Evidence of meeting #16 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was beekeepers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andrea Johnston  Director General, Sector Development and Analysis Directorate, Market and Industry Services Branch, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Stephen Pernal  Research Scientist, Apiculture, and Officer-in-Charge, Beaverlodge Research Farm, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Jaspinder Komal  Executive Director and Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Animal Health Directorate, Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Scott Kirby  Director General, Environmental Assessment Directorate, Pest Management Regulatory Agency, Department of Health
Bruce Rutley  Director, Research and Innovation, Grande Prairie Regional College
André Flys  Second Vice-President, Ontario Beekeepers' Association
Carlos Castillo  Applied Scientist Manager, National Bee Diagnostic Centre - TAC, Grande Prairie Regional College

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Dr. Pernal, you mentioned that you have a new term scientist, Dr. Marta Guarna, working with you. Is there a specific study that she's working on now? Could you expand on that for us?

4:20 p.m.

Research Scientist, Apiculture, and Officer-in-Charge, Beaverlodge Research Farm, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Dr. Stephen Pernal

Yes. Dr. Guarna is spending her time on a couple of studies, but one she's particularly taking the lead on is looking at the quality of queens being imported into Canada. The Canadian honeybee industry is very dependent on importing large volumes of queens, particularly from the U.S., and one of the consistent reasons cited by beekeepers in terms of concerns for the colony losses has been the quality of queens, their longevity, and their performance. She's looking at factors associated with the transport of queens and how this may affect the viability of sperm within them.

Honeybee queens are mated in flight to many drones, and we find, by actually destructively analyzing many queens, that the per cent of sperm that is viable inside them is sometimes quite low. We know this affects colony performance, so she's trying to look at factors about why that may occur in certain instances. It may be temperature extremes in shipment. It may also be related to the hive environment they're reared in and perhaps to exposure to pesticides within them.

Certainly, Dr. Guarna is helping with a few projects, but that is one in particular that she's taking the lead on.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Okay. That's great.

Also, I am from Atlantic Canada. Last week, we had Dr. Kevan here from the University of Guelph. One of the things he talked about was the Atlantic tech transfer team. I'm wondering if any of you have any insight into that team or where we may be going with that on a long-term basis.

4:20 p.m.

Research Scientist, Apiculture, and Officer-in-Charge, Beaverlodge Research Farm, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Dr. Stephen Pernal

I just met the Atlantic transfer team in P.E.I. two weeks ago, so I can speak to that as well.

I think you have two great individuals who are well trained and very eager to serve Maritimes beekeepers. I think this is a wonderful step forward in developing the industry and perhaps really looking at ways of implementing latest findings or developing practices that may be more specific to the Maritimes to improve the success and vitality of that industry.

As you're probably very well aware, the lowbush blueberry industry is looking at increasing in size over the next few years, and one limiting factor there is the number of bee colonies necessary for pollination. Currently, many colonies are brought in from Ontario and Quebec to pollinate blueberries in the Maritimes. It's certainly an open question as to whether the industry in the Maritimes can have a large enough in-house industry to partly meet that demand.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Okay. Very good.

You say that we have about nine years of monitoring now that we can solidly look at. Are there any other regional considerations that you're seeing, whether that's in Atlantic Canada or the west? Where are the big differences regionally?

4:20 p.m.

Research Scientist, Apiculture, and Officer-in-Charge, Beaverlodge Research Farm, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Dr. Stephen Pernal

I think there tend to be differences year to year just in looking at large geographic biomes of the country. Things on the Prairies tend to be similar in terms of concerns and influences. That often differs from other provinces such as British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes.

We're a very regionalized country, so it's hard to make sweeping statements, but weather patterns, cropping practices, use of pesticides, and the sheer number of colonies certainly can vary differently within Canada regionally. All of these factors, I think, contribute to success outcomes and perhaps to the development of better management practices to improve overall survival and health of bees.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alaina Lockhart Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

Great. To that end, then, I'm very happy to know that we have studies going on in Ottawa, Kentville, and Calgary.

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

On that note, we'll conclude this portion of the panel.

I want to thank all the witnesses for taking the time to shed light on this very important issue concerning our beekeepers.

