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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue No. 16 - Evidence - Meeting of October 6, 2016


OTTAWA, Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 8 a.m. to consider the Government response to the Ninth Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, entitled: The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food Production in Canada, tabled and adopted in the Senate on May 27, 2015.

Senator Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Chair) in the chair.

The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia, and I'm the deputy chair of the committee.

I would like to start by asking senators to introduce themselves, and I will start on my left.

Senator Beyak: Lynn Beyak, Ontario.

Senator Oh: Senator Oh, Ontario.

[Translation]

Senator Pratte: André Pratte from Quebec.

Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.

[English]

Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.

The Deputy Chair: Today the committee is hearing from officials concerning the government's response to our study on bee health tabled in the Senate on May 27, 2015. From Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, we have Ms. Andrea Johnston, Director General, Sector Development and Analysis Directorate, Market and Industry Services Branch; and Dr. Stephen F. Pernal, PhD, Research Scientist and Officer-in-Charge, Beaverlodge Research Farm, Science and Technology Branch. From the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we have Dr. Jaspinder Komal, Executive Director and Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Animal Health Directorate. And from Health Canada, we have Mr. Scott Kirby, Director, Environmental Assessment Directorate, Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

Thank you for accepting our invitation to appear. I would now invite the witnesses to make their presentations, and I would ask that you keep your presentation to between five and seven minutes.

Following the presentations made by the witnesses, a question and answer session will take place. Each senator will be given five minutes to ask questions before the chair recognizes another senator. There will be as many rounds of questions as time will allow, so senators do not need to feel required to ask all their questions at once. I would ask senators to be succinct and to the point in asking the questions, and I would ask the witnesses to do the same. Thank you very much.

Now we will begin with Ms. Johnston.

Andrea Johnston, Director General, Sector Development and Analysis Directorate, Market and Industry Services Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Thank you for the opportunity. As noted in our formal response to the committee's report, we agree with the overall conclusions of the committee that bee health is of a paramount importance to the production of food and seed and that continued research and collaboration with stakeholders should be pursued in order to ensure bee health.

[Translation]

I welcome the opportunity to provide an update on the activities that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has been engaged in since your report was finalized in May 2015.

[English]

My colleagues from the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will speak separately and respond to your questions regarding your recommendations related to their respective areas of responsibility.

Those recommendations which relate to AAFC's areas of responsibility include those on the bee health surveillance project, research on pollinator health, improvement to management practices and initiatives to improve pollinator habitat.

The committee also suggested that the AAFC-sponsored Bee Health Forum, now known as the Bee Health Roundtable, play a particular role in some of these areas.

I will speak briefly about AAFC's collaborations with the round table, and I will ask my colleague, Dr. Pernal, AAFC's lead scientist specializing in honeybee research, to update you on some of our research work.

[Translation]

First though, let me begin by sharing some of the latest indicators on bee health and the beekeeping sector in Canada.

[English]

The most recent numbers available show that Canada's 8,533 beekeepers produced 95.3 million pounds of honey in 2015, up 11 per cent from 2014. This represents a value of over $232 million, and AAFC further estimates that the total economic contribution of honeybee pollination to Canada's agriculture ranges from $3.15 billion to $4.39 billion per year.

The total number of honeybee colonies in Canada reached 721,000 in 2015, which represents a 3.6 per cent increase over 2014 and is 9 per cent higher than the previous five-year average population.

Beekeepers decide whether to grow their beekeeping operations by increasing the number of colonies based on their estimation of the costs and the opportunities to generate revenue from those hives through pollination fees, honey production or production of more queens and bees for sale.

[Translation]

Another indicator of bee health is the magnitude of annual overwintering colony losses.

[English]

Overwinter losses can vary widely from year to year, place to place, and beekeeper to beekeeper depending on the profile of the weather in the fall and spring, changing disease and pest challenges, and management practices.

For the winter 2015-16 the national average percentage of colony winter loss was 16.8 per cent. Provincial averages ranged from 7.7 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador to 24.4 per cent in Prince Edward Island. Similar to last year, the reported national colony loss is one of the lowest losses since 2006-07 and could be indicative of a gradually improving trend in recent years.

Turning now to the activities of our multi-stakeholder Bee Health Roundtable, let me first say how gratified and encouraged we are at the strong support and participation the round table continues to draw from its diverse membership of beekeepers, producers, researchers, input suppliers and federal and provincial partners. In fact, the decision to transition the forum into a round table was a result of a mutual recognition that bee health requires a long-term, multi-faceted commitment of time, coordination and resources.

