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Helping bee biosecurity?

June 7, 2013  By David Manly

When flowers bloom, bees are never far behind. As much as a nuisance as they can be to someone trying to enjoy a summer picnic, bees are a valuable part of the Canadian ecosystem and agriculture industry.

Not only do bees in Canada create honey (an over $100 million industry), but they also help pollinate a wide variety of crops, which helps contribute an estimated $1.3 to $1.7 billion annually. If you add in the contributions of other Canadian bee species, such as alfalfa leafcutting bees and bumblebees, the value leaps up to an estimated $2.8 billion.

Rod Scarlett, the executive director of the Canadian Honey Council, says that the value of the bee industry in Canada includes many aspects, including pollination services, crop pollination (such as cranberries blueberries and canola), honey production and more.

“About 40 per cent of crops used for food production are dependent on pollination or honeybees for pollinating,” he said. “If you take away that 40 per cent that bees pollinate, it really is the things that make the food different and enjoyable – your fruits, a lot of your vegetables, etc.”

However, as important as bees are, a number of complications have arisen in recent years. The most prevalent are Colony Collapse Disorder (a phenomena that has occurred in other parts of the world, but has not yet appeared in Canada) and the varroa mite, which are decimating native bee populations all over the world. Therefore, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Canadian bee industry have collaborated on a national biosecurity standard.

“The situation with bees within the last 10-15 years is that Canada’s overwintering losses are very high, in the 30 per cent range. That has triggered a public awareness of the value of bees and the development of a proactive step on behalf of the CFIA and the industry to create a biosecurity standard,” said Scarlett.

The standard is a basic framework or recommendations for beekeepers and the general public to understand what bees need and what can be done, on an industry or personal level, to help protect bees and other very important pollinators. “It is a voluntary set of guidelines that will allow beekeepers to determine what can be utilized within their operation to help secure their bees,” he added. “It is a general framework that will help everyone involved protect their bees from biosecurity threats, and in turn, help protect the health of the bees themselves.”

While most of the recommendations in the standard are focused on beekeepers, there are a few things that anyone can do to help bees – Educate yourself about bees, plant gardens or flowers in urban centres and pressure municipal governments not to spray pesticides and insecticides that could harm bees.

For more information on the standard, please visit the CFIA website or contact the Canadian Honey Council.

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