Europe shelters bees from invasive parasites

BRUSSELS, Belgium, December 12, 2003 (ENS): The European Commission today limited the import of live honey bees and bumble bees to protect the EU bee population from two exotic parasites. Under the decision adopted today all imported bees must be examined for signs of the parasites when they arrive in the EU.

The two parasites - the small hive beetle Aethina tumida and the parasitic mite Tropilaelaps - have never been reported in the EU but, if introduced from third countries, they could endanger bee health, the apiculture industry and honey production, said the Commission.

"These two parasites have had a devastating effect on the health of honey bees, the bee industry and the production of honey in affected third countries," said David Byrne, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. "The EU needs simple import rules to make sure these bee parasites do not hitch a ride to Europe."

The small hive beetle can multiply rapidly. The beetles invade bee colonies and lay eggs inside them. Both larvae and adults feed on brood, pollen, wax, and honey, and damage both the brood and honeycomb. When small hive beetle infestations are heavy and even if the colony is strong, queens will stop laying eggs and the bees often leave the hive.

The Tropilaelaps mite has also been shown to cause high mortality in affected bee colonies. The mites have also been linked to bees suffering and leg and wing deformities.

These parasites can disrupt pollination so they also pose a risk to the sustainability of the apiculture industry as well as agriculture and the environment in the European Union.

In July 2003, the Commission added these two parasites to the list of notifiable diseases in the EU. This means all beekeepers who suspect their colonies are infested have to inform the appropriate authorities in their Member States.

Bees are imported into the EU to extend breeding stocks and to improve the productivity of the

apiculture industry, but at the moment bees can enter the EU in large consignments that are very difficult to examine for the presence of parasites. That is the reason for the ban on live bee imports adopted today.

The Commission's proposal was agreed with the EU member states through the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health on November 4 and 5.

Under the new decision, imports of bees will be limited to consignments containing a single queen bee with a maximum of 20 accompanying attendants.

Imports will only be authorized from third countries that have demonstrated the necessary veterinary competence to certify that animals fulfil all criteria for import into the European Union and where the small hive beetle and the Tropilaelaps mite are notifiable diseases.

When the consignment arrives in the EU, the cages, attendants, and any other material accompanying queens from the third country of origin must also be sent to a laboratory where they will all be examined for the presence of the small hive beetle, their eggs or larvae and signs of the Tropilaelaps mite.

Small colonies of bumble bees up to a maximum of 200 adults can still be authorized for import into the EU if they have been bred and reared solely under environmentally controlled conditions.

The small hive beetle infests hives in the United States. Since its confirmed discovery in Florida in June 1998, the beetle has spread to honey bee colonies throughout the eastern U.S. and has been reported from several midwestern states.

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