In 2009 EFSA published a report, Bee Mortality and Bee Surveillance in Europe, that made a number of recommendations to improve surveillance as well as identifying consensus across the EU on the multifactorial origins of the decline in bee numbers. It helped to shape the Commission’s strategy for tackling the decline in bee numbers across Europe, which was clarified in a key communication on honey bee health published in 2010.
In February 2012 the Pesticides Unit reviewed the risk of thiamethoxam to honeybees, as requested by the European Commission, on the basis of new information submitted. Thiamethoxam is a member of the neonicotinoid group of insecticides, which some studies suggest could be a contributing factor to bee colony losses.
In June 2012 the Pesticides Unit delivered a statement on two articles published in the journal Science which suggested links between neonicotinoids and bee colony survival. The first article highlighted research showing that honey bees exposed to sub-lethal doses of thiamethoxam suffer from impaired orientation skills, and concluded that commonly encountered concentrations of thiamethoxam can contribute to the collapse of colonies. The second article concluded that imidacloprid, another neonicotinoid, can inhibit the reproductive health of bumble bees. The European Commission asked EFSA to examine whether the doses used in the studies were comparable to the actual doses to which bees are exposed.
EFSA continued its work in this area by carrying out risk assessments of the potential effects on bees of thiamethoxam, imidacloprid and clothianidin. The assessments, published in January 2013, paid particular attention to acute and chronic effects on bee colony survival and development, taking into account the effects on bee larvae as well as bee behaviour.
In May 2013 EFSA performed a risk assessment of the insecticide fipronil, paying particular regard to the possible acute, chronic and sub-lethal effects on bees. Later that month more than 100 bee experts attended the Authority’s Scientific Colloquium on holistic approaches to the risk assessment of multiple stressors in bees.
In July 2013 EFSA published a major guidance document on the risk assessment of pesticides in relation to honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees. The groundwork for this was laid in April 2012 when the PPR Panel published an opinion outlining the scientific basis for the development of the guidance document.
In January 2013 experts from EFSA’s Animal Health and Welfare Panel published a scientific opinion on the risk of introduction and spread in the EU of the small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) and the Tropilaelaps bee mite through the importation from third countries of live bees and bee products, and of products such as fruit and vegetables.
In line with the strategy of EFSA to consider risk assessments in a wider, more integrated manner so as to provide risk managers with comprehensive advice on which to base their decisions, the Authority established in May 2012 an internal task force drawn from the relevant Units to compile a state-of-the-art review of the work carried out at EFSA, as well as the current activities conducted outside EFSA, in the area of bees.
The task force, coordinated by the EFSA staff, published two reports. The first, published in November 2012, gave an overview of EFSA’s current activities and made recommendations on how this work should be continued. The second, published in March 2014 in cooperation with the European Commission and Member States, looked at the work on bee risk assessment being carried out across the EU. It highlighted knowledge gaps and suggested research that would assist the development of a harmonised environmental risk assessment scheme for bees.
The MUST-B project
Building on the work of the task force, in early 2015 EFSA launched a major project with the aim of developing a holistic approach to the risk assessment of multiple stressors in honeybees (MUST-B). The MUST-B project draws on EFSA’s expertise in areas such as animal and plant health, data collection and analysis, modelling, pesticides and environmental risk, but will also involve a range of experts and stakeholders from beyond EFSA. It comprises a number of interlinked activities that will be carried out either in-house, or in collaboration with external experts, researchers and bodies such as EU Member States, the European Commission, EU sister agencies, and the European Reference Laboratory for Bee Health.
The project is being overseen by a Working Group made up of experts from a variety of scientific backgrounds. A number of activities are already under way. These include:
BEEHAVE mandate (click on Question Documents)
Healthy bee colony mandate
Small hive beetle mandate
Other complementary activities will be rolled out over the coming months, culminating in an overarching Scientific Opinion of EFSA’s Scientific Committee that will bring together and synthesise the findings of the various activities.