Colony collapse disorder is the rapid loss of adult bees from a colony or hive; only a few newly-emerged adult bees remain with the queen, but no dead bees are found in or around the hive.
The problem could have major implications for the food chain and the environment, as honey bees play a crucial role in the pollination of crops – including many vegetables grown in Europe.
EFSA has now awarded a grant of €100,000 to a consortium of European scientific institutions to looking into the causes, which are unknown but various factors like starvation, viruses, mites, pesticide exposure and climate change may be involved.
The objective is to critically analyse existing surveillance programmes; compile data on collapse, weakening and mortality; and critically review existing scientific data.
Hubert Deluyker, director of scientific cooperation and assistance at EFSA, said the project will be an important step forward in international efforts to understand and tackle the reported decline in honey bee populations.
Although serious honey bee population decline has been reported since 2003, the full extent of the problem is hard to estimate, as data collection so far has been fragmented, and surveillance methodologies diverse.
“I strongly encourage scientists and other interested parties – such as beekeeping associations, for example – to share their valuable scientific data, knowledge, and experience with the organizers of this project,” he said.
EFSA is involved in the project because its role is not just limited to food safety, it also to related issues such as animal and plant welfare. It also says it has “the networks, experience and expertise needed to gather and interpret data from a wide range of sources in order to help national and European decision-makers take co-ordinated action”.
EFSA has already conducted a preliminary survey of the problem, which took a look at honey production, chemical residues, and surveillance programmes already in operation. This was completed in August and published by the Assessment Methodology Unit.
Efforts outside Europe
The US Department of Agriculture has a long-term action plan to address the problems affecting honeybees and last month it announced $4m in funding to the University of Georgia to study the causes of CCD and other problems affecting bee populations.
Meanwhile the food industry is also taking action. In February The Häagen-Dazs loves Honey Bees campaign was launched to raise research funds and awareness about the plight of the bees.
A Häagen-Dazs spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “More than 40 percent of Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavors are dependent on honey bee pollination, but honey is not a major ingredient in all of our ice cream.
“Ingredients like almonds and berries are foods that are bee-dependent, and since Häagen-Dazs ice cream is dedicated to remaining an all-natural brand, if we find some of these items difficult to source we’ll eventually have to re-examine our flavour line.”