While the full round table provides a forum for information exchange, dialogue and long-term strategy planning, working groups have been organized to implement specific initiatives. Working groups are currently addressing research, pollinator habitat and surroundings, varroa mite control, reduction of pesticide exposure, honeybee nutrition, best management practices and communications.

For example, new communications products, including a communications plan supported by fact sheets and key messages and a compendium of activities related to bee health, provide a basis for members to better inform their stakeholders of bee health considerations and engage them in current activities.

The round table and member organizations have also been actively engaged in building awareness of the round table both inside and outside the country.

Work was also completed to develop coordinated national best management practices, integrating regional approaches where appropriate in a format ready for distribution to beekeepers. This will be published and shared with stakeholders in the coming weeks.

A common standard for the definition of a healthy hive for reporting of overwinter losses was developed and implemented. This is a standard benchmark which will support greater consistency and understanding in responding to bee health circumstances by the public and policy-makers.

An inventory of Canadian international research publications linked to bee health was prepared. A gap analysis of the inventory against Bee Health Roundtable priorities provides the basis for the development of a framework for a national bee health research agenda, which will be discussed with provincial partners to identify opportunities for action in the coming months.

In addition, a project is under way to identify planting, production and rehabilitation efforts and practices that can be used by stakeholders to improve habitat and regional environments.

Finally, a nutrition working group is engaged with partners in a major U.S. international bee nutrition research effort, working to ensure that Canadian perspectives and issues are addressed.

[Translation]

In summary, the stakeholders at the federal, provincial and industry levels are engaged on a wide variety of activities to support bee health, many of which are coordinated through the Bee Health Roundtable.

[English]

The issue of honeybees and pollinator health remains top of mind in many jurisdictions in Canada with a continuing high degree of public interest. AAFC remains committed to actively working with stakeholders to ensure a sustainable future for beekeeping and agriculture.

I will now ask Dr. Pernal to give you further details on our recent research activities.

Dr. Stephen F. Pernal, Ph.D., Research Scientist and Officer-in-Charge, Beaverlodge Research Farm, Science and Technology Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada: Good morning Mr. Chair and honourable senators of the standing committee.

I'm Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's lead scientist specializing in honeybee research, and I'm here today to represent the science and technology branch.

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

AAFC has its national honeybee research program located in Beaverlodge, Alberta, which is led by me and employs two permanent technicians. A recent addition to our bee research team is Dr. Marta Guarna, who has been employed since June 2015 as a scientist. We also anticipate hiring an additional permanent technician to support our program during the upcoming year. Our efforts are further complemented by graduate students and a post-doctoral fellow.

AAFC also has a scientist specializing in native bees located here in Ottawa and a native biologist in Kentville, Nova Scotia; Brandon, Manitoba; and Calgary, Alberta.

AAFC is working on several ongoing honeybee-related projects. For example, we are developing recommendations for detecting and treating colonies infected with Nosema ceranae, a newly introduced parasite associated with higher rates of colony losses. In addition, we are developing techniques to disinfect beekeeping equipment exposed to this pest and methods to detect products used for its treatment that may persist in beehives.

We are also continuing to analyze samples from agricultural pesticide residues in honey, pollen and beeswax throughout Alberta. Moreover, we are examining concentrations of products currently registered for the control of diseases or mites of honeybees that may also accumulate in these matrices.

Analytical chemistry support for these activities has been provided through a long-standing partnership with the Agri-Food Laboratories Branch in Edmonton, part of the Province of Alberta's Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

In the last two years, AAFC has funded several new projects involving bee health. For example, we are currently engaged in a project which examines the interactive role that certain risk factors — namely, Nosema ceranae parasitism, nutrition and pesticides — have in honeybee colony survival within honey-producing and pollination beekeeping operations across different regions of the country. A second component of this project also examines the diversity of wild pollinators and agricultural ecosystems and factors that may affect their abundance and overall health.

The department has recently approved a new project which began during the summer of 2016 to document the prevalence of a newly described singular cellular parasite in Canadian honeybee populations and to assess its potential on bee health.

In 2014, AAFC committed $1 million to a four-year national surveillance project led by the Alberta Beekeepers Commission in cooperation with other participating provinces. This project, now in its third year, analyzes bees from across the country for new and existing diseases, pests and parasites as well as chemical residues. These data will allow beekeepers and policy-makers to respond appropriately to mitigate existing and potential threats to honeybee health.

