Call for European research network to address bee losses

Closer cooperation among EU agencies, Member States and researchers is urgently needed to improve understanding of how multiple stressors damage bee health. That is one of the conclusions of a report published today by EFSA, which also proposes that a centralised, open-access research database be created to support the development of a holistic approach to assessing bee stressors.

A number of European organisations are currently involved in research projects related to bee health, and their work is sometimes fragmentary and overlapping. Tighter collaboration would help to remove duplication of work, identify research priorities, agree new methodologies and share technological developments, the report says.

EFSA proposes a network that would encompass the European Commission’s Bee Interservice Group; the European Reference Laboratory for Bee Health; Member State bodies such as the French food safety agency ANSES; other EU agencies such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA); and international organisations.

The network is one of the recommendations made in an EFSA overview of work on bee risk assessment being carried out across the EU. The aim of the report, which was compiled in cooperation with the European Commission and Member States, is to highlight knowledge gaps and suggest research that would assist the development of a harmonised environmental risk assessment scheme for bees.

Dr Agnès Rortais, a biologist and bee scientist at EFSA, said: “Our analysis shows that there is a lot of research activity related to bee health in Europe, but that it is not always well balanced across disciplines and there is duplication. For example, there is a dearth of work on bees other than honeybees and, even for honeybees, studies have focused only on a few subspecies whereas there is a large diversity with local adaptations in Europe. There is also a lack of research on reproduction of queens and drones.

“We also noted a scarcity of projects related to the risk assessment of multiple stressors in bees, although we know that in their natural environment bees face a variety of stressors, and we urgently need to improve our understanding of how these factors combine and interact.”

An important initiative in the latter area is a dedicated working group that was recently set up by ANSES to analyse data on the exposure of bees to stressors such as pathogens, pests, pesticides and veterinary medicines, and to review the scientific literature on interactions between these factors. EFSA is participating in the ANSES group and has also contributed to a workshop organised by the EU Animal Health and Welfare project (ANIHWA), which was set up to increase coordination of national research programmes on health and welfare of farm animals, including bees.

Dr Rortais added: “Our analysis tells us that Member States and the Commission have been more involved than EFSA in researching the effects of biological stressors on bees, whereas in chemical stressors the roles are reversed. So it makes sense to combine our relative fields of expertise as we move towards developing an approach for assessing the combined effects of these stressors.”

EFSA also recommends the formation of an open-access, centralised database of information and methods that can be used to assess the risks from single and multiple stressors. Several databases have been developed to promote data sharing, but there is no single, publicly accessible repository.

EFSA will give a short presentation of the report at the Conference for Better Bee Health, hosted by the European Commission in Brussels on April 7, 2014.

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