The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has taken a major step forward in its efforts to help reverse the decline of insect pollinators in Europe by proposing a new approach to the environmental risk assessment (ERA) of honey bees.
A new scientific opinion, requested by the European Parliament’s Committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), sets out an integrated, holistic framework for assessing the combined effects of multiple stressors on honey bees, known as MUST-B.
Bernhard Url, EFSA’s Executive Director, said: “This is an important report for everyone who wants to preserve Europe’s rich ecosystems, at the centre of which lie not only bees but all our insect pollinators.
“It sets out a clear vision for transforming the way we assess environmental risks to pollinators in the EU.
“We thank the European Parliament for giving us the opportunity to make this important contribution to the EU’s ambitious strategies for boosting sustainability and diversity.”
Simon More, Chair of the MUST-B working group, said: “We have worked hard to deliver what we believe is a forward-thinking, innovative proposal that will advance both the theory and, most importantly, the practice of environmental risk assessment.
“It is particularly gratifying that we have been able to do this in cooperation with major stakeholders such as beekeepers.”
The MUST-B opinion proposes a systems-based approach that combines modelling and monitoring systems for the ERA of multiple stressors such as pesticides and other environmental chemicals, parasites and diseases, as well as factors such as availability of food, climate and beekeeping management practices.
The model is based on a bee colony simulator, called ApisRAM, which assesses either single or multiple pesticides in interaction with other stressors and factors.
ApisRAM is still in development, but it will be ready for use in pesticide risk assessment in the next two or three years.
Looking further ahead, ApisRAM will make it possible to assess effects from exposure to more complex chemical mixtures, moving beyond the single crop/single pesticide assessment approach to reflect the complexity of the environment in which bees live.
It will also be possible to assess chronic, sublethal and colony level effects of multiple chemicals, based on EFSA’s guidance on chemical mixture risk assessment.
The model will be powered in the future by real-time data collection from sensor-equipped sentinel bee hives.
Initially, it will use data collected from EFSA-funded field collection projects in Denmark and Portugal – representing the northern and southern European climate zones, respectively – which will become available this year.
Stakeholders will play a pivotal role in the collection and sharing of accessible, reliable and harmonised data, led by the EU Bee Partnership, which in the next months will launch its data platform prototype based on the “bee hub” concept.
The partnership includes representatives from EU beekeeping, veterinary and farming associations, academia, NGOs and industry.
As well as incorporating the views of stakeholders through the EU Bee Partnership, the MUST-B opinion also takes account of the broader societal context through targeted research conducted with beekeepers in selected EU countries.
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