AAFC's honeybee program has also been successful in garnering significant external funding from scientific and industry-led funding consortiums to address other concerns of the beekeeping industry. These include studying factors related to the viability of sperm and newly mated honeybee queens imported into Canada as well as looking at the role that honeybees and native bees can play to maximize the pollination of canola crops.

In 2016, we embarked on a large-scale genomic project with several other research groups across the country to develop genetic markers that will enable beekeepers to breed bees more resistant to mites and diseases. This is the largest collaborative project involving honeybees in Canada and brings together experts from universities and government with many unique and complementary skills.

In terms of diagnostic capacity, AAFC operates a laboratory at Beaverlodge Research Farm capable of performing basic diagnostics as well as more advanced microbiological and molecular biology techniques. We also operate a 400-colony honeybee operation for doing research.

In recent years, our ability to provide lab diagnostics has substantially increased through a formalized partnership with our local post-secondary institution, Grande Prairie Regional College. The college, with support from Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Rural Alberta Development Fund, built the National Bee Diagnostic Centre at Beaverlodge Research Farm. This custom-built laboratory has been fully operating since the spring of 2013 and actively partners with our AAFC research program, thereby extending our diagnostic capacity. In 2016, Grande Prairie Regional College has also applied to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada's Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund for a major expansion of this facility.

In closing, AAFC has been working diligently to seek answers concerning bee health in Canada and create partners to provide the diagnostic capacity it requires to engage in leading-edge research.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

Dr. Jaspinder Komal, Executive Director and Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Animal Health Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable senators, for the opportunity to appear today.

[Translation]

My name is Jaspinder Komal and I am the Executive Director of the Animal Health Directorate at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer for Canada.

[English]

The CFIA is pleased to respond to recommendations that involve the agency that appear in the report entitled The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food Production in Canada. As a science-based regulatory agency that is dedicated to safeguarding plants, animals and food and that works to promote the health and well-being of Canada's people, environment and economy, the CFIA appreciates the valuable information that has been collected through this report. The agency recognizes that bee populations are essential to the health and vitality of the Canadian agriculture sector.

At CFIA, we do comprehensive risk assessments of diseases and other factors influencing bee health. We then collaborate with partners to develop and implement options for risk management. I mention this to give context to the Government of Canada's response to the first part of Recommendation 1, which recommended that Health Canada and the CFIA amend the Honeybee Importation Prohibition Regulations, 2004, in order to allow the importation of bee packages from the United States while developing additional methods and tools to improve the inspection of imported honeybee packages.

The government acknowledges the recommendation.

In 2014, the CFIA completed a full import risk assessment for honeybee packages from the U.S. The risk assessment was circulated for comment prior to being finalized. The risk of introducing honeybee diseases and parasites from honeybee packages from the U.S. was determined to be unacceptable. To protect Canada's bee industry, the border remains closed.

The CFIA's risk assessment was circulated to all provincial apiculturists to determine whether mitigating measures could be put in place to safely allow the import of honeybee packages. The majority of provinces replied that there were no mitigating measures available to minimize the risk. The Honeybee Importation Prohibition Regulations, also called the Honeybee Prohibition Order, came into effect in 1987 when varroa mites were discovered in the U.S. This prohibition order effectively closed the border to imports of all honeybees from the U.S.

Prohibition orders are measures put into place in emergency situations, such as in the case of a disease outbreak in a third country, when there is no other regulatory mechanism to prohibit the entry into Canada of an animal, animal by-product or product that represents a risk of introducing diseases or pests.

The Honeybee Prohibition Order was renewed several times. As a result of a risk assessment completed in 2003, the prohibition order was amended in 2004 to allow the importation of honeybee queens from the U.S.

In 2006, the Health of Animals Regulations were amended to include a section regarding the importation of honeybees. Consequently, the Honeybee Prohibition Order was allowed to expire and was repealed in 2015.

Under the Health of Animals Regulations, honeybees can now only be imported into Canada at the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food via an import permit.

The federal and provincial jurisdictions share responsibility for managing bee health in Canada, and the CFIA works primarily at the national level. We do this by designating certain bee diseases as regulated and reportable diseases, which means that specific disease control measures must be applied. We also provide guidance to the bee industry through the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard.

This brings me to Recommendation 2, which recommends that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in conjunction with the provinces and territories and in collaboration with industry stakeholders, accelerate the implementation of the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard through adequate funding and management activities.

The government supports this recommendation.

