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EFSA assesses risk of entry of bee pests into EU

The small hive beetle and the Tropilaelaps mite are currently not found in the EU but if established in this region could affect the health of bees, the beekeeping industry and the production of honey. EFSA’s experts have identified the risks of introducing these pests in Europe, following a request from the European Commission.

Attacks from pests are one of several factors responsible for the bee decline reported in many European countries. Other possible causes are agriculture and pesticide use, starvation and poor bee nutrition, viruses, GM plants, and environmental changes.

According to the scientific opinion of EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW), the import of bees, bee products to be used in beekeeping activities and the unintended import of bees are the pathways that pose the greatest risk with respect to the possible entry of these pests. These risks are already considered by existing EU legislation on imports of live queen bees and bee products to be used in apiculture. The unintended import of bees in non-bee consignments is the only one for which safeguard measures could not be identified.

  • Entry of pests through imports of bees. This riskconcerns mainly the small hive beetle since this pest is attracted to bees themselves whereas the Tropilaelaps mite is a parasite of honey bee brood. Safeguard measures identified include the issuance of certificates to mark pest-free consignments. The import of swarms and colonies is forbidden by legislation which further reduces the risks.
  • Import of bee products to be used in beekeeping activities. Risk of entry through import of bee products is high especially for the small hive beetle, as this pest is attracted to the smell of bees and products that have been in contact with bees (such as pollen). Issuing certificates for pest-free consignments also helps to mitigate these risks.
  • Unintended import of bees in a non-bee consignment. This represents a high risk of entry for both pests as such an event is very difficult to detect. In this case, the Panel could not identify any safeguard measure. 

The risk assessment carried out by the AHAW Panel did not aim at quantifying the risk but rather at exploring all possible ways in which pests could enter the EU.

EFSA also looked at other possibilities of entry, such as imports of fruits, vegetables, used beekeeping equipment, soil and natural movements of bees and of these pests. However, experts concluded that these are less likely.

Among its recommendations, the Panel identified the need for rapid detection methods. Education and training of people involved with beekeeping, trade or transport would raise their awareness and expertise which could ultimately contribute to prevent these pests from entering the EU.

EFSA’s experts are looking at bee health from different angles, including animal health and welfare aspects, possible influence of the use of pesticides and GMOs as well as data collection requirements. Such broad and integrated risk assessment will provide risk managers with comprehensive scientific advice.

EFSA is holding a Scientific Colloquium in May that will look at holistic approaches to the risk assessment of multiple stressors in bees. The Authority will also publish a major guidance document on the risk assessment of the effect of pesticides on honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees that will be published later this year.

Notes to editors
  • Endemic to Africa, North America and Australia, the small hive beetle can destroy honey bee colonies, combs, stored honey and pollen and cause bees to abandon their hives. This pest is not dependent on bees and can survive on fruits and vegetables.

    The Tropilaeleps mite has spread from Asia. It causes honey bee brood mortality and a reduction in the lifespan of adult honey bees. It cannot fly and requires honey bee brood to survive.

  • "Brood" refers to the eggs, larvae and pupae that will become fully-grown bees.

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