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Brussels, 11 December 2003

Protection of Bees: Commission steps up measures against exotic parasites

The European Commission today adopted a Decision stepping up measures to protect the EU bee population from two exotic 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 severely endanger bee health, the apiculture industry and honey production. To prevent the parasites from being introduced into the EU the measures now adopted will limit imports of both live honey bees and bumble bees and require imported bees to be examined for signs of the parasites when they arrive in the EU.

"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."

What damage do the parasites cause?

The small hive beetle can multiply rapidly in infested colonies where it eats brood stock, destroys combs and, if unchecked, ultimately destroys the colony. The Tropilaelaps mite has also been shown to cause high mortality in affected bee colonies. The mites have also been linked to bees suffering leg and wing deformities.

These pests 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 EU.

What measures are already in place?

In July 2003, the Commission added these two parasites to the list of notifiable diseases in the EU(1). 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 rigorously for the presence of parasites.

In view of the risks posed by these pests, additional measures were deemed necessary. This is why the Commission proposed to limit the imports of both live honey bees and bumble bees from third countries to prevent the parasites spreading to the EU and introduce stringent checks for the presence of these parasites for bee imports. The Commission's proposal was agreed with the Member States through the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health on 4-5 November 2003.

What changes can be expected?

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 authorised from third countries that have demonstrated the necessary veterinary competence(2) to certify that animals fulfil all criteria for import into the EU 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 authorised for import into the EU if they have been bred and reared solely under environmentally controlled conditions.

Next steps

The Decision will enter into force ten days after its publication in the Official Journal. It must then be applied by all Member States. In a separate proposal to amend Council Regulation 1774/ 2002, certain measures to protect the EU from the small hive beetle and the Tropilaelaps mite, together with further additional health requirements will also be laid down in a new health certificate to accompany products for use in apiculture.

(1) They were added to Annex A of Directive 92/65/EEC laying down animal health requirements for trade and imports into the EU.

(2) Third countries or regions of third countries are listed in part 1of the Annex to Council Decision 79/542/EEC.

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