Under AAFC's Growing Forward Policy Framework, the CFIA collaborated with stakeholders to produce a volunteer biosecurity standard for the Canadian bee industry. The standard was published in 2013. It provides guidelines to assist honeybee, alfalfa leafcutting bee and bumblebee beekeepers in the proactive management of pests and diseases.

Activities in the development of the standard were guided by the Bee Biosecurity Advisory Committee with representatives from producer associations, provincial apiarists, bumblebee industry experts, researchers and the CFIA.

The CFIA remains committed to a strong and healthy honey and beekeeping sector as part of a sustainable and competitive agricultural system. We will continue to support this goal through collaboration with industry and other government partners.

Thank you again for this opportunity to appear today.

[Translation]

Scott Kirby, Director General, Environmental Assessment Directorate, Pest Management and Regulatory Agency, Health Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Honourable senators, my name is Scott Kirby, Director General of the Environmental Assessment Directorate at Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA). As the federal regulator of pesticides, we are a key partner in addressing the issue of bee health in Canada. I'm here today to share with you the actions PMRA has been taking to protect bees, and more broadly, pollinators in general.

The committee's report on bee health and sustainable food production contained a number of recommendations that fell under PMRA's purview. The government response outlines in detail the ways in which PMRA is supporting these recommendations, but I'd like to take this opportunity to give you an overview of progress we've made towards these goals.

[English]

The committee recommended that the PMRA address concerns around conditionally registered pesticides. In January of this year, we consulted with Canadians and stakeholders on our intent to discontinue conditional registrations altogether. The majority of stakeholders supported this approach, and a regulatory directive was published in June of this year announcing that conditional registrations would no longer be granted. Existing conditional registrations are expected to be resolved by the end of 2017.

As recommended in the Senate committee's report, PMRA continues to monitor pollinator mortality to assess whether mandatory mitigation measures implemented in 2014 have been effective. With these mitigation measures in place, the number of incidents reported during the planting periods of 2014 and 2015 decreased by approximately 70 per cent and 80 per cent respectively from the numbers reported in 2013, which is a significant improvement. Reports from the 2016 planting season indicate that the positive trend we've observed in the past two years has continued. A report will be published soon.

Progress is continuing on our scientific re-evaluation of the neonicotinoid pesticides, as recommended by the committee. This evaluation uses a new pollinator risk assessment framework which was developed in partnership with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. This framework represents an advance in how we assess the risk posed by pesticides to bees and allows improved pollinator protection in our regulatory decision and communication measures.

A preliminary pollinator assessment for imidacloprid was published for consultation earlier this year, and no significant risks for honeybees were identified. Impacts to native bees were also considered, and additional information is being assessed as we work to finalize this assessment. Re-evaluation of other health and environmental aspects of imidacloprid is ongoing, and we expect to publish these findings later this year.

Pollinator assessments for clothianidin and thiamethoxam will follow in 2017. These re-evaluations continue to be a priority to the PMRA, and we will continue to consult on decisions with all stakeholders and Canadians.

Bee health is a complex issue, and more work is required to understand all the factors which contribute to periodic increases in mortality. We are continuing to collaborate with all stakeholders nationally and internationally to generate the knowledge we need to protect the long-term health of bee populations in Canada and worldwide.

Thank you for the opportunity to update you on this important issue.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you all for your presentations. We do appreciate it, and we'll now start with a first question from Senator Dagenais.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: My first question is for Ms. Johnston. In view of the results obtained in recent years in Ontario and Quebec, is there an agricultural practice that the government could implement, as regards the use of pesticides in particular, and that all provinces could adopt in order to better protect bees? Or is it preferable to continue on a regional basis?

[English]

Ms. Johnston: Thank you, senator, for that question.

The issue between national efforts and regional efforts is an interesting one. What we've seen in some of the results is that bee health is complex in the sense that it's weather-dependent. Weather has an impact. So it does make sense to address some of the declining bee colony trends from a regional perspective in particular.

That being said, the value of the Bee Health Roundtable, the multi-stakeholder roundtable, is to share experiences. So Alberta may be seeing an increased prevalence of certain pests and share that result in order to broaden the understanding of it, and other provincial associations may start looking more closely for those pests.

I don't think it is one or the other. It is a bit of a national effort and a regional or provincial approach.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: Mr. Kirby, some bee farmers in the Atlantic provinces would have liked to import bees from the United States. The distance and cost of such imports do of course have to be considered.

Do you think the import regulations could be relaxed? Moreover, do you think we have the methods in place to monitor the quality and health of imported bees?