We'll take a short break and be back in a few minutes.

Again, thank you very much to the panel.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Let's get going with the second portion of our meeting.

On video with us this afternoon we have representatives from Grande Prairie Regional College in Alberta: Carlos Castillo, applied scientist, and Bruce Rutley, director of research and innovation.

From the Ontario Beekeepers' Association, we have André Flys, second vice-president.

We will start with a 10-minute opening statement from Carlos Castillo of Grande Prairie.

You have the floor, Mr. Castillo.

4:30 p.m.

Dr. Bruce Rutley Director, Research and Innovation, Grande Prairie Regional College

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair. This is actually Bruce Rutley speaking. I will read the presentation to the committee, if that's okay, and Carlos will join me during the Q and A section.

With your permission, may I proceed?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Yes, you can go.

4:30 p.m.

Director, Research and Innovation, Grande Prairie Regional College

Dr. Bruce Rutley

I'm the director of research and innovation at Grande Prairie Regional College. Formerly, I was the dean at Fairview College for agriculture technologies and with responsibility for the commercial beekeeping program. I'm currently responsible for the National Bee Diagnostic Centre, of which Carlos Castillo is the applied scientist manager.

Bees and other natural pollinators are essential in order to maintain healthy and diverse ecosystems. The commercially raised honeybee is the most important pollinator in our food production systems, contributing well over $2 billion to the Canadian agriculture sector by means of improved yield and quality.

In the last 10 years there has been a well-documented deterioration of the health conditions of both commercial and wild bees. Beekeepers are reporting higher than expected colony losses during the winter and there is significant reduction in the presence and numbers of native bees.

The high honeybee losses are affecting the beekeeping industry and their services to the agrifood sector. A complete understanding of what is producing this decline has yet to emerge. However, the scientific community agrees that losses cannot be assigned to one single cause. There is a complex of conditions and factors, including but not limited to, and in no particular order, hive management practices, monoculture crop production systems, habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, weather conditions, endemic and exotic diseases, pests and parasites, as well as poor-quality queens.

The National Bee Diagnostic Centre was created by Grande Prairie Regional College in response to requests from the regional beekeeping industry for more robust diagnostic capacity and services. GPRC built the National Bee Diagnostic Centre at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Beaverlodge research farm specifically to facilitate collaboration with the national honeybee management program led by Dr. Steve Pernal. The Beaverlodge research farm and the NBDC are located in the county of Grande Prairie adjacent to the town of Beaverlodge, 40 kilometres west of Grande Prairie, Alberta, in the Peace Country, one of Canada's leading honey-producing areas.

The National Bee Diagnostic Centre is the only comprehensive laboratory in Canada focused exclusively on the diagnostics of pests, pathogens, and parasites affecting honeybees. It uses microscopy, microbiology, and molecular biology techniques in order to achieve its findings. Its primary objective is to provide independent, confidential diagnostic services and analyses from which evidence-based decisions can be made in order to contribute to both a healthy, competitive, profitable, and dynamic beekeeping industry and to food security concerns.

The NBDC was the first initiative to result from an April 2010 memorandum of understanding between GPRC and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's science partnerships directorate. The Beaverlodge research farm-based initiative was supported with investments from the Rural Alberta Development Fund, Western Economic Diversification, and GPRC. Construction started in November 2011 with completion in December 2012. While the laboratory was being commissioned, the college was able to secure a technology access centre grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council college and community initiative fund. Thus the NBDC began operations in April 2013 with an expanded mandate as a technology access centre.

Since then it has been providing comprehensive, reliable, accurate, and timely diagnostic services as the NBDC as well as applied research and innovation services, training, and outreach as a TAC. This dual mandate enables the NBDC, which I will refer to for this presentation, to serve beekeepers and the beekeeping industry, industry professionals, government, and university researchers from across the country. In 2014 and again in 2015 the NBDC increased its diagnostic capabilities through specialized equipment grants from NSERC. The NBDC is guided by a national-level industry, government, and university advisory committee sponsored by NSERC. It is one of 30 technology access centres within the emergent NSERC-sponsored Tech Access Canada network.

