Health problems of bees are due to multiple factors

OIE - World Organisation for Animal Health, Paris , 28 April 2010
Arthropod parasites such as Varroa mites as well as virus and bacteria infections, pesticide exposure, and poor nutrition resulting from other environmental issues linked with human behaviour, are all concomitant factors which threaten the survival of certain bee colonies worldwide. Similarly, the causes of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a recently described phenomenon leading to global extensive losses of bee colonies, are unquestionably multi-factored, concluded experts of an OIE ad hoc group on diseases of honey bees.

“Honey and royal jelly are examples of precious food that we owe to bees but foremost we owe them abundant harvesting of fruits and vegetables since they contribute to pollinate the flowers which will produce the harvest” Dr Bernard Vallat, OIE Director General said and “thus, bees contribute to global food security and their extinction would represent a terrible biological disaster. That is why the OIE considers bees’ mortality and bee diseases to be a priority in its Strategic Plan 2011- 2015.” he added.

A world review of honey bee health confirmed CCD occurs in bee populations of North America, Europe and Japan. Experts agreed that the irresponsible use of pesticides might have an impact on bee health in particular by weakening bees and increasing their susceptibility to different diseases. However pesticides can not be considered as the only factor affecting bee health. Biological factors, lack of biosecurity measures to be implemented by beekeepers and climate change might also have detrimental effects on bee health.

“Resources to establish increased surveillance and registration processes, inspection, diagnoses and research capacity are missing in many countries and regions of the world,” Dr Wolfgang Ritter, chair of the ad hoc Group commented and “there is an important need for more international guidelines for bee disease surveillance and disease control programmes,” he added.

Global state of health of honey bees
Independently from CCD, the Group concluded that knowledge on the clinical signs and modes of action of most bee viruses and other pathogens is still insufficient and recommended research continues to try and unravel the multiple factors that threaten the health of honey bees and other pollinators.

Various bee arthropod parasites have been pinpointed as active in different parts of the world among which, infestation with Varroa, Nosema and Tropilaelaps mites are identified as the most frequent sanitary issue of beehives globally.

In addition, a new form of Varroa , Varroa jacobsoni, that is pathogenic to Apis mellifera was detected in Oceania in 2008 and now presents a new threat to beekeeping in the region as well as globally.

“The OIE will propose to the international community to intensify the research on the causes of the mortality of bees and to better control and fight against the numerous emerging and already known diseases on the basis of the standards and guidelines adopted by the organisation, including in the field of biosecurity of global and regional trade of bees between countries, which is a major cause of global contaminations,”, Dr Vallat further commented.