Mr. Kirby: Thank you for your question, senator. As to the import of bees, since my area of specialization is pesticides, I will let Mr. Komal answer.

Senator Dagenais: Yes, that's fine.

Dr. Komal: As I said in my presentation, imports are subject to regulations. When a country asks us to export or import bees or queens, we assess the risk based on these regulations.

This allows us to verify the health of bees in that country and to be sure we do not import undesirable diseases into Canada, or at the very least we can determine that the risk of propagation is negligible or nil. It is on the basis of the results of this assessment that we authorize imports.

Once the bees are in Canada, we continue to assess the risk and monitor activities to ensure that diseases are not spread.

[English]

Senator Pratte: The numbers indicate there are apparently some positive trends in bee health that are very encouraging. You do indicate that this is a very complex issue. Do you have an indication of which measures taken over the last few years have been the most successful and have contributed the most to these positive trends?

Dr. Pernal: That's not a straightforward question to answer, but with increased levels of monitoring that are occurring and perhaps better levels of extension across all provinces, especially in the commercial beekeeping sector, I believe our beekeepers have better information with which to make management decisions so that beekeepers are better informed of some of the risks with our beekeeping operations in this increasingly complex world with many pressures on bees. Those beekeepers need that information.

We have been fortunate to have some good products for varroa control, which when used properly can lower pressures with that mite to a fairly acceptable level. In general in Canada, the control of varroa mite is good across most provinces. One of the concerns people have is making sure those tools remain in place because it is rather universally acknowledged that control of varroa mites is one of the keystone problems affecting bees throughout the world.

Other than that, I think beekeepers are also at the mercy of things like weather. Another big factor affecting winter survival is the harshness of winter. Across most areas in Canada, with the exception of the Maritimes, we did have better weather. Certain environmental factors play a role in winter survival.

Senator Pratte: Earlier this week we heard from honey producers who were very worried about lower prices for honey, if I understood correctly, due to new imports of honey from other countries. They talked about the problem of low-quality honey that was altered with rice syrup, and they were worried that there wasn't enough control of those low-quality products at the border, which are apparently getting into, I don't know, other food products or whatever. I think they had contact with Agriculture Canada and probably the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Are measures being taken to protect Canadian consumers and also obviously Canadian honey producers?

Dr. Komal: I'll take that. Thank you, senator. In short, yes, we have control measures in place. Just to explain that we have control measures to make sure that adulteration does not occur in the honey that is produced domestically or the honey that is imported. We have an inspection system that is based on risk, and of course we don't test every shipment, but based on historical data, we'll do planning for the next year to do inspections.

In normal inspections we test every certain number of shipments, and then if we start seeing contamination or adulteration in shipments that are coming from a particular country, that will trigger an enhanced inspection. That enhanced inspection stays for a certain period of time until we find that the country is actually complying with the rules that we have in place here.

If we continue to see a problem from a particular country or if we hear from other partners that import honey from these countries, then we can go to targeted inspection of these shipments. That means we look particularly for a shipment from a specific country where we think there is a problem, and we keep testing them. Eventually, if it doesn't stop, then we can actually go to the country and say, "We will not import shipments because you have been a chronic violator of our rules.'' So, yes, we have a system in place.

In terms of your other question about honey prices, I think trade, as it is internationally, if the country qualifies for export of honey to Canada, then I think we have to allow these products to come in, and the market then determines the price point. Similarly, I think Canadian honey is also eligible to be exported to other countries, so there's an issue of competition with other countries.

Senator Pratte: Producers seem to be saying that there are new technical means of altering their honey that is harder to detect. Do you have the technical or scientific means to detect new ways of altering honey?

Dr. Komal: Yes, we continue to develop new methods. We have our labs that support us. Across Canada, we have food chemistry labs that continue to look for detection methods for any alterations. We also work with like-minded countries because they are also facing similar problems, so we share information and methodology with them. If we can't develop it in Canada, we will work in partnership with our colleagues to establish those methods. We continue to make sure that there's fair competition and that exporters or producers are providing the product the label says they are providing.

The Deputy Chair: Dr. Komal, nothing works like advertising. This is the first we've heard that we are doing inspections and checking some products coming in. How are we then disseminating that information in the industry? If someone hears that we're inspecting something and we're finding that they're using rice products or something else to alter the quality of the honey coming in, it seems that would start to act as a deterrent. How are we disseminating that information to the industry?