Within its applied research mandate, NBDC has established relationships and collaborations with researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, and the University of British Columbia, and it has an emergent partnership with the University of Saskatchewan.

As in the case of the national research project on sustaining and securing Canada's honeybees using “omic” tools, led by UBC and York University, NBDC provides the diagnostic services critical to the research agendas of these scientists. However, the primary applied research relationship is with the beekeeping industry, which receives diagnostic services and support for its research needs.

The most significant industry project, the Canadian national honeybee health survey, is currently being conducted on behalf of commercial beekeepers. The Alberta Beekeepers Association is leading on behalf of the industry and its government funding partners. The Canadian national honeybee health survey is a four-year initiative that started in 2014. It's aim is the design and verification of country-wide sampling procedures in order to establish a country-wide baseline of endemic pests, parasites, and diseases affecting honeybees. In addition, apiaries will be sampled for exotic pests considered to be high risks to the beekeeping industry. Pesticide residue analyses are scheduled for year four.

The NBDC is currently operating beyond its initial capacity targets, growing from 1,800 diagnostics in year one, to 8,000 in year two, to over 20,000 in this year, year three. Staff complement has doubled to five full-time employees, and depending on the time of year, the NBDC is host to students, interns, visiting scholars, and bee professionals.

Additionally, it has established relationships with leading international honeybee diagnostic scientists and laboratories in Europe and the U.S. Recently, Grande Prairie Regional College has initiated steps to expand the facility and its capacity to meet this growing demand for service. It envisions a national centre of excellence for bees in collaboration with existing and additional industry, government, and university partners in order to serve the critical needs of Canadian beekeepers and Canadians.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Rutley.

Now we go to André Flys for 10 minutes.

4:40 p.m.

André Flys Second Vice-President, Ontario Beekeepers' Association

I'm André Flys. I am vice-president of the Ontario Beekeepers' Association, as well as a commercial beekeeper here in Ontario. The Ontario Beekeepers' Association thanks the chair and honourable members for inviting us to present to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The Ontario Beekeepers' Association, or OBA for short, is an agricultural association incorporated under the Government of Ontario's Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act. Our mission is to ensure a thriving and sustainable beekeeping industry in Ontario. To that end, we support honeybee health research, promote the value of Ontario's honey, and deliver practical training and information to Ontario beekeepers.

While Ontario's honey production, at $33.9 million, represents only about 15% of the value of Canadian honey, Ontario's beekeeping industry plays a significantly larger role in the pollination of Canada's fruits and vegetables. Fully 37% of Canada's produce is grown in Ontario. More than any other province, Ontario's honeybee industry is not only responsible for much of the fresh food that Canadians eat, but contributes nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars to the Canadian economy through the pollination services we provide to Ontario fruit and vegetable growers, and to the blueberry and cranberry growing regions of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

The OBA accepted the opportunity to present to the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in 2014, and appreciates the progress that has been made following the committee's report and recommendations last year. We particularly appreciate the fact that the PMRA has discontinued granting conditional registrations to new pesticides. However, there is still much work to be done.

In the spirit of collaboration and the importance of managed and wild pollinators, the OBA submits the following comments and recommendations for your consideration.

Number one, now is the time for the Government of Canada to take a leadership position on systemic pesticides. The much publicized threat from the overuse of neonicotinoid and other systemic pesticides has not abated. This year, reports of bee kills in Ontario have continued at the same rate as last year. Canada must step up its efforts to significantly reduce or eliminate improper use of pesticides as a preventative measure. Our food security depends on a reliable and viable source of insect pollinators.

PMRA has stated that they will evaluate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's position when making decisions on pesticides. However, the EPA action or non-action should not be the primary determinant of decisions relevant to Canada, particularly when the EPA is under such intense pressure from the agricultural industry and is under threat of disbanding from partisan forces.

Number two, we are asking for an independent panel of bee health experts to provide oversight for the review of all systemic pesticides. Pesticide manufacturers have pushed new systemic pesticides into the pipeline in reaction to restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids in Europe and some North American jurisdictions. In some cases, they have been granted restrictions after the cursory public consultation. The criteria for new registrations refer to LD50, based on short-term exposure to pesticides. Substantial evidence now points to chronic exposure from systemics as a major cause of bee mortality.

