An apiary in British Columbia.

Canada to keep border closed to U.S. honey bee packages: report

Canadian beekeepers hoping for quick access to cheaper package bees from the United States have had their hopes dented, if not crushed.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has concluded a new risk assessment report that says Canadian apiculture remains exposed to the potential for medication-resistant varroa mites and American Foulbrood, and infestations of small hive beetle and Africanized honey bees. Although CFIA has not yet posted it to its website, the Manitoba Beekeepers Association has a downloadable .pdf copy here.
As a result, unless the federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper caves to significant lobbying from commercial beekeepers – primarily in Alberta and Manitoba – the status quo is likely to remain in place.
Late last week the CFIA released its 2013 risk assessment to stakeholders. It is seeking public comment until Nov. 25, after which it will make a final recommendation to Agriculture Minister Rona Ambrose on whether Canada’s borders should be reopened to U.S. package bees.
The CFIA’s report doesn’t specifically recommend the border be open or closed. Instead, it is a qualitative assessment of the four serious identified threats that Canada’s important beekeeping industry face from the U.S.
Canada closed the continental border to U.S. packages in 1987 as a result of the outbreak of two pests in the U.S., the tracheal mite, (acarapis woodi), and the varroa mite (varroa destructor). In 1993 it allowed queens from Hawaii to be imported. In 2003 CFIA conducted a new risk assessment. It allowed the importation of queens from continental U.S. under strict conditions but continued to keep the border closed to packages. It continues to allow package and queen imports from New Zealand, Chile and Australia but only queens from the U.S. Last year Canadian beekeepers imported 40,000 packages worth $2.5 million from those countries. The vast majority of the 198,000 queens imported in 2012 came from the U.S., primarily Hawaii.
The value of the Canadian beekeeping industry is more than $1.8 billion. According to CFIA, this is upwards of $1.7 billion in pollination services, and $151 million in honey production. Last year beekeepers produced just over 90 million pounds of honey, up 13.8 per cent from the year before.
The original closure significantly affected the Canadian beekeeping industry, resulting in many beekeepers going out of business. It also drove up the cost of packages from other countries; landed three-pound packages from New Zealand, the largest importer, cost upwards of $150 because of the cost of air freight, whereas U.S. packages sell in the States for half that amount.
It is this financial disparity, coupled with severe winter losses experienced particularly in Manitoba and Alberta, that have led commercial beekeepers to push for a reopening of the border.
Last spring the two largest beekeeping associations in Manitoba and Alberta lobbied then-federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz hard to have the ban lifted; he ordered the CFIA to conduct a new risk assessment with the expectation a decision would be rendered in time for the 2014 import season. John Gibeau at Honey Bee Centre, who heavily favours reopening the border, also posted a piece arguing the closure was unnecessary.
However, in a comprehensive 71-page report the agency says the risks remain the same and that the greatest danger comes from Amitraz-resistant varroa.
It points out that Canada remains free of the medication-resistant variant of the mite. There is a high risk it would come in on U.S. packages, depriving beekeepers of the last effective form of chemical treatment in their arsenal.
In 2008 Canada allowed the emergency registration of Amitraz – the active ingredient in formulations like Apivar – after beekeepers began encountering fluvalinate- and coumaphos-resistant strains of mites.
The report also examines the context under which the American package industry exists, noting the U.S. does little to inspect for or restrain the movement of honey bee diseases.
This is from the executive summary:

Key risk factors considered in the assessment are the distribution and prevalence of honey bee diseases in the U.S., the extensive migratory beekeeping industry, the overwintering of colonies in the southern part of the U.S., the lack of interstate movement controls, and the absence of a national honey bee management program.

Conclusions of the current risk assessment are similar to the previous scientific evaluation conducted in 2003; there is still a high probability of introducing diseases and pests into Canada due to importation of honey bees from the continental United States. The risk assessment does not provide new scientific evidence to remove or decrease the current import control measures in place, thus allowing only the importation of honey bee queens from the United States.
As such, the risk assessment provides scientific support for the import control measures that are currently in place for the importation of honey bees from the U.S. These measures allow honey bee queens to be individually inspected for signs of disease before importation into Canada. Such verification is not possible with honey bee packages.

The report points out that although there are small infestations small hive beetle in Ontario and Quebec, it doesn’t believe the pest can establish viable and expanding colonies due to Canada’s colder weather. It also says while the risk of Canada receiving Africanized honey bees from the U.S. is high, the genetics of these more aggressive bees would likely not survive Canada’s colder weather.
While all provinces except Ontario have sporadically reported cases of Oxytetracycline-resistant American Foulbrood, it remains highly likely that American packages would contain medication-resistant spores. The report puts the overall risk to Canada as “moderate”.
You can find the report here but for the purposes of this article I’ve reprinted the table of risks.

Summary of the Risk Estimates

Hazard Entry Probability Exposure Probability Consequence Estimate Risk Estimate
Africanized honey bee

Moderate to High

Small

Moderate

Low to Moderate

American foulbrood-Oxytetracycline resistant 

High

Moderate to High

Moderate

Moderate

Small hive beetle

High

Low to Small

Moderate

Low to Moderate

Varroosis (varroa mite) – Amitraz-resistant

High

High

Moderate

Moderate

 

The idea of reopening the border has been divisive, to say the least. Many beekeepers and not a few provincial apiculturists believe it would be folly to allow in the potential for pests that would further wreck the industry, even if the risks are low or “manageable”.

Commercial beekeepers of 300 hives or more represent only 13 per cent of the registered operators in Canada. But they account for 83 per cent of the colonies, and they are vital to the pollination of many important crops. They argue they cannot continue to sustain winter losses of upwards of 40 per cent without ready access to cheap bees.
There is already a case being mounted in the Federal Court of Canada by several commercial beekeepers who argue the 1987 border closure was done without proper process. As a result they are seeking damages for lost business. The case is stuck right now in the middle of an application to have it certified as a class action.
At its annual general meeting last weekend the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association wasted no time in registering its continued opposition to reopening the border. The executive hadn’t even read the report before adopting a motion to inform the CFIA it has not changed its mind.
Other groups, such as the Manitoba Beekeepers Association, will study the report before issuing a response.
I’ll continue to follow this, but in the meantime please weigh in with your comments.

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