Dr. Komal: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Chair. We can't specifically publicly put out the particular shipment, but we work with the industry associations to provide them information on what is happening generally. We meet with the Canadian Honey Council and other partners to let them know what we are doing. We work with our sister agency, the CBSA, to ensure that they are aware of problems and they actually target and focus on those inspections.

The Deputy Chair: But you've inspected a product coming in and you've found there are some deficiencies or they're not complying with Canadian regulations. Do you then go to the person who has purchased that product and say, "Look, you're buying an inferior product here, and it's not meeting our regulations''? Do you do that?

Dr. Komal: Yes, we do connect with the importer, the exporter and the competent authority in the country from where the honey has come. If we find a violation, if the honey doesn't meet the standard for consumption in Canada, the shipment is held until it comes into compliance with our laws. If it doesn't come into compliance, then we actually order destruction. Our inspector has the right to order destruction if the importer is not able to comply with our laws.

Senator Merchant: Good morning. Thank you very much for coming here and presenting to us.

I have a couple of inquiries regarding the approval process of pesticides and conditional registrations. First of all, the PMRA intends to accelerate the review of new products to address mites and diseases affecting honeybees. We have learned that a new chemical has since been approved to help beekeepers fight against mites.

Could you please tell us what measures have been adopted by the PMRA to efficiently accelerate the registration process of chemicals used in the beekeeping industry? Is it the agency's intent to approve additional chemicals?

Mr. Kirby: Thank you for your question. Yes, you're correct. We have approved an in-hive product, and we are actually reviewing another in-hive product that will hopefully be registered in the near future. Currently eight in-hive products are available for the control of varroa mite. Our commitment is that as products come forward for registration for in-hive use, we'll do our best to accelerate those reviews to get the products on the market as soon as possible. But they do have to undergo a due diligence risk assessment to ensure that the product is safe for human health and the environment.

Senator Merchant: How long does that take?

Mr. Kirby: I couldn't tell you the exact amount of time it takes for the evaluation of an in-hive product, but certainly in excess of a year is a normal evaluation time frame. If you're interested in finding out the exact amount of time, I can get you that information.

Then, as I say, we tend to try to accelerate those to the extent possible when there's an urgent need, depending on the workload of the agency and the priority in which the product is needed.

Senator Merchant: I think it is your intention now to stop offering conditional registrations?

Mr. Kirby: That's correct. We consulted with Canadians on that earlier this year and issued our final decision just this summer, so we'll no longer be accepting conditional registrations. The registrations that are currently on the books, and there are a few, we intend to get through the system within the next year, by the end of 2017.

Senator Merchant: According to the report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development published in January 2016, 36 neonic-based pesticides are still conditionally registered. What measures have you taken to address the existing conditional registrations, and how have seed producers reacted to these measures?

Mr. Kirby: The conditionally registered chemicals have a series of data requirements that need to be satisfied before they can receive full registration. In some cases, these data are in-house; in other cases they're continuing to be generated. At this time we're reviewing the information that we have in-house. We're waiting for the additional data, and once that is all in, we will make a final decision on those conditional registrations. At this time, some of those products are due to expire in 2016, and because of that and the timing at which the data is coming in, there may be a need to extend the conditional registrations in order to review that data. But, as I said, the plan is to try to get them all off the books by the end of 2017.

Senator Merchant: How have the seed producers reacted to this plan? Have you heard from them?

Mr. Kirby: In terms of our no longer allowing conditional registrations, I can't speak specifically to the seed producers. Overall, generally, when we went out for consultation, the feedback from stakeholders was positive. Certain areas of the industry, while they accepted the decision, felt that conditional registrations served a purpose. However, in the interest of moving forward with the recommendations of the commissioner, I think this is the right decision to take, and we're no longer accepting them.

Senator Oh: Thank you, witnesses, for being here and for doing such great work. A new disease has been identified in Canada since the committee released its report on bee health. I think they are called zombie honeybees, and they have been found in Western Canada. Is this disease a source of concern for the Canadian industry, and does the Canadian industry have access to pest control products that will protect bees from this disease?

Dr. Pernal: I can answer that. It's interesting how well some issues get circulated in the media. I can assure you the zombie bee issue is not a significant health threat to Canadian bee populations. It must be remembered that, in nature and entomology, there are many parasitic fly species, and this is a natural species that will parasitize flies, and that that family of insects will parasitize other insects.

