On April 28th, 2014, more than a year after its inception, French Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll presented the first updates and results of the sustainability program for the beekeeping sector. This 40 million euros ($55 million) three-year program initially launched on February 8th, 2013, and seeks to strengthen the French beekeeping sector in the face of recent sharp declines in bee population, productivity and health both in France and in many countries around the world, such as the United States. This international phenomenon is thought by many to have been spurred by the pervasive use of pesticides called neonicotinoids, the noxious components of which spread to different types of bees primarily through, but not limited to, pollination. In addition to investigation of the effects of such pesticide use, France and the European Commission (AESA) have undertaken individual and joint efforts to fortify this highly important and now fragile agricultural sector through multiple country and EU-wide reforms, policies and advancements.
Mr. Le Foll’s first line of attack concerns investigation into bee health and its subsequent preservation. Throughout 2013, France invested 500,000 euros ($685,000) into the implementation of a surveillance technology that tracks illness and behavioral disruptions in bee colonies. An additional 875,000 euros ($1,200,000) were allocated to research, with the help of the French National Research Agency (ANR), on everything from bees’ reactivity to certain chemicals to the effects that climate, location and nutritional supply have on their productivity. Mr. Le Foll also announced that, on top of the ban of Cruiser pesticides on rapeseed and two-year suspension of four other neonicotinoids, France has recruited the expertise of an environmental toxicologist and has instituted a laboratory dedicated to studying the effects of pesticide residue in the food of bees.
France has also doubled its efforts to better fend off natural predators. This year, France classified Varroa – a predatory mite to honeybees- as a category 2 health risk- and as such is considering the implementation of various preventative, surveillance and combative measures. Additionally, the country has dedicated 300,000 euros ($410,000) on top of the 400,000 euros in 2013 to the elimination such infestations.
Lastly, Mr. Le Foll highlighted the mutual interests between the beekeepers and oil seed farmers with regard to pollination, presenting newly signed legislation intended to standardize regulations and encourage dialogue between these two sectors. Said legislation defines the roles of each sector, techniques and conditions for optimal pollination, correct beekeeping practices, correct agricultural practices for the protection of bee colonies during pollination in addition to many other topics of mutual interest. Beekeepers, for example, must henceforth hold a ‘numéro d’apiculteur,’ or beekeeper number, obtain insurance for their bees as well as for their professional practice, and report the number of hives to the Departmental Directorate in charge of population protection and health every year. Seed farmers, on the other hand, must be in full agreement with beekeepers on hive location and overall organization, obtain professional insurance and certify that seed production complies with existing regulations for the culture’s wellbeing from planting to harvest. These are just a few examples of the new and unified bilateral protocol between the beekeeping and seed farming sectors. Such communication and coordination between these two sectors reflects their innate interdependence and will hopefully allow for both sides to flourish.