The deadline for public comment on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Risk Assessment on the importation of American package bees has now passed.
But that hasn’t stopped the considerable commentary from beekeepers who are weighing in on both sides, who alternately find the CFIA “status quo” decision either specious and based on faulty science, or a proper scientific decision that balances unknowns against the long-term health of the Canadian beekeeping industry.
CFIA will now presumably tabulate all the comments and report the results to Gerry Ritz, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. The Conservative government will ultimately have the last say on whether it opens the door to package imports next spring, and the Saskatchewan MP is under considerable pressure from Manitoba and Albert’s commercial beekeepers to throw open the gates. Underlying the entire issue is whether Canada is willing to accept the potential for serious pests affecting the Canadian beekeeping industry. The CFIA report looked at the potential for small hive beetle, Africanized honey bees, Amitraz-resistant varroa and Oxytetracycline-resistant American Foul Brood.
Wayne Neidig, the president of the B.C. Honey Producers Association, last week released the letter his group sent to CFIA indicating support for keeping the border closed.The position was ratified at the recent BCHPA annual general meeting.
At that same meeting was Peter Awram, B.C.’s largest commercial beekeeper, who stridently disagrees with the position. He has a growing commercial operation in Alberta too, and he strongly believes the conclusions in the CFIA report are based on faulty science.
Peter is so convinced of this that he’s put up a blog called “Bee Science: Cutting Through The BS About Bees” in which he systematically explains why he believes CFIA is wrong.
Among his major points: he believes the argument about Amitraz-resistant varroa is faulty, and suggests that in fact there is no such thing; he says it is a construct of faulty tests by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists.
Peter sent me a note announcing his blog, which I have included at the bottom of this post.
The Alberta Beekeepers Commission has taken a different position from that of the BCHPA. In a letter to members, it argues that CFIA has either ignored or given too much emphasis to some issues.
The Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association at its AGM made it abundantly clear it doesn’t even consider the CFIA report credible. It adopted a series of resolutions that essentially call upon CFIA and the provincial agriculture ministry to recognize that the province has jurisdiction, and that they should create a protocol for importing package bees directly from California to Manitoba.
The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association had already opposed the reopening the border in a letter to CFIA in April, but it also reaffirmed its position in a November 5. letter to its members.
Also weighing in on his Frozen Bees blog is Eric Stromgren, the former BCHPA vice-president who is now an instructor in Grande Prairie Regional College’s Commercial Beekeeping Certificate Program in Alberta. His post on this, Exercise in Illogic Part 1, suggests that since provinces already have the power to restrict the movement of bees, places like Alberta can bring them in while Ontario can ban them.
It seems to me to be logical to allow those provinces feeling the greatest need (e.g. Alberta, with 1/3 of the Canadian bee industry) to import packages, while those provinces who would rather not (e.g. Ontario) can prohibit the entry of US bees (or all bees from elsewhere in Canada, if need be).
Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t account for the fact that every fall Alberta beekeepers ship around 30,000-40,000 hives to British Columbia for wintering in our more temperate climate.
Many of those bees are then used in the spring for pollination of blueberry and cranberry fields in the Lower Mainland, and tree fruits in the Okanagan before being sent back to Alberta for hybrid canola pollination.
Since B.C. is opposed to the importation of American packages, one could reasonably expect B.C. also would stop the movement of bees from Alberta.
I am sure this is not the end of the story; we still have to hear from the minister. Here’s Peter’s letter.
As I mentioned at the BC Meeting, the CFIA Risk Assessment is a truly appalling piece of work. It is clearly biased, but also has very little in the way of science in it. I have started a blog to highlight the worst of the offences athttp://realbeescience.wordpress.com. Eric Stromgren is also writing about the report at http://www.beekeepereric.com/
The worst offence by the report is that there is no proof of amitraz-resistance in the world, and especially the US. The tests used don’t work with amitraz as it functionally different that fluvalinate and coumaphos. Anyone reading the references given in the CFIA report would realize this, but this failing in the report is quite prevalent. References don’t support what is claimed or facts are picked out of the references that support the outcome that was desired (i.e. keep the border closed) The USDA has realized the amitraz-resistance testing problem, but are somewhat embarrassed as it is their scientists that made the mistake. They have retooled the test and have so far found no sign of resistance.
The second major offence is the presence of OTC-resistance in Canada. The data clearly show that it is as widespread in Canada as in the US. It is also quite probable from the data that specific resistant strains arose in Alberta firs
Anyway I should let you read it there rather than rewrite it here.