BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Europe’s beekeeping industry could be wiped out in less than a decade as bees fall victim to disease, insecticides and intensive farming, the international beekeeping body Apimondia said on Monday.
“With this level of mortality, European beekeepers can only survive another 8 to 10 years,” Gilles Ratia, the president of Apimondia, told Reuters.
“We have had big problems in southwest France for many years,” he said, but the problem had extended to Italy and Germany.
Last year, about 30 percent of Europe’s 13.6 million hives died, according to Apimondia figures. Losses reached 50 percent in Slovenia and as high as 80 percent in southwest Germany.
About 35 percent of European food crops rely on bees to pollinate them, Mr. Ratia said, and the deaths pose a big threat for farmers.
“It is a complete crisis,” said Francesco Panella, who tends about 1,000 hives in the Piedmont region of Italy. “Last year, I lost about half my production. I can’t survive more than two or three more years like this.”
Mystery has surrounded the recent decline in the bee population. Most keepers blame modern farming methods and the pesticides used on crops like sunflower and rapeseed.
French honey output has suffered in intensive sunflower-farming areas, said Henri Clement, president of the French beekeeping union, but has remained steady in mountains and chestnut forests.
Apimondia’s scientific coordinator, Gerard Arnold, cites two main factors responsible for weakening bee colonies: insecticides and the parasitic mite Varroa. Once weakened, Mr. Arnold said, the hives were then wiped out by other diseases.
The European Union voted this year to phase out the most toxic pesticides after years of wrangling, but beekeepers still say that they are ignored by politicians. “If cattle were producing 30 percent less milk each year, it would not be acceptable,” said Josef Stich, who keeps 200 hives near Vienna.
Published: April 27, 2009