Cablegate: Varroa Parasite Infests Quebec Honeybee Hives

Published: Tue 10 Jun 2003 03:03 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Varroa Parasite Infests Quebec Honeybee Hives
1. SUMMARY: Quebec's honeybee population is under threat from a
Varroa Mite parasite infestation that will likely reduce the
province's modest honey production. Quebec beekeepers' ability
to combat the mite has been limited by delayed discovery of the
parasite's resistance to the widely used pesticide Fluvalinate,
and restricted access to the Coumaphos pesticide used in the
U.S. and other Canadian provinces. Though media reports
suggested the Varroa infestation could have a negative impact
on pollination of Quebec fruit orchards, local experts believe
provincial harvests this year will remain stable. However, if
the bee population continues to decline, Quebec fruit producers
will have to develop other cultivation methods. END SUMMARY.
2. Quebec's honeybee population is being ravaged by a tiny,
bloodsucking parasite called the Varroa Mite, which destroys
the bees' reproductive cycle. The mite has been in Canada for
approximately 15 years, and about 8 years in Quebec, kept under
control primarily by use of the pesticide Fluvalinate. Last
Fall, however, the Ministere de l'Agriculture, des Pecheries et
de l'Alimentation du Quebec (MAPAQ), Quebec's Department of
Agriculture, reported that the Varroa Mite had developed
resistance to Fluvalinate, according to Dr. France Desjardins,
a veterinarian and an expert in insect diseases with the MAPAQ.
3. The province's beekeepers estimate that as a result of the
mite's recently increased resistance to Fluvalinate, they have
lost 40 to 60 percent of their bee populations this year.
MAPAQ also says that the cold April weather killed off many
already debilitated colonies.
4. U.S. beekeepers have lived with the Varroa mite for over 20
years, controlling it through the use of the pesticide
Coumaphos. Pesticide use is not yet fully harmonized between
the U.S. and Canada, and use of Coumaphos is allowed only
through a permit issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
(CFIA). Several other Canadian provinces began to use
Coumaphos last year when they discovered resistance problems
with Fluvalinate, and have had favorable results. MAPAQ
applied for a permit on behalf of Quebec beekeepers after it
discovered the mites' resistance to Fluvalinate, and CFIA
approved the application in March 2003.
5. According to Peter Keating, a Quebec-based commercial
beekeeper and former inspector for MAPAQ, one reason for Quebec
being later to detect the Fluvalinate resistance may be that
MAPAQ does not employ a full-time bee expert. Ontario, by
comparison, employs a full-time expert and inspector and
discovered the resistance problem in the summer of 2001, in
time to devise new strategies against the mite.
6. According to Statistics Canada, Quebec ranks sixth among
Canadian provinces in honey production (Saskatchewan, Alberta
and Manitoba are the leading producers), accounting for about
$3 million of the $70 million of honey produced in Canada each
year. A potentially more significant effect of a decline in
Quebec's bee population would be on the province's agricultural
industry, as many orchards rely heavily on the bees'
pollination process for fruit cultivation. According to
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the estimated dollar value of
honeybee pollination to Canadian agriculture was worth over
$C18 billion in 2000, $C1 billion of that in Quebec. Quebec-
based apiarists generated about 6 percent of their revenues
from the rental of their hives for pollination last year.
7. Laurent Pellerin, president of the Union des producteurs
agricoles du Quebec (Quebec Union of Agricultural producers),
believes the Quebec government should provide some financial
assistance to beekeepers whose hives have been infested.
However, Keating says that since there is no compulsory
registration for beehives in Quebec, neither the MAPAQ nor any
other government agency has a way of verifying compensation
8. The decline in Quebec's honeybee population cannot be
solved by importing replacement honeybees from the U.S. The
CFIA has prohibited live bee imports from the United States
(with the exception of Hawaii) since 1987, believing that
almost 100 percent of U.S. bee colonies are infested with
Varroa mites. In an assessment report issued in March 2003,
the CFIA deemed importation of U.S. queen honeybees too high-
risk to permit, because Fluvalinate-resistant Varroa mites are
widespread in the United States and Coumaphos resistance is
emerging. The report determined that Coumaphos-resistant
Varroa mites would become widespread throughout most honey-
producing areas much more rapidly if Canada allowed importation
of U.S. honeybees.
9. Former MAPAQ inspector Keating suspects some individual
Quebec beekeepers are illegally importing U.S. queen bees, and
believes that allowing importation of these bees would "open a
Pandora's box" of infestation that could devastate the Quebec
bee population, if mites resistant to Coumaphos were to breed
with those resistant to Fluvalinate. In the past ten years
outbreaks of infestations have hit both Michigan and New York
rather hard, but in both cases the industry was able to
replenish itself, Keating claimed. "Quebec and Canadian
beekeepers should learn from these experiences and develop
defense strategies over the long-term. Importation would be a
short-term solution with damaging long-term prospects," he
10. Jollin Charest, agronomist for the MAPAQ, told post he
does not believe the lack of bees will greatly affect the
pollination process for fruit orchards this year. Charest says
apple orchards are struggling to find beehives, but says some
are finding alternative methods, while others are not using
them at all. Charest estimates that only 20 percent of apple
tree flowers need to be pollinated by honey bees in order to
have a good crop year; other local insects, wind, wild bees or
bumblebees can serve as alternative pollinators. While it is
still too early in the year to estimate whether lack of
honeybees will have a big impact on the fruit harvest, Charest
expects a relatively stable season with little loss. Gerald
Chouinard, of the Institute for Agro-Environment Research and
Development, concurs with Charest regarding this year's harvest
but says if the bee population continues to decline, Quebec
fruit producers will have to develop other cultivation methods.
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