I participated in the Administrative Counsel Meeting of the Honey Bee Unit of the Centre National d’Etudes Vétérinaires et Alimentaires (CNEVA) at Sophia Antipolis today. Sophia Antipolis is on the outskirts of Cannes. It is sometimes referred to at the Silicon Valley of France, and is only second to Brussels, London and Munich in European scientific circles. The rise of the Internet has made the fact that it is located far away from Paris and other technological centers irrelevant. Its emphasis on research of all kinds and the generally salubrious and intellectual environment of the Cote d’Azur, makes Sofia Antipolis the perfect place for CNEVA.
CNEVA’s honey bee unit has two missions: 1) researching the area of honey bee pathology and 2) analyzing the quality of products coming from the bee hive. It consists of ten persons. The Chief Administrator is J.-P. Faucon. He has a team of eight persons, including four scientists, four technicians and two students. These persons work in a number of areas, including microbiology, parasitology, chemical treatments, toxicology, honey chemistry and pollen analysis. The unit has three experimental apiaries containing a combined total of eighty colonies.
The day was divided into two parts. In the morning, bee pathology was disused. In the afternoon honey quality was treated. Mr. Faucon led the discussion and was assisted by the head of veterinary services, M. Savey and chief of the hive product quality division, Mme. C. Lahellec. Each subject was summarized followed by questions and answers.
As might be imagined, Varroa and its effects on French beekeeping was the most emphasized topic of the day. Mr. Faucon discussed CNEVA’s research on Varroa resistance to fluvalinate in 1995-1996. These investigations have taken two paths, action in the field and collaboration in the laboratory with both INRA, the French experiment stations, and Sandoz, maker of Apistan®. Alternative treatments are also being looked at including other pyrethroids, rotenone, Apilife Var® discussed in my other letters (and not officially endorsed by CNEVA as far as I can tell), organic acids (including formic acid) and the continuing use by beekeepers of what are called “préparations extemporanées.” The latter include things like using other fluvalinate-based solutions labelled for mite control on crops in bee hives.
My French may not have been up to it, but feedback from the audience concerning this work suggested that beekeepers would like CNEVA to do much more in this area, especially now that Varroa has become resistant to fluvalinate. However, given the range of activities, the number of persons involved and the limited budget, this does not appear to be in the cards. In the last five years, the bee unit has published ten publications in scientific journals, 29 in beekeeping publications or reviews and two books (Précis de Pathologie, 1992 and La Question Sanitaire, 1997.
Dr. Raymond Borneck, current president of Apimondia, called on CNEVA to mount a bee breeding program to produce a Varroa resistant bee. The administrators, however, demurred saying this was not their mission. They would, however, they said, continue to experiment to the best of their ability with new treatments.
As a postscript, I have received electronic mail from Dr. Borneck indicating that one of CNEVA’s branches has indeed expressed an interest in this endeavor. They are attempting to contact Dr. Jovan Kulincevic in the former Yugoslavia to obtain some stock. Jovan studied with had many conversations with Dr. Walter Rothenbuhler at the Ohio State University.
Other issues dealt with reminded me much of what might occur at a national U.S. beekeeping meeting. There was discussion of treatment regimes that don’t use chemicals (Apiculture biologique using drone trapping), the situation in Argentina of American foulbrood resistance to antibiotics, viruses and pesticide kill. Most of these issues require sophisticated, expensive study and have a great many variables, something that beekeepers everywhere I visit are frustrated by.
The afternoon session was different in that this arena is something that U.S. beekeepers have only recently become interested in. The analysis of honey, pollen, royal jelly, wax, propolis and meads continues at the CNEVA laboratories. There was discussion of national honey competitions and current activities in monitoring honey for residues from chemicals used in Varroa control. A current thrust was use of pollen analysis to determine the country of origin of royal jelly as well as honey. It seems that a good amount of these materials coming into the country are being labeled as French when they really comes from Asia. There was discussion of standardizing the lab procedures now being used. Dr. Borneck said that it was unfortunate that so many laboratories world wide, including that of CNEVA, used different protocols. He suggested that the French labs could lead the way in developing standards.
A most interesting study was discussed concerning the aromas found in honeys. Although in its infancy, this technology, it is thought, could add more scientific objectivity to the honey certification process. Basically, it involves using gas-liquid chromatography to standardize samples. Fatty acid composition of royal jelly and HMF analysis are also being carried out by the laboratory, as well as the work to accredit various private laboratories under a law known as Cofran 118. Finally, there was a spirited discussion of organic labeling of honey (Agriculture Biologique). This designation has some of the same problems as the label might in the U.S. , including a legal definition of honey. Dr. Borneck said that not enough study or too much rigor by the French laboratories would open the way for other countries like Brazil and Uruguay to develop and market organic honey as they saw fit.
M. Thibier, Director of CNEVA closed the meeting with a discussion of the budgetary constraints the agency is facing. There is more to do and less money to do it with than ever in these times when government is cutting back, according to Mr. Thibier, and so the agency must pick and choose carefully the projects that will give the most information for the French Franc spent (bang for the buck).
In conclusion, austerity in all levels of government, a relative constant for U.S. beekeepers over the last few years, is now being faced by all phases of French society. The cruel economic realities of the modern world are rapidly catching up to the French social system, as they are in Canada and other places where “cradle to grave” care of the population has been accepted as the norm. The papers are filled with unemployment statistics, imposition of higher and higher taxes and xenophobia brought on by great immigration pressure from Africa.
French beekeepers are just a part of this larger societal phenomenon. Having been somewhat isolated from the kind of situation found in many other parts of the world, they now face the same dilemmas as apiculturists in other countries beset by an increasing number of problems and fewer resources with which to address them. Thus, French administrators at Sophia Antipolis are now saying the same things as their counterparts elsewhere, promoting more cooperative research, selecting research projects with greater care and calling on beekeepers to become more organized and politically active.