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The British Beekeepers' Association, at its October 9th Forum meeting of members deplored the situation that has arisen regarding the widespread introduction of GM trial sites without due consideration being given to the ethical and environmental impact that could arise through these trials.

The scattered deployment of GM trial sites throughout the United Kingdom will make it extremely difficult for beekeepers to produce honey related products without some contamination from GM pollen, especially as we are aware that bees pollinate oilseed rape and collect pollen from maize and other crops on which GM research is being undertaken or considered.

The only short term advice that can be given is for beekeepers to move their colonies away from trial sites. A probable safe distance is in excess of six miles.

The BBKA will publish to its members the known location of GM trial sites to enable members affected to take this course of action.

At the forum meeting the BBKA executive were requested to seek government assurances and guarantees that every GM site listed on the DETR Internet web site is correct, and that future trial sites will be listed as they are approved.

Legal guidelines are being sought to establish whether compensation can be awarded to beekeepers whose honey products are affected by GM trial sites.

The BBKA executive may issue further press statements if thought necessary.

18th October 1999

maff Consultation on Council Regulation 1221/97 on Measures Relating to the Production and Marketing of Honey


1. Background to the UK beekeeping industry

1.1 The beekeeping industry in the UK comprises approximately 35,000 beekeepers who maintain about 200,000 colonies of bees. There is no compulsory registration but these figures are based upon voluntary returns made by beekeeper organisations and upon the records of a comprehensive bee health advisory and inspection network run by UK Agriculture Departments.

1.2 About 50% of beekeepers are represented by beekeeping associations who are usually affiliated to single national associations representing the countries that comprise the United Kingdom. About 400 beekeepers would consider themselves commercial (professional) beekeepers and are members of the bee Farmers´ Association, an organisation that looks after its members´ interests across the whole of the UK. About 200 are in the 150 hive class, or over, that is used to define professional status by the Commission in its `Study on the structure of the honey sector´ (VI/2912/97). A principal entry level qualification for the BFA is that the beekeeper must maintain at least 40 stocks of bees.

1.3 The UK bee industry produces about 4,000 tonnes of honey per year on average, a figure which is extrapolated from regional honey yield returns to the BFA and upon information from the national associations on regional yields. Importation of honey into the UK, from Community sources and third countries, is usually in the range of 15-25,000 tonnes per year.

1.4 In addition, farmed bees make an important contribution to the pollination of commercial crops and wild flowers and plants. This contribution is difficult to quantify.

2. Significant problems in honey production

2.1 Although about 40,000 colonies are managed by the 200 professional beekeepers, the total UK honey production is heavily reliant upon the hobbyist sector who, because of their smaller scale have higher unit costs in terms of marketing their produce, ensuring its quality and in ensuring that diseases and pests such as varroa do minimal damage to production (varroa treatments using the currently approved products cost between £4-£8 per annum per hive). The fact that so many beekeepers remain outside organisations increases these problems for the hobbyist sector. This often has a knock-on effect upon the professional beekeepers. For example, if the unorganised element of the hobbyist or small scale beekeeping sector has difficulty treating colonies appropriately for varroa then infestation spreads rapidly and often disastrously, even to well managed colonies.

2.2 Between 1995 and 1996 it was estimated by the British Beekeepers´ Association that approximately 30% of colonies were lost in southern counties of England due to varroa. Since then a similar pattern has emerged in more northern parts of the country. Although losses in some areas have been made good by beekeepers, this is not universal. In any event, it may have had significant effects upon colony productivity, costs to the beekeeper of treatment and the time needed to bring the stock numbers back to normal.

2.3 Varroa is a relatively recent introduction to the UK, having been first detected in 1992. Many beekeepers are still learning how to control the mite successfully. Approximately 10% of the total number of apiaries in England and Wales have laboratory-confirmed infestation. However, most of these cases are in the south of England where the mite was first found, or concentrated in large local areas in the North of England or in Wales where it is having considerable impact. The infestation is generally under-reported and so is considered to be much more widespread. Although Northern Ireland remains free of the problem varroa now affects the mainland of Scotland with the exception of Argyll, the area north of the Caledonian canal and Islands. Given the ignorance that still persists about varroa amongst some beekeeping communities, we can expect the losses in the south of the country to be repeated elsewhere as the mite spreads and population levels rise.

2.4 Both American and European foul brood diseases are also present in parts of the UK and present a further risk to the industry that may very well be exacerbated by varroa infestation.

3. Aims of the proposed National Programme

3.1 England and Wales

The aim of this programme is to help beekeepers recognise and control varroa which is currently the biggest problem facing honey production. This conforms with Council Regulation 1221/97, Article 1, 2(b) and will be approached in the following ways:

3.1.1 A diagnostic service allowing beekeepers to submit hive samples for varroa examination and assessment, free of charge.

3.1.2 A regional varroa advisory and training programme for beekeepers including lectures, demonstrations and leaflets provided by trained beekeeping extension workers.

