Turning data into ‘honey’

by Frank Verdonck 22.04.16

Bees provide pollination services that are crucial in the production of many food products. We know this. But we need to improve our knowledge of what causes bee mortality if we are to implement protective measures.

The fungus Nosema ceranae has for instance been associated with bee mortality in southern Europe but not in northern Europe. Is this due to differences in environmental conditions, other genetic backgrounds of bee species, different strains involved, or interaction with pesticides or viruses and/or other indicators? A combination of experimental studies, collection of field data and modelling will be required to find the driving factor(s).

This example indicates that the collection of field data from different places in Europe is a necessary component for improving our understanding of bee health and mortality. In a period of decreasing budgets, it is unlikely that there will be a large pan-European monitoring study in the next years.

Therefore, more efforts are required to use the data collected in on-going projects across Europe as efficiently as possible. EFSA held a workshop last week where its HEALTHY-B working group met scientists, risk assessors and representatives of beekeepers, industry and NGOs to identify factors that are related to bee health, are feasible to measure across the EU and have a high priority to be included in a field study. The definitions of the factors were debated to improve our common understanding and thus facilitate, where possible, the merging of collected data and subsequent meta-analysis.

The discussions were of immense value to our working group as it develops a Scientific Opinion that will provide guidance on which data could be collected across the EU to support a holistic analysis of bee health in field conditions.

However, it was clear at the workshop that some participants did not see clearly the connection between their work and EFSA’s activities on bees. This indicates the need for further interactions between EFSA and stakeholders to explore how collaborations can be established to implement successful data collections in the future that would facilitate holistic risk assessments on bees.

Frank Verdonck works in EFSA’s Animal Health and Welfare Unit.

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