It is somewhat more prevalent in the U.S., but it is not common, and its incidence in Canada would be relatively low. I believe the one finding was from the province of British Columbia. Findings in Canada are low, but they are not unnatural. I can confidently say they aren't a significant impact to the Canadian honeybee population. I think we're learning more about the wonders of nature, but that is not one we have to worry about severely affecting the Canadian bee population.

Senator Oh: Is the funding you receive from the government sufficient for all the research all of you are doing?

Dr. Pernal: I can partially answer that. What I will acknowledge is that in the last couple of years — and since the last time I spoke to this committee — internally, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Science and Technology Branch, directed funding has been made available for bee research projects specifically. There have also been more opportunities through external funding agencies to leverage funding.

One important part of our research team is the establishment of a second scientific position. That's Dr. Guarna, whom I mentioned previously, and building that infrastructure is critical in the long term to doing more research. There's always a need, perhaps, for greater infrastructure and funding, but I will acknowledge that the department and the Government of Canada have contributed to helping in the bee research area.

Ms. Johnston: I would add that work we do with the USDA in terms of pollinator health is critically important, and that kind of collaboration in science helps us leverage each other's results. Working together, we can achieve some good results.

The Deputy Chair: I would hope that our committee's work drawing attention to the issues might have helped a bit too.

Senator Beyak: Thank you again for your excellent presentations. This committee is watched at home by many Canadians, I guess because we all have to eat and we all care about the quality of the food that we eat.

We're hearing from the producers that there are so many manuals, so many regulations and so much they have to go through instead of just raising their bees and worrying about their health. Meanwhile, other countries have very low standards for production and quality, as Senator Pratte mentioned.

Senator Ogilvie had some suggestions in our last committee about newer ways to monitor that quality. I am very concerned that the products coming in from other countries are not high quality and that we aren't quite as up to date as we should be on checking them.

Dr. Komal: I'll respond to that. Thank you, senator. We are concerned too, and that's why we do have an inspection system. That's number one. We make sure that we continue to test these shipments and do inspections. We are aware that there can be adulteration from third countries whose products are coming in. It's not just the honey, but also other products that come in.

We do a couple of things. One is to make sure that the health of bees is taken care of through the manuals and the biosecurity standards we have developed, but also that the product that these honeybees produce is safe. We work with other developed countries to establish these biosecurity standards and continue to provide that leadership in the international arena, such as the OIE, which is the international body that sets these standards, in the hope that other countries will follow them.

In today's age, the products are moving everywhere and so quickly that we are trying to create a level playing field. So we work with countries like the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and some of our colleagues in the EU to influence those standards and, with the Codex Alimentarius for food and OIE for animals, ensure that they actually follow those standards. It takes some time, but I think we are much farther along today than we were 10, 15 or 20 years ago. We continue to apply that pressure through the international arena and international bodies to make sure that Canadian consumers and producers are well served.

Senator Beyak: I wonder, Dr. Pernal, if you could explain a little bit more about the new parasite that you've just discovered and how we're dealing with it.

Dr. Pernal: The new parasite isn't one that I personally discovered, but some colleagues have done so. It's a trypanosome, which is flagellated; it looks something like a malaria parasite, and could be distantly related. Although it's newly described, the short answer is we don't know much about it. It's been detected in populations of bees in Europe and in the U.S., and we just want to establish its prevalence in Canada.

I can tell you we have detected it among bees in certain parts of Canada, and our new project wishes to establish what the prevalence is and whether it's really having an impact on bees. Not to ring alarm bells, but we may discover it's a parasite that has little significance to bee health, but then again we don't really know. I think it's incumbent on us to understand more about this parasite.

Senator Ogilvie: Thank you. Looking at your titles and responsibilities, I didn't intend to ask a question with regard to importation, because none of your titles made it look like you were responsible in that area. But, Dr. Komal, since you have ventured into this area by responding to senators on the issue of the quality of imports, I want to put this to you: Your answers, to me, sounded generic with regard to our processes, and so on, with regard to how we would deal with products at the border. I want to focus specifically on the relatively dramatic increase in imports from certain countries in the past 12 months, roughly, and the consequent fairly dramatic drop in price to the producer of honey produced in Canada.

To me, as to the changes that have occurred, it is coming from countries that have — some of which have — at least in the public mind, questionable records with regard to the quality of their products in general, let alone in the area of food, which this is. It is a food product. We were told by an industry representative that it can take up to two years for a test to be run on the content of barrels of honey imported and that, in order to get the test, we send samples to Europe for verification.

