April 28, 2009

Europe’s Bee Hives In Decline

An international body said Europe's beekeeping industry could be demolished in less than a decade as bees suffer from disease, insecticides, and intensive farming.

"With this level of mortality, European beekeepers can only survive another 8 to 10 years," said Gilles Ratia, president of international beekeeping body Apimondia.

"We have had big problems in southwest France for many years, but also now in Italy and Germany."

According to Apimondia, 30 percent of Europe's 13.6 million hives died last year.

Losses reached 50 percent in Slovenia and as high as 80 percent in southwest Germany.

Ratia warned that 35 percent of European food crops rely on bees to pollinate them so it poses a big threat for farmers.

"It is a complete crisis," said Francesco Panella, who tends about 1,000 hives in Piedmont, northern Italy. "Last year, I lost about half my production. I can't survive more than 2 or 3 more years like this. My son won't be able to continue my trade."

Most beekeepers blame dropping levels on modern farming methods and the powerful new pesticides used on crops like sunflower, maize and rapeseed.
Apimondia's scientific coordinator Gerard Arnold said insecticides and the parasitic mite Varroa should be blamed for a decrease in bees. He said once weakened, the hives are then decimated by viruses and other diseases.

French honey output has decreased substantially in intensive sunflower farming areas but has remained steady in mountains and chestnut forests, said Henri Clement, president of the French beekeeping union.

Beekeepers are wondering why the issue is being ignored, since the industry supplies 58 percent of Europe's appetite of 340,000 tons of honey a year.
"If cattle were producing 30 percent less milk each year, it would not be acceptable. But that is what we have had to put up with," said Josef Stich, who keeps 200 hives near Vienna.

Many bee-keepers feel ignored by politicians despite the European Union's decision to phase out the most toxic pesticides.

"Politicians are more susceptible to the big lobbying of the chemical industry," he said. "We beekeepers can talk and talk, but we don't receive much consideration."


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