Disappearance of a third of bees in the United States last winter

7 June 2013    
Nuno Melo (PPE)

An inquiry carried out recently by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that a third of bee colonies in the United States disappeared in the winter of 2012/13. Since the 2006/07 campaign, an average of 30.7% of colonies have disappeared each year. These figures came to light a few days after the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report on the health of bees. This report, which the University of Pennsylvania was asked to produce in October 2012, examines all of the factors that might influence the health of bees.

Varroa is the main factor associated with the loss of colonies in the United States and in other countries;

Inadequate nourishment makes beehives more vulnerable to disease;

The genetic diversity of bees must be increased in order to improve thermoregulation, resistance to disease and productivity;

The management and health of beehives must be improved and more research must be carried out into the exposure of bees to pesticides;

Several studies on the influence of bees on the environment demonstrate the extraordinary contribution that they make to plant life and genetic diversity.

Is the Commission aware of this situation? Given the importance of these insects as one of the main pollinators of the world’s ecosystems, how can the EU and the United States work together to create a joint plan to protect bees?


18 July 2013    
Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

The Commission is aware of the report and the situation of honeybee mortality in the United States.

The EU and the United States cooperate in this field on several levels. For example, the cooperation between EU and US scientists has resulted in a broad alignment of scientific views and has shown gaps where further research is needed. The recently completed COLOSS(1) programme (a COST(2) project co-financed by the Commission) is another example of such cooperation. It succeeded in creating a worldwide network and generating a critical mass of scientists and relevant scientific opinion. Cooperation on bee health also takes place in international fora(3).

It should be noted, however, that there are significant differences between the US and the European situation, particularly concerning pollination needs and how bees and their environments are managed. Finally it is important to keep in mind that pollination is an essential ecosystem service that depends on both domesticated and wild pollinator populations(4).

(1)    http://www.coloss.org/
(2)    http://www.cost.eu/
(3)    E.g. the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
(4)    http://www.step-project.net/