Every three years, the Bee Protection Group of the International Commission for Plant-Pollinator Relationships (ICPPR) organizes a symposium on the important topic of bee safety and pesticides. This year the event was held in the city of oranges, Valencia, where some 170 participants from authorities, crop protection industry, contract laboratories and research institutes around the world gathered for a constructive exchange on the latest status. In his opening remarks, Jens Pistorius, as chair of the Organizing Committee, emphasized that this meeting was about good science, independent of its source.
And this was the guiding principle across the three days. A lot of exchange was on bee testing method development, e.g. larval testing and higher tier testing for honey bees, and first test designs for bumble bee (Bombus) and solitary bee (e.g. Osmia) species. The further development and extension of appropriate assessment schemes and scientifically robust methods to determine the safety of pesticides to other bee species, beyond the honey bee, is for instance one of the main challenges that regulators, scientists and industry will face in the coming years. The crop protection industry, academia and regulators are collaborating strongly on this, to keep up with the evolving science of the interaction between crop protection products and bee health. In this regard, many presenters – including contract laboratories with substantial practical experience –expressed or implied in their presentations that studies according to the draft EFSA Draft Bee Guidance Document are largely unworkable. This is due to overly strict and excessive new requirements for product testing and risk assessment.
Active exchange among bee experts during breaks in the conference program.
Laboratory studies cannot duplicate the complexity of field situations or measure a bee colony’s behavioral dynamics in responding to multiple environmental influences. For this, it is necessary to perform semi-field testing and/or full field testing, in which entire bee colonies are tested. Studies which are not standard and need tailoring to the given situation, thus requiring creativity and shaping via scientific consultation between the different parties. Modelling (e.g. the BEEHAVE model) and digital (radio tags on the bees) approaches were also presented, tapping into new ways of measurement and assessment.
Using all the information obtained from lower-tier tests and higher-tiered studies enables regulators and manufacturers to take reasonable precautionary steps to ensure critically-needed crop protection products can be safely used without harming bees. This information is also used to specify the product label, and together with the farmers’ adoption of best management practices ensures pollinator protection. This was backed up by the relatively low number of harmful bee incidences in Germany, as presented by Jens Pistorius of the Julius Kühn Institute (JKI) in Germany. A re-assuring message.
Despite this, Bayer is involved in projects to develop and implement innovative application technologies that reduce the exposure of bees and other pollinators to crop protection products even further. One example of this is the Dropleg application technology, where farmers can apply crop protection products below the blossoms of a flowering crop to minimize the exposure of pollinators foraging on the blossoms and reduce drift losses. Peter Trodtfeld, bee health expert at the Bee Care Center, presented the results in oilseed rape. ‘Initial results look promising, we see a reduction in pollinator exposure while maintaining effectiveness against the targeted crop pests and diseases’, he stressed.
It was motivating to listen to all the presentations at the symposium and see how much dedication is being put into ensuring the safety of crop protection products to bees and the advances made in understanding bee biology and behavior. Yet, with this welcome progress, it becomes ever more important that regulators agree how best to use the new information to conduct meaningful risk assessments that will allow for the protection of crops and at the same time protect the health of bees.