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November 12, 2008 3:02 PM

Shadow Secretary of State for DEFRA Tim Farron MP has called on Hilary Benn to increase the investment in bee health research or risk losing the British honey bee forever.

Since the winter of 2007, there has been a 30% reduction in the British honey bee population due to the Varroa destructor mite which has been destroying wild bee colonies across the country. However, despite the desperation of the situation, until recently funding allocated for bee health research had remained at paltry £200,000.

DEFRA have allocated an additional £90,000 for bee health research, but a parliamentary question tabled by Mr Farron revealed that the department has allocated it for expanding investigations into cases of abnormal colony losses rather than for research into alternative treatments for the Varroa mite.

Commenting Mr Farron said:

"What many people don't know is that bees are the unsung hero of our agricultural economy and aren't just responsible for producing honey. The Western honey bee plays a vital role within the planet's eco-system, pollinating 70% of the food that we eat and contributing over £165 million per year to agricultural output.

"Yet, despite this, the budget commissioned for bee