My story in The Vancouver Sun about the spring-time import of honey bees from New Zealand has triggered debate about the long-standing ban by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on imports from the United States.
More than 20 years ago, in the face of a virulent Asian mite called varroa destructor, Canada closed the border to the trans-shipment of beehives from the U.S. It caught a great many Canadian beekeepers by surprise, since many had significant pollination businesses in California’s almond orchards and many others depended upon importation from the U.S. to support the huge Peace River honey flow.
At that time, it was common for beekeepers in Canada to get rid of their colonies at the end of the season, and then restart in the spring with packages or nucs brought in from over the border. The shutdown put a lot of people out of business and the closure of the border still rankles many.
With the worldwide spread of varroa now, that original reason for the border closure no longer exists. Now the CFIA keeps it in place to keep out two other problems, small hive beetle and Africanized honey bees.
But research has shown that SHB, a warm climate pest, hasn’t successfully settled in Canada. Recent research in Quebec showed the beetle couldn’t set up viable colonies. Africanized honey bees haven’t been established north of Nevada because of the colder northern climate. So there is, of course, a renewed push from Canadian beekeepers to reconsider opening the border to access the vast genetic stock of apis mellifera in the U.S.
Last night I received the following letter from Peter and Jerry Awram, whose Honeyview Farm in Rosedale, B.C. is the largest beekeeping operation in the province. They run just under 4,000 hives. Jerry, a former provincial apiculturalist for Alberta, was one of the first to get away from killing bees at the end of the season and began to develop bees that could over-winter well in Canada.
Let me know what you think.
Dear Jeff Lee
We appreciated your article highlighting the shortage of honey bees for pollination. As the largest beekeeper in BC, we have felt the last few years of phenomenal losses keenly.
Importation of bees is a necessary fact of beekeeping in Canada. We will always need to import queens because the weather does not allow the rearing of queens in the early spring when they are needed. Package imports are also important because significant losses are unavoidable. Honeybees are really tropical insects and are not that well adapted to colder climates.
However, Canada’s population is growing and people need to be fed. As 1/3 of our food needs pollination we are dependent on honeybees.
One of the major problems with importation are the sources. New Zealand, Hawaii and Chile.
These bees are from genetic stock not well adapted to our climate and sheltered from diseases for many decades, although all sources now have many of these same diseases.
NZ and Chile are in another hemisphere which presents other problems
- The bees spend long periods in transport and tend to arrive in poor condition
- The bees and queens are preparing for winter and are not adapted for spring. They tend to be slow to adapt to spring conditions.
Our experience with NZ and Chile stock has been uniformly negative.
The import restrictions on honeybees into Canada are really based on political concerns and do not have a scientific basis. Two years ago the BC Ministry of Agriculture lifted a 20-year ban on importing bees from the mainland to Vancouver Island because there was no scientifically justifiable reasoning supporting the ban.
This same reasoning applies to the restrictions against importing bees from the US. All of the countries that we can import from have at least some of the problems cited for the closure of the US border. Australia and Hawaii have small hive beetle. NZ, Australia, Chile, Hawaii all have Nosema, Varroa mites, tracheal mites, AFB as well as numerous viruses.
The closure of the US – Canadian border to bees has not stopped a single one of the pests that have been used for its justification. It is ludicrous to believe that bee pests are not going to cross a 5000 mile common land border when thousands of miles of ocean has not stopped New Zealand, Hawaii and Australia from getting more or less all bee pests.
Small hive beetle (which has already been found in Canada) and Africanized bees will make it to Canada despite any government rules. They are unlikely to be as serious pests as those we currently have. Africanized bees cannot survive our winter climate and have not migrated much beyond Southern California. Small hive beetle has also proved not to be the disastrous pest in the US as originally claimed. Being tidier with bee equipment seems to be an effective way of limiting its spread and, again, it is from Africa and not well-suited to our climate.
What the US does have, is a large genetic stock better adapted to our climate as well as many years of breeding for stock resistant to the diseases that we now face.
In our experience, the limited stock of queens that we can import from the US is clearly superior to anything we have seen from elsewhere. These queens produce stronger hives that winter better.
By forcing beekeepers to import genetically poorer bees from NZ and elsewhere, CFIA is causing damage to all Canadian beekeepers. These genes get reintroduced into everyone’s stock year after year (Queens regularly fly 2 -3 km from their originating apiary to mate).
There is no scientific reasoning behind these restrictions and BC and Canada will continue to have poor wintering success because of these policies.
Peter Awram PhD
Jerry Awram PhD
10609 McGrath Road
Rosedale, BC Canada