The Swiss Confederation is committed to the health of bees, and consequently plays an active role in the implementation of a national plan of measures for bee health. The focus here is on the protection of honeybees and wild bees from plant-protection products. For this, the Swiss Confederation, represented by Agroscope’s Centre for Bee Research, participates in the development of new international test procedures designed to improve the risk assessment of PPPs both internationally and in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, the approval of a PPP has hitherto involved honeybee risk-assessment tests in accordance with the EU risk-assessment model. This model, which includes tests in the laboratory, in semi-natural conditions and in the field, corresponds to international guidelines and measures the risk posed by PPPs to honeybees.
By contrast, scant attention has been paid to date to the risks posed by chronic exposure to PPPs, i.e. by the ongoing absorption of PPP residues present in nectar or pollen. Likewise, there has been little research on the ‘sub-lethal’ – that is, non-fatal – effects of PPPs, or the potential risk to larva. The purpose of the new tests is to measure these little-known risks posed by PPPs for bees, in order to assess the potential danger for them.
New tests must be internationally validated in so-called inter-laboratory tests before the methods can be recognised as OECD guidelines and used for the approval process.
To this end, the Centre for Bee Research is taking part in an international inter-laboratory test. The test will be carried out in twelve laboratories in five countries – Germany, Italy, Great Britain, France and Switzerland – according to the same trial design, and will investigate whether feeding small quantities of PPPs to the bees influences their sense of direction and memory capacity.
In addition, a new technology, RFID or radio-frequency identification, will also be used in this trial. A further aim of the trial is therefore to test this new technology, which will be used to determine the return rate of the bees, as well as the time it takes them to return to the hive.
RFID is an automatic wireless communication technology that can be used to identify people, animals, goods, etc. An RFID system consists of a data carrier, referred to as a transponder or tag, and a reader. RFID works with weak electromagnetic waves that are emitted by a reader. When these waves hit a transponder, the information can be read and identified contactlessly by the transponder’s memory. This method is now being used to determine the directional and flight behaviour of bees.
For the Swiss Authority as an independent body, participation in international inter-laboratory testing is very important. It allows Swiss involvement in the development of new methods and knowledge in the field of bee protection, which in turn enables the risk assessment of PPPs for bees as well as the approval of PPPs to be adapted and improved on the basis of the latest findings.