Biobest responds to Graystock study:

‘Commercially produced bumblebees pose no threat to wild bumblebees or bees’

Bumblebee colonies imported for professional use in agriculture and horticulture represent no threat to other bumblebees or bees. This is the shared conviction of Biobest and the other European bumblebee producers. Biobest’s production is subject to very strict internal and external controls.

Biobest responds to the conclusions drawn in the study by Graystock et al., as published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and picked up by various media channels in the UK and elsewhere. The study concluded that 77% of commercial bumblebee colonies imported in the UK tested positive on DNA of parasites. Based on this, it was also concluded that commercially produced bees could pose a threat to native species. The DNA of potential pathogens was detected in both the bumblebees themselves and in the pollen contained in the hives as feed.

These findings are very surprising, as they are in stark contrast with results from years of testing by independent laboratories showing that Biobest colonies are free from disease. Moreover, Biobest has invested substantial efforts to pro-actively develop new rearing protocols and testing methods to ensure that its bumblebees are healthy.

Colonies are produced in a protected environment under highly controlled and strictly enforced conditions. In 2011, Biobest was the first producer to sterilize the pollen used for bumblebee production. This has been proven an effective way of eliminating any potential pathogens. The test (PCR) used in the study by Graystock et al. did not account for this, as PCR-based methods cannot distinguish between DNA from infectious live pathogens and DNA from organisms that have been inactivated by sterilization.

All these measures, along with the regular internal and independent external checks are not only intended to provide growers with pollinators that are clean, but are also vital to our own production processes. Without the highest production standards and health screening methods, it would not be possible to reliably provide growers worldwide with high-quality bumblebees at affordable prices.

For several years, Biobest has been cooperating intensively with several international research groups to develop new rearing methods and disease screening technology. As an industry, we are also in close and constructive contact with different national authorities. The British authorities Defra and Natural England have visited our production locations and are fully aware of the rearing protocols and the health checks that take place. Bumblebee imports in the UK are fully licensed by Natural England and Defra.

Given the clean bill of health that Biobest has been getting over the years from both the internal and external health checks, we are absolutely puzzled by the results reported in the current study. We also regret that we were not contacted with regard to the interpretation of the results. This could have prevented some of the premature and (in several instances) leading conclusions as they have now been published. For example, the researchers were not informed about the fact that Biobest had been sterilizing its pollen. For this study the pollen was mixed with not-sterilized pollen. Such errors could have been avoided and a better interpretation of the data could have been made.

Biobest takes its responsibilities in producing bumblebees very seriously and does everything possible to protect bee health. In the 25 years in which our bumblebees have been produced commercially, a huge amount of expertise has been gathered. Biobest will continue its research in collaboration with academic groups to further improve the quality and health of its bumblebees. Biobest is in contact with the authors of the present study to try to fully understand the reported findings.

The use of bumblebees in agriculture and horticulture is extremely important in economic terms. Several crops such as tomatoes and strawberries are in fact entirely dependent on this method of pollination.

By: Prof. Felix Wäckers, R&D Manager Biobest

For more information:
Biobest N.V.
Ilse Velden 18
2260 Westerlo - Belgium
T +32 14 25 79 80
F +32 14 25 79 82

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