Since you have ventured into this area, I'm going to ask the specific question: Is it the case that Border Services or the combination of you who have responsibility for protecting our agricultural area and our imports have not yet really undertaken serious testing of the honey coming in from countries? I won't name countries, but there are a few of them from which the imports have increased dramatically in the past 12 months. So could you confirm specifically, as opposed to generically, what is in there? If in fact it is not your responsibility, I would accept that as an answer as well.

Dr. Komal: You're right; I was trying to respond in a generic way because I understand the process we have in place. Of course I'll probably be off on specific questions because I don't work every day in that area, but there are a couple of things I'll say here, senator. We are very aware of what is being imported and where the problems are, because I know that the agency has the data on imports and testing, and we'll go back and look at the historical data and what is happening. I'm still staying generic and can't go specifically to a particular shipment, but I want to assure you that if we find and we hear that there are problems, then we act on them.

There are a couple of things we do: First, working with CBSA here, we ensure that the shipment is held and tested. Quite often, we'll have the test here in our own labs in Canada. Whenever CFIA-directed testing is done, it's mostly done in Canada. We have our labs. Industry may be sending samples to other countries, and I'm not aware of that.

The second thing I'll say is that we are actually investing in looking at the problems at the source, and we are actually working with countries that are exporting to Canada to look at offshore inspections, looking at their systems, what they do there. This is something we haven't done in the past, but we are now gearing up to continue to do it because we know that there are more imports from more countries than there were in the past. So we are acting accordingly. I know it's still generic, but because I'm in animal health, I can't really dig into the specifics of a particular problem.

Senator Ogilvie: Thank you, Dr. Komal. I anticipated your further clarification, and I'm not going to push you personally on this issue. I would, then, as a result, say that I think that it's important for Agriculture Canada, working with appropriate agencies, to anticipate, itself, the possibility of problems and to investigate, as opposed to waiting for rumours or something else in the general market area. If there is a sudden, dramatic increase in imports from a particular country, particularly in a foodstuff, your other suggestion that you do have the opportunity to look at their production methods and so on is good, but nothing beats a spot test at the border of a product coming in. But, again, I really appreciate your attempt to answer that broad question. I accept it in the context that you've given it. Thank you.

The Deputy Chair: I think one of the interesting things is that over the years at this committee, now we've heard discussions of the difficulty in inspecting honey coming across the border. We've had dairy products that have been allowed into the country because the people at Border Services were not necessarily competent to identify the products as dairy. We are also well aware of the problems with spent fowl coming across the border from the U.S. Perhaps one of the messages that we could convey back to the government is that we need to spend a lot more time educating and supporting Border Services people in understanding their role in protecting the agriculture sector in Canada and also to provide them with the resources to do so. It's not enough just to say, "This is what you're supposed to do,'' if you don't give them the resources.

Dr. Komal, you said in your presentation that, under the Health of Animals Regulations, honeybees can now only be imported into Canada at the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food by an import permit. How many have been issued?

Dr. Komal: There are countries that we have identified as places from which we can import honeybees or queens safely. For example, from the U.S., we only import queen bees because of the varroa mite issue. We have other countries, like Chile, New Zealand. We had Australia up until recently, until they identified a varroa mite problem in that country. We also continue to work with other countries who are potential exporters. We have, for example, a negotiated certificate with Denmark, although they find that they're not equipped to ship bees, but we're trying to educate them on how to ship boxed bees.

I was in Paris last May at the OIE session, and we had a bilateral meeting with a lot of countries. This was the one question that I was asking: If they have the potential to export bees or honeybees to Canada, we will entertain that request. As a result of that, the Ukraine has sent us a request, so we are doing an evaluation of that country right now.

This is how we explore. We try to make sure that our industry in Canada has availability from different countries to import bees and mothers, queen mothers.

The Deputy Chair: You didn't answer my specific question about how many import permits have been issued.

Dr. Komal: I wouldn't be able to tell you because I don't have them in my hand, but I can provide you with that information.

The Deputy Chair: Thank you. On behalf of my colleagues, I'd like to thank the four of you for being here this morning. It has been very informative. The bottom-line question really is, are we getting better at bee management, or have we just been lucky with the weather the last couple of years? I guess the answer will come after the next hard winter. None of us is looking forward to the next hard winter, but we all know it will come. Other than in Saskatchewan.

The news has been good that we've been getting back since our report. We'd like to think it's because of our report, not because we had good timing, but we'll take the good report and the good results. Again, thank you very much. We wish you well in your future endeavours.

(The committee adjourned.)