What is the impact of canola seed treatments on honey bee health? 10 Nov 2014

Intense interest worldwide about the perceived threat to honey bee health from seed dressings has prompted the first study of its kind in Australia, testing beehives placed in treated and untreated canola crops to determine the level of agrochemical contamination.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has approved the use of neonicotinoids in Australia and canola growers are extensively using seed coated by these chemicals.

The research will provide world-first data, because beekeepers in other countries are also dealing with miticides that control varroa mite in their hives (Australia is varroa-free). This makes it difficult to determine which source of chemical contamination (beekeeper or farm) is linked to the reported world-wide bee die-offs, or if in fact it’s a combination of both, or neither.

The research is being undertaken by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and Food, led by Dr Robert Manning, and funded by the Honey Bee and Pollination RD&E Program, a partnership between the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture.

New hives were placed in each of 15 properties across three regions in WA at the beginning of flowering in July. These included canola with no chemical seed treatment, crops treated with neonicotinoids, and both genetically modified (herbicide resistant) and non-genetically modified crops. Beekeepers using canola also had samples taken from their hives.

The hives have been collected from farms and samples taken to determine the level of chemical residue, if any, contained in pollen on bees going into the hives, in the beeswax and in the honey.

Chair of the Honey Bee and Pollination Program’s Advisory Panel, Dr Michael Hornitzky, said research such as this provides important knowledge for Australian beekeepers.

“This study will provide beekeepers in Australia with some certainty about what their bees are bringing back to the hive and likely impacts on bee health if they are being placed in canola crops, particularly where seed has been treated,” Dr Hornitzky said.

“Given that pollination is an essential step in the seed production of canola, and honey bees play a role in this, it is important to understand whether any chemicals get into the beehives used in canola crops and whether it will be significant and detrimental to the beekeeping industry.

“This project is also on track to address some of the recommendations from the recent Senate inquiry into The Future of the beekeeping and pollination service industries in Australia, acknowledging the need for reliable and comprehensive data about the industry, including residue monitoring,” Dr Hornitzky said.

The final report into the project is expected mid next year. 

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