Over the last two years, the honey bee population is reported to have fallen by between 10 and 15 per cent in the UK and Wales, although Defra expects the loss could be considerably higher as a lot of amateur bee keepers are not reporting losses.
Loss of bee populations, not just in the UK but around the world, are causing considerable concern for food security, since they play a fundamental role in pollinating many plants and crops that we rely on for food.
A new ten-year plan to counter the crisis was launched by the UK’s Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs this week. The first stage of the plan, called Healthy Bees, will target amateur beekeepers who may be unaware of the importance of informing the National Bee Unit (NBU) to health problems in their colonies.
They are also encouraged to register on BeeBase, a database of beekeepers.
“Bees are just about the most hardworking of insects,” said environment minister Jane Kennedy. “They help put food on our plates as they produce honey and pollinate other plants, many of which produce food themselves.”
Calling the new plan a “blueprint” for safeguarding honey bee health, Kennedy also pointed out that beekeepers can benefit from free inspection and diagnostic services form the NBU.
The unveiling of the plan follows an investment of ₤4.3m to conduct more research on bee health announced in February.
The UK concern is paralleled at a European level. In December last year the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) launched a 9-month project to investigate the causes of honey bee ‘colony collapse disorder’, the rapid loss of adult bees from a colony or hive; only a few newly-emerged adult bees remain with the queen, but no dead bees are found in or around the hive.
EFSA has now awarded a grant of €100,000 to a consortium of European scientific institutions to looking into the causes, which are unknown but various factors like starvation, viruses, mites, pesticide exposure and climate change may be involved.
The objective is to critically analyse existing surveillance programmes; compile data on collapse, weakening and mortality; and critically review existing scientific data.
The cause of the honey bee has been adopted by some in the food industry. Notably Häagen Dazs, the ice cream brand owned by Nestle in the US, launched its Häagen-Dazs loves Honey Bees campaign in February 2008 to raise research funds and awareness about the plight of the bees.
Häagen Dazs’ interest in keeping honey bee populations healthy is connected to their sourcing interests.
A Häagen-Dazs spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “More than 40 percent of Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavours are dependent on honey bee pollination, but honey is not a major ingredient in all of our ice cream.
“Ingredients like almonds and berries are foods that are bee-dependent, and since Häagen-Dazs ice cream is dedicated to remaining an all-natural brand, if we find some of these items difficult to source we’ll eventually have to re-examine our flavour line.”