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The Importance of Bee Health to Sustainable Food Production in Canada

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About the Study

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The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry launched its study on the status of bee health and strategies for its improvement in November 2013. During its study, the Committee heard from 85 witnesses over 8 months. Witnesses included officials from the federal and provincial governments of Canada, the European Union and Australia, as well as representatives from industry associations, civil society, and academia. The purpose was to hear witnesses’ perspectives on the challenges facing bee health and how governments can help stakeholders address these challenges.

Why does bee health matter?

About a third of the human diet comes directly or indirectly from insect-pollinated plants, with the annual value of bee pollination in Canada being an estimated $2 billion. Most flowering plants need pollination to reproduce, and bees are responsible for about 70% of that pollination, so bees provide an important ecosystem service and contribute greatly to food production.

US $200 billion estimated contribution of bees to human food, worldwide

Image of bees on a honeycomb

How healthy are Canadian bees?

While the number of honey bee colonies in Canada has increased over the past 20 years, annual overwinter colony losses in Canada have consistently been above the rate of 10% to 15% of colonies since 2006/2007. In the winter of 2013/2014, losses in Canada reached an average of 25%.

Image of a bee on a sunflower

What is causing harm to bee health in Canada?

A number of stressors interact and combine to affect pollinator health, including weather and climate change; viruses and parasites (mites) hive management, the transportation of bees; and neonic pesticides.

Image of AAFC researcher Holding Hive Frame

How does the Committee suggest bee health be improved?

The Committee made recommendations with the aim of preserving bee health

  • Enabling bee packages importation from foreign jurisdictions such as the United States while keeping in mind the importance of improving the inspection of imported honey bee packages.
  • Monitoring bee health status, across the country, through the implementation of the bee health surveillance project on a continuous basis, rather than a four-year period.
  • Accelerating the implementation of the National Bee Farm-Level Biosecurity Standard in hives.
  • Reducing the current number of conditional registrations granted to neonic active ingredients.
  • Ensuring, through the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development audits, that the PMRA is working on enhancing its pesticide registration process.
  • Improving access to new pesticides which could be safely used in beehives.
  • The PMRA keeps monitoring bee mortality and concludes, without delay, its re-evaluation of the three neonic insecticides.
  • Increasing the amount and the duration of research funding targeting pollinator health.
  • Improving management practices of beekeepers and growers while minimizing the use of chemical products and ensuring the availability of untreated seeds.
  • Improving pollinator habitat in order to achieve floral diversity.
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Senators who participated in this study

Photo of Senator Mockler

Chair
Percy Mockler
C - (New Brunswick)

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Deputy Chair
Claudette Tardif
Lib. - (Alberta)

Photo of Senator Beyak

Lynn Beyak
C - (Ontario)

Photo of Senator Dagenais

Jean-Guy Dagenais
C - (Victoria - Quebec)

Photo of Senator Enverga

Tobias C. Enverga
C - (Ontario)

Photo of Senator Maltais

Ghislain Maltais
C - (Shawinegan - Quebec)

Photo of Senator Mercer

Terry M. Mercer
Lib. - (Northend Halifax - Nova Scotia)

Photo of Senator Merchant

Pana Merchant
Lib. - (Saskatchewan)

Photo of Senator Moore

Wilfred P. Moore
Lib. - (Stanhope St. / South Shore - Nova Scotia)

Photo of Senator Ogilvie

Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie
C - (Annapolis Valley - Hants - Nova Scotia)

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Victor Oh
C - (Mississauga - Ontario)

Photo of Senator Unger

Betty E. Unger
C - (Alberta)

The committee would like to recognize the following Honorable Senators who are no longer serving members of the committee whose contribution to the study was invaluable:

Photo of Senator Buth

JoAnne L. Buth
C - (Manitoba)

Photo of Senator Eaton

Nicole Eaton
C - (Ontario)

Photo of Senator Rivard

Michel Rivard
C - (The Laurentides - Quebec)

Photo of Senator Robichaud

Fernand Robichaud, C.P.
Lib. - (New Brunswick)

Ex-officio members of the committee:
The Honourable Senators Claude Carignan, P.C. (or Yonah Martin) and James S. Cowan (or Joan Fraser)

Other Senators who have participated from time to time in the study:
The Honourable Senators Ataullahjan, Bellemare, Callbeck, Cordy, Demers, Fortin-Duplessis, Hervieux-Payette, Hubley, Housakos, Johnson, McIntyre, Munson, Plett, Raine, Seth and Tkachuk.

Contact information

General Information:
613-990-0088 or 1-800-267-7362

Email: agfo@sen.parl.gc.ca

Mailing Address:
Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada, K1A 0A4