee inviting you for this kind of dialogue?
Mr. Tarazona: Well, I'm new in my position. I joined EFSA six
months ago so I'm not sure if we had invitations from other governments to
the previous head of the pesticide unit. In my case, I was in the European
Parliament, but outside Europe you are the first. However, with regard to
the risk assessment, we also have contact with the U.S., as well as with
Ms. Rortais: I'm not aware but as Mr. Tarazona said, I would need
to check because this is the first time I've had such an exchange. So I
can't confirm, but it's the first time for me.
Senator Oh: Thank you.
The Chair: Now we will go to the second round.
Senator Robichaud: Ms. Rortais, in your presentation you say you
have collated 201 projects and in a note further down you say projects on
bees, other than honeybees, missing at MS level. You mentioned, in an answer
to Senator McIntyre, the wild bees.
How much information do you have on the effect of pesticides or
insecticides on the wild bee population?
Ms. Rortais: Yes, that's a very good point. At EFSA we, when we
say bees, it includes honeybees and wild bees. In the recent risk assessment
we drafted on bees, the information that we gathered was mostly on
honeybees. It is a reality that we need more research data on wild bees, but
it's also linked to the fact that wild bees are diverse. There are thousands
of species and each of them has a very specific habitat, life histories.
It's tremendous work to gather all this information, so the answer is that
we have more data on honeybees, domesticated bees than wild bees. I'm not
sure I understood your question regarding member states. What was the
question about member states?
Senator Robichaud: The question was that there were projects on
bees, other than honeybees, which were missing from member states. That was
Ms. Rortais: The figure is about 90 per cent or even higher; I
think 95 per cent of projects that were conducted at the national level in
member states were on honeybees. But if you look at European funded
projects, it's the trend is reversed. It's on wild bees. You should not
compare member states and European Commission funded projects, because
European Commission funded projects are usually gathering large consortiums
of people with higher resources and lots of publications behind them. These
are very recent projects and they are still ongoing, so we are still waiting
for the results. Some are just being published at the moment and they were
presented last Monday, such as STEP. This is an EU project on wild bees and
they are publishing interesting things. You also have the URBANBEES project
Senator Robichaud: That's right. Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. Tarazona, do you have any comments on that question
on wild bees?
Mr. Tarazona: Yes, I have a comment from the risk assessment
perspective on pesticides. It's important to consider that the protection
goals and consequences will be different. In the case of honeybees, we are
protecting a particular species that has been domesticated, used for the
production of food, honey, as well as additional products. So it is very
specific assessment with the colony as well. It is the colony not the bees
that is important.
In the case of wild bees, the situation is different. Protection is
linked to biodiversity, so we need to protect all the different species. But
we also have to protect at the population level and ecosystem services, if
this is, for example, pollination that can be done by different species. We
need to have a very different kind of assessment than for honeybees. Also,
it is a different kind of information required from honeybees and from wild
Senator Buth: Mr. Tarazona, I have a technical question. You
mentioned three of the neonicotinoid pesticides and then you mentioned one
other product. Can you tell me what that product is? I missed it.
Mr. Tarazona: The product is another insecticide. The name is
fipronil. It is not of the neonicotinoids family, but nevertheless it has
also been regulated in Europe.
Senator Buth: It is primarily a foliar product?
Mr. Tarazona: I need to check. I can check the EFSA conclusions on
Senator Buth: Okay. I'm also not sure if you have this information
or not right now, but are the neonicotinoids used for foliar uses in Europe
in addition to seed treatments?
Mr. Tarazona: The foliar uses have been banned as well. The
assessment of EFSA did not cover foliar uses, but the commission made the
decision to ban the foliar uses as well. Now we are working on risk
assessment for foliar uses, covering these preventive measures that banned
these uses as well. For the information that you requested before examining
which uses are still authorized, basically some uses can be allowed for the
crops that are not attractive to bees, but it's a long list of crops and
even some conditions. I will forward all the information because it would be
impossible for me to read all the information now. Basically, the use is
allowed for seed treatment in applications for non-attractive crops for
Senator Buth: The seed treatments are still allowed for use in
Europe on some crops.
Mr. Tarazona: Some seed treatments, depending on the season, are
allowed, and other seed treatments are forbidden. There is a long list of
banned seed treatments.
The Chair: Mr. Tarazona and Ms. Rortais, thank you on behalf of
the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry and on behalf of
the Senate of Canada. The comments you shared with us have been educational,
instructive and enlightening in respect of the committee's order of
reference and mandate.
If you decide to have a great vacation, do not forget Canada. As we are
closing, do you have a last comment for us?
Ms. Rortais: I am married to a Canadian, so I know that it's a
Mr. Tarazona: I'm not married to a Canadian, but I have been in
Canada for both work and holidays. It is a very nice country.
On behalf of the European Food Safety Authority, we thank you for
considering the authority opinion useful to your committee. We are glad to
have been able to support you. If there is something more that you want from
us or to further explore cooperation between EFSA and Canada we will be very
happy to consider the possibility for the future.
The Chair: Honourable senators and witnesses, I declare the
(The committee adjourned.)