Even low concentrations can put bees at risk. Neonicotinoids are thousands of times more lethal to bees than older insecticides like DDT. Research shows that bees experiencing sublethal effects encounter complications such as changes in foraging behaviour or delayed development. As well, it is important to stress that neonicotinoids are not separate from other problems facing honeybees, such as varroa, viruses, and nutrition. Exposure to these pesticides make other problems worse by compromising the bees' immune systems, reducing navigational skills, and destroying habitat.

Ontario has been particularly hard hit by the overuse of systemic pesticides. Since 2007, coinciding with the extended use of neonicotinoids on soy and corn, Ontario beekeepers have lost an average of 30% of their colonies each winter, compared to an average of 15% prior to 2007. However, this does not reflect the full impact.

Colonies weak from exposure to toxic pesticides cannot recover from winter damage. Ongoing exposure to even sublethal doses causes colonies to decline throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Bee losses now have to be assessed year-round. Despite these losses, Ontario beekeepers have managed to maintain their inventory by purchasing queens and bees, and dividing surviving colonies. However, these hives are less populous and less productive for the season. As well, the additional cost associated with this practice erodes the ability of beekeepers to make a living.

We need to trust that our regulators have the scientific capacity to conduct independent assessments. We urgently call on the ministry to support Health Canada and Environment Canada to revamp PMRA and the process for assessing and approving pesticides. We need a systematic approach to assessing pesticides that is open, transparent, and independent of industry.

Number three, Canada must maintain the policy of a Canadian border closed to imports of U.S. bees into Canada. OBA supports the conclusions of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's most recent assessment that stated, “There is still a high probability of introducing diseases and pests into Canada due to importation of honeybees from the continental United States.”

Specifically, we are most concerned about three areas.

One is Africanized honeybees. The CFIA considers Africanized honeybees a threat to public and animal health, as well as to the Canadian beekeeping industry because of the significant impact on productivity and potential trade issues with live honeybee material. The introduction of Africanized bees could serve to dilute, if not destroy, the generations of non-defensive, productive honeybees bred by Canada's beekeepers.

Two, American foulbrood is a worldwide bacterial disease of the larval and pupal stages of bee development. Treatment with antibiotics will destroy the vegetative bacteria, but it will not kill the spores. According to the CFIA, American foulbrood occurs in the continental United States and Canada; however, strains resistant to oxytetracycline or antibiotic treatments have been widely reported in the United States, leading the CFIA to consider the import of U.S. bees a potential hazard.

Three is treatment-resistant varroa mites. Although varroa mites are widespread in both the continental U.S. and Canada, mites resistant to fluvalinate and amitraz are present in the United States where there is an intense migratory beekeeping industry with no interstate controls on honeybees. Given the prevalence of varroa mites in colonies, it is reasonable to expect that imported bees will carry varroa, including those resistant to miticides.

We believe that opening the border to the U.S. bees will compromise the stability and future sustainability of the beekeeping industry in Ontario and other provinces. We agree with the risk assessment undertaken by the CFIA in 2013, and see no reason to reopen this issue.

Number four, we call on the government to reassess the mandate and mission of the bee health round table assembled by the former minister of agriculture.

Although Ontario has the largest number of beekeepers in Canada and the highest rates of bee mortality due to neonicotinoid pesticides, the OBA was excluded from the round table while seats were given to representatives of the agricultural chemical industry and to the Grain Farmers of Ontario. In addition, environmental NGOs have also been left off the round table, despite their knowledge and expertise in the area of non-managed bees.

We believe a reconstituted round table that reflects the full range of societal interests and expertise would be more likely to chart a positive and long-lasting course for bee health in Canada.

We believe our recommendations support the ministry's mandate “to help Canada's agriculture sector be innovative, safer, and stronger”. When it comes to “safer”, we include pollinators, the environment, Canada's water supply, and our food system.

On behalf of the Ontario Beekeepers' Association, I thank you for this opportunity to present to the committee, and I welcome any questions.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Flys.

