National Newswatch

Risk assessment for beehives should be conducted this year or next.

Ottawa—Persistent 30 per cent levels of winter beehive losses threaten crop pollination in Canada, says Paul van Westendorp, B.C.’s Provincial Apiculturist.

Prior to 1987, the average winter mortality rate for beehives was roughly 10 per cent, he told the Commons agriculture committee. During the last few decades, the winter loss rate has risen to more than 30 per cent, van Westendorp said.

“That is not sustainable. I think we are collectively going to run into serious problems with crop pollination and things of that kind. There is a whole host of causes that have led to these high losses, and there are certainly remedial actions we can take in order to minimize them,” he said.

Among them are some of the industrial management practices that large commercial beekeepers employ. “They certainly place great stresses on these bees and, therefore, jeopardize their survivability on a year-to-year basis.”

Eight years ago, the Senate agriculture committee released a report on bee health in Canada and its first recommendation was to have Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency amend the honeybee importation prohibition regulations to allow the import of bee packages from the U.S. “Unfortunately, nothing has happened since that time,” van Westendorp said.

CFIA needs to revisit the issue and conduct a new risk assessment for beehives. The latest one was done in 2018 and another should be done this year or in 2024.

“I think it’s important to recognize that one of the contributing causes to the decline of honeybees but also of many of the other pollinators is that if we really examine the landscape of North America, this has transformed drastically in the last 50 years,” he said.

“From a great diversity of floral sources and undisturbed habitat, we have gone wild on producing all kinds of monoculture crops and on the removal of undisturbed habitat. We have failed to recognize as a society the intrinsic value of many of these habitats that contribute to sustaining wild pollinators.”

Canada should consider copying the subsidies the European Union offers to farmers to preserve hedgerows, riparian zones and undisturbed habitat to facilitate the presence of wild pollinators.

Currently having enough hives year after year has become a challenge, he said. Importing packaged bees from offshore, which is the only available source that Canada has right now, “is one step and one tool that we have in our tool box to maintain the numbers so that we can provide effective pollination services.” Bees pollinate 21 agriculture commodities.

Jeremy Olthof, President of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission, said CFIA does not have “a bee expert in house, not willing to meet with industry and not communicating what is going on.”

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