We Need to Change the Narrative | European Honey Bee Losses | Not An Alarmistic Scenario

Paola Testori Coggi, Director General of DG Health and Consumers (DG Sanco) took part to the Bee Health conference, organised by DG Sanco. She mentioned the possibility to lift the ban on neonicotinoids. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_9kNWrwKHc

7 APRIL 2014, 17.15

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I regret not having been able to join you earlier today for this important conference. I hear, however, that it has been a successful day, which should make a meaningful contribution towards solving this exceptionally complex issue.
Given the sometime emotive media coverage of this topic - with reports of "honeybees disappearing", "dramatic bee mortalities across the EU" or "colony collapse disorder" - I think there is a very clear message we can take away from the conference.
This clear message is that the news is far better than many had expected - and certainly better than any of the figures quoted in such alarming reports, or indeed in previous studies, which were often based on fragmented or non-representative information.
The initial results of our surveillance exercise - and I stress the word "initial" as we have committed to undertaking a further year of surveillance - show that honeybee winter mortalities are, on average, less than 10% in major beekeeping countries.
Furthermore, the situation in the EU seems to be better than what is considered acceptable by other countries, such as the USA where beekeepers would consider 15% winter mortalities to be "normal". The survey shows that within the European Union, 95% of our honeybee populations had mortality rates below this level.
And the best beekeepers often aim for less than 5% winter mortalities. Even this very low threshold could be within reach in many areas.
Does this mean that we can now rest, breathe a sigh of relief, sit back and relax, safe in the knowledge that the situation is not as bad we had thought or previously been led to believe?
No - certainly not.
We must ensure that evidence and science underpins each and every action we take in relation to this issue.
We need to be precise in our evidence and equally precise in how we communicate it.
We need to make concerted efforts to change the narrative, to move away from these alarmist claims, at least as regards managed honeybees, towards a proper conversation on collective, sustained and long-term solutions where they are needed - which is precisely what we have been doing today.
Let me say in this context a few words about the measures we have taken last year against certain insecticides, that shows that the Commission is determined to take actions when science confirms that a risk exists.
The results - more favourable than expected - of the survey on bee health presented early this morning cannot be used to speculate if those Commission's measures were justified or not.
In fact, the survey had not the objective to assess the negative effects of those insecticides on bees or to challenge the scientific basis for the restrictions adopted.
This survey just confirms that our knowledge about bees is developing almost daily.
As Commission we have a responsibility to review decisions, a responsibility that is already foreseen in the legislation laying down restrictions on the use of these insecticides.
To ensure the highest standards of bee health, the Commission has played, and will continue to play, its role - and stands ready to support whatever action is deemed necessary in the future.
A wealth of valuable data has already been delivered. Today's presentation on mortalities is only the first output. We now look forward to seeing what the results next year will bring - and to gaining an even clearer picture of the true situation.
Of course, honeybees are just one part of a very complex picture, and we must continue to work to ensure a very clear definition of any problems affecting other types of bees or pollinators.
In this regard a number of questions still remain to be answered. These include:
 Do we have European pollination shortages for major food crops - or for other crops, such as for biodiesel?
 Are potential shortages due to poor bee health, something that we can improve?
 Do we need to preserve certain bee species for nature conservation purposes, for the sake of their own diversity?
These and many other questions lead to many different scenarios which in turn may call for a range of responses.
From the Commission's perspective, we stand ready to act where it makes sense for us to do so.
I would stress, however, that in many cases it is those at a national and local level who may be best placed to make a real difference.
Today you have seen just some of the programmes and initiatives from which you can all benefit - examples where science, policy and practice all come together to improve bee health.
Many of you already participate in these or similar initiatives. We have heard about several stakeholder initiatives; and we know there are many more in existence.
For example, during the preparation for this conference, we have been sent information:
 on a new veterinary medicine against Varroa mite;
 on a co-operation project between professional beekeepers and a crop protection company; and
 on new computer software simulating colony development.
There are no doubt many more initiatives of which we are currently unaware - and that's why events such as this conference are so useful for interested parties to come together and share information for the benefit of all.
We have made a good start. Now it is up to all interested parties to keep up the momentum to ensure thriving bee populations into the future. To quote Henry Ford: "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."
Indeed, I think we can learn a lesson from the bees themselves in this regard.
Thank you all for your active participation, and I wish you all a safe journey home.


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