The EU food safety agency (EFSA) has presented its first steps towards creating an integrated risk assessment framework for honeybees which aims to contribute to the development of future environmental assessments.
‘MUST-B’ aims to encompass multiple stressors – including chemical, biological or related to environmental factors, such as climate change and agricultural practices – together in a single risk assessment framework.
It is made up of two parts: a simulation model of a honey bee colony, called ApisRAM, and a monitoring system, with data flowing between the two.
This monitoring data would be collected from a network of “sentinel hives” equipped with digital sensors from representative climate zones and landscapes in the EU and connected to a platform for data storage and analysis.
Although the framework has been developed for honey bees, it is also envisaged to be applied to bumble bees, solitary bees and other insect pollinators.
The idea is to understand the cumulative effects of stressors, such as pesticides, on pollinators and the wider environment.
This would contribute to the aims of the EU Green Deal, as reducing the use and risk of pesticides and reversing the decline of pollinators are two of the ‘calls‐to‐action’ embedded, respectively, in the Green Deal’s Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies.
The scientific opinion on the approach, which is still in its draft stages and awaiting feedback from a public consultation, comes in response to calls from the Commission, who requested EFSA to develop an integrated, holistic approach to the risk assessment of multiple stressors in managed honey bees back in 2018.
Officials hope that the final scientific opinion will be published this summer.
Moving away from ‘single crop, single pesticide’
Plant protection products (PPPs) can only be approved if they have no unacceptable acute or chronic effects on colony survival and development, taking into account effects on honey bee larvae and honey bee behaviour.
However, under the current legal framework, the evaluation of risk is conducted as a single crop, single pesticide assessment.
Presenting the draft opinion at a recent meeting of the European Parliament’s Environment committee, Simon More, chair of EFSA’s scientific committee, said that the approach can help better reflect the complexity of the environment.
“The really important thing to emphasise is that the purpose of this scientific opinion is to look into the future and to seek to identify a way to appropriately manage risk, given the complexity that we face, the fact that we face environments where there are existing chemicals, environments, where there are many stressors that these already face,” he said.
Agnès Rortais, EFSA’s scientific officer, added that the opinion focuses on “future development in the field of environmental risk assessment, moving beyond the single crop single pesticide assessment approach”.
No more pollution-free areas in the EU
Responding to a query from Green MEP Jutta Paulus about the baselines for comparison of such new approaches, and whether this should be compared to clean environments, More emphasised that there are no longer areas free from pollution in the EU.
“Can we calibrate [the risk assessment] to environments where there is no pollution? The answer is no. And that’s fundamentally because we don’t have any environments where there isn’t pollution,” More said.
As such, this pollution level must be taken into account as the new normal baseline from which to base
“What we’re seeking to do is to calibrate the model to lots of different environments throughout the EU. That will then enable us to essentially test the potential impact of new chemicals given all of those existing issues that are in place,” he said.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]