3.1.3 Provision of a network of local bee inspectors who will inspect colonies of bees for signs of varroa infestation, show beekeepers how to do the same and monitor and treat the incidence of diseases that can be associated with varroosis.

3.1.4 Research into practical methods of optimising varroa treatment and reducing the possibility of varroacide residues entering honey.

3.2 Scotland

The aims of the Scottish programme are very similar to those of England and Wales but, in view of the relatively recent discovery of varroa in Scotland, are also heavily geared towards limiting the spread of the infestation. The programme consists of:-

3.2.1 Visits to beekeepers to determine whether varroa is present, with follow up visits where an infestation is found.

3.2.2 An annual search is conducted in the autumn to monitor for the presence of varroa.

3.2.3 Provision of a diagnostic service allowing beekeepers to submit hive samples for varroa examination and assessment free of charge.

3.2.4 Provision of advice to beekeepers on preventing varroa infestation and on its recognition and treatment.

3.3 Northern Ireland

3.3.1 Northern Ireland is currently varroa-free and its programme is designed to help it remain so. It consists of:-

3.3.2 Provision of special courses at various locations centred on Greenmount College of Agriculture, Antrim. Two courses are offered, a beginners course and an intermediate course. Both include elements of disease recognition and control.

3.3.3 Surveys (conducted in May and October) to monitor hives for the presence of the varroa mite.

3.3.4 A diagnostic service for beekeepers who suspect the presence of varroa.

4. Details of the proposed measures

The details and unit costs for the proposed programme are summarised in Table 1, together with the proposals (and, therefore, request) for EU funding.

5. Administrative provisions

5.1 Legislation involved

The inspection part of the programme will be conducted within the provisions of the Bees Act 1980 and the bee Diseases Control Order 1982. These provide for varroa controls to be implemented and for foul brood infected colonies (European foul brood and American foul brood) to be treated or destroyed. European foul brood is a particular problem in the UK and there is circumstantial evidence that it may be exacerbated by varroa. Similar legislation exists for Northern Ireland.

5.2 Departments conducting the work

5.2.1 In England and Wales the work will be conducted by the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) National bee Unit on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and the National Assembly for Wales Agriculture Department (NAWAD) respectively. The CSL is an executive agency of MAFF. Its National bee Unit operates a regional statutory programme for MAFF and NAWAD using trained home-based inspectors working to regional technical managers with laboratory support from the control facility in York .

5.2.2 In Scotland the work will be conducted by Scottish Agricultural Science Agency (SASA) supported by the Scottish Executive Rural Affairs Department (SERAD) bee officers located throughout the country. Arrangements are also in place for advice on husbandry to be provided from the Scottish Agricultural College. In Northern Ireland the work will be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).

5.3 Monitoring the work

5.3.1 The Agriculture Departments will monitor the programme in their respective geographical areas. For example, in England and Wales the departments will receive quarterly progress reports from CSL to compare with pre-agreed work targets. The CSL uses a sophisticated bee health database of beekeepers which enables work practices to be optimised and to be tracked and reported accurately. The agency also has regular update meetings with national beekeeping organisations in England and Wales and works to the OECD Principle of Good Laboratory Practice in both field and laboratory work.

5.4 Evaluation of effectiveness

5.4.1 The programme will be evaluated annually at which time beekeeping industry representatives will be given the opportunity to make their own views known. It is accepted that the initial principal aim of the programme is to enable beekeepers to sustain honey production at current levels of quality and competitiveness in the face of varroa, and that improvements in those areas will have to be a long term objective. Success in the short term will therefore be monitored as follows:

a) Generally, a diminishing number of samples of heavy varroa infestation are expected to be received at the laboratory, except in Scotland where a slight increase is likely.

b) As beekeepers learn to recognise and treat varroa the number of samples received by the laboratory should diminish. Trends in beekeeper and colony numbers will be identified by the inspectorate and this should be reflected in the number of samples received.

c) The number of beekeepers on the laboratory database should increase as more `non-members´, i.e. those who sit outside beekeeping organisations (which is considerable), begin to participate in training and inspections.

d) Reports from regional inspectorates should indicate a general reduction in varroa infestation with time, and possibly its associated diseases, as people become more adept at dealing with it successfully.

e) The number of disease liaison officers belonging to local associations should increase as encouraged specifically by the training programme. Their role will be to help fellow beekeepers become more self sufficient at controlling varroa.

5.4.2 In Scotland success in the short term will be limiting the spread of varroa from the areas where infestations have already occured.

6. Representative organisations

6.1 The consultation process has involved the Council of National Beekeeping Associations of the UK (CONBA), which represents the interests of the small scale beekeeping and hobbyist national beekeeper organisations for each of the constituent countries of the UK and the bee Farmers´ Association (BFA), which represents a UK-wide membership of commercial and semi-commercial beekeepers.

6.2 The programme was co-ordinated by MAFF on behalf of, and in consultation with all the UK Agriculture Departments.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food April 2000


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