We will now go to the rounds of question, and we will start with Mr. Warkentin, for six minutes.

June 6th, 2016 / 4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

Thank you.

Dr. Rutley and Dr. Castillo, it's great to have you here. You're some distance away, but it's close to home for me.

I should tell the committee that I have a bit of a vested interest in that both of you are constituents, but that's not why I'm going to spend a fair bit of time bragging about your work. What you've done in Grand Prairie and in Beaverlodge is truly remarkable, and we thank you for your work.

Bruce, you spoke to the number of samplings that you're doing on an annual basis. Could you repeat that to make sure committee members have heard it? When the facility was built, I guess you had an estimate of how many samples you would undertake to review every year. What are the numbers looking like now, and where are those samples coming from? Could you run through those numbers for us?

4:50 p.m.

Director, Research and Innovation, Grande Prairie Regional College

Dr. Bruce Rutley

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In year one, which was 2013-14, we did 1,800 diagnostics. In year two, we did 8,000. In this current year, which we just finished, based on the 2015 production year, we will have completed over 20,000 diagnostics.

The growth in samples has come from industry through applied research and through our partnerships with scientists like Dr. Shelley Hoover in Lethbridge with leafcutter bees and Leonard Foster at UBC through the BeeOMICS project.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

The samples you're receiving for diagnostics are coming from across the country. Is that correct? What percentage is coming from outside the province of Alberta?

4:50 p.m.

Dr. Carlos Castillo Applied Scientist Manager, National Bee Diagnostic Centre - TAC, Grande Prairie Regional College

Of the 20,000 diagnostics, probably half of them are research samples coming from Manitoba, from Ontario, from Alberta, and from B.C. Half of them are coming from beekeepers from Newfoundland and Labrador through to New Brunswick, with some from Quebec.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

It is truly pan-Canadian, the work you're doing in Beaverlodge. Certainly there seems to be a demand for the services you're providing. We know that many of the samples you're receiving are from industry, from beekeepers, and those who might identify that there's a problem happening within their colonies. Many times when you're sent samplings it's because beekeepers are not sure what's happening with the health of their own bees, and obviously there's a desire by these beekeepers to find out exactly what's going on, if in fact there's a disease, or a parasite, or some type of environmental factor impacting their bees.

From the time you're sent a sample to the time you're able to give some feedback to the beekeeper, what's usually the time frame for giving some information to the beekeeper?

4:55 p.m.

Applied Scientist Manager, National Bee Diagnostic Centre - TAC, Grande Prairie Regional College

Dr. Carlos Castillo

Our policy is that as soon as the sample arrives in our lab, we have a two-week period to report back to the beekeeper. We have been able to provide the results in an even shorter time, around 10 days.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

Obviously, we've established at this committee, and I think everybody around this table understands, that bee health is important and that the information is empowering to the beekeepers and those who study bees. In terms of your facility, is there any other facility in the country that provides similar services to yours, and the way you do it?

4:55 p.m.

Applied Scientist Manager, National Bee Diagnostic Centre - TAC, Grande Prairie Regional College

Dr. Carlos Castillo

There are several facilities around the country. A laboratory in Abbotsford, B.C., provides some services to B.C. beekeepers only. There are some facilities in Quebec that provide services only to Quebec beekeepers. I believe the University of Guelph also provides services to the beekeepers and the provincial apiculturists from Ontario. The difference with us is that we provide services to beekeepers from any place in Canada, basically.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

In terms of the 10-day turnaround time you're able to undertake right now, with the 20,000 diagnostics that you're doing on an annual basis, do you believe those numbers will grow? That's the first question. Second, if those numbers do grow, with the capacity of the facility, do you believe you'll be able to maintain your current service-level provisions? Do you believe there's room for growth such that you'll still be able to meet those objectives of providing diagnostics within two weeks?

4:55 p.m.

Applied Scientist Manager, National Bee Diagnostic Centre - TAC, Grande Prairie Regional College

Dr. Carlos Castillo

Right now we are a full operation, with a normal shift of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m. The capacity is there and the equipment is there to provide additional services, if needed, but of course we would need additional staff if we had different shifts.