EFSA has an important role to play in ensuring that healthy bee stocks are maintained in Europe, given its mandate to improve EU food safety and animal health and to ensure a high level of consumer protection. A number of the Authority’s Scientific Panels and Units contribute to this work, principally in the areas of pesticides, animal health and welfare and plant health, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), data collection and scientific assessment.
Central to this work are the assessments EFSA carries out of the environmental safety of pesticides and GMOs that manufacturers would like to place on the EU market. EFSA’s Pesticides Unit is responsible for the peer review of risk assessments of active substances used in plant protection products. The dossiers submitted by applicants must contain comprehensive information on the potential risk to the environment posed by their products.
The Unit also carries out risk assessments of Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) of active substances in pesticides. These assessments take account of the potential effects of the substances on the environment in general and on non-target organisms such as bees in particular. The Unit compiles the annual European Union Report on Pesticide Residues in Food, which gives an overview of the control activities performed in the 27 EU Member States and two EFTA countries (Iceland and Norway) in order to ensure compliance of food with the standards defined in European legislation on pesticide residues. The most recent report, for 2009, shows that only 0.1% of honey samples contained pesticides which exceeded MRLS.
EFSA’s Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR Panel) provides independent scientific advice on the risk assessment of plant protection products and their residues. This includes in particular looking at risks to operators, workers, residents and consumers as well as the environment, including wildlife. One of the main activities of the PPR Panel is to develop new or review existing guidance documents on the risk assessment of pesticides, including the development of risk assessment approaches, methodologies and models. The Panel may provide opinions on the effects of specific active substances used in plant protection products or on any generic issue related to the safe use of pesticides.
GMOs and derived food and feed products are subject to a risk analysis before they can be placed on the EU market. In this process, the role of the GMO Panel is to independently evaluate the risk assessments provided by companies and manufacturers and to give scientific advice to risk managers on any risks that GMOs may pose to human and animal health and the environment. The assessment covers several specific aspects of risk, one of which is the possible risk to “non-target organisms” such as bees. The Panel has developed guidelines for the safety assessment of GM plants and derived food and feed that assist companies and manufacturers to prepare applications for the authorisation of GM plants. In 2010, the GMO Panel updated its guidance with respect to environmental risk assessment of GM plants, and specific guidance has been developed on the evaluation of possible effects of GM plants on non-target organisms.
In addition, each application for authorisation of a GM plant has to be accompanied by a Post-Market Environmental Monitoring (PMEM) plan demonstrating how the applicant will monitor the GM plant for possible adverse environmental effects after it has been placed lawfully on the EU market. The aim of PMEM is to identify possible unanticipated adverse effects on the environment which could arise directly or indirectly from cultivation of GM plants. In 2006, EFSA’s GMO Panel provided applicants with guidance for developing PMEM plans, which was updated in 2011. Since 2010, the GMO Panel has been responsible for assessing the annual PMEM reports which are submitted to the European Commission for each GM crop authorised for cultivation in the EU (currently maize MON810 and the Amflora potato).
The Panel on Plant Health provides independent scientific advice on the risks posed by organisms which can cause harm to plants, plant products or plant biodiversity in the European Community. Every pest risk assessment includes the assessment of environmental risk, but to clarify and harmonise approaches in this area the Panel has published specific guidance on the environmental risk assessment of plant pests. EFSA’s work in the area of plant health is specifically relevant to bee health as some pests that are a threat to bees can be transported by, and live on, plants. The small hive beetle, for example, can live without bees, surviving on fruit and vegetables. It could therefore be introduced into the EU in consignments of such products.
The Panel on Animal Health and Welfare provides independent scientific advice on all aspects of animal diseases and animal welfare. Its work chiefly concerns food-producing animals.
EFSA publishes an annual report summarising data on the presence of residues of veterinary medicinal products and other substances in live animals and animal products – such as honey – in the European Union. The latest report, for 2010, shows that only 0.33 % of the 418,081 targeted samples were non-compliant, a similar figure to that recorded in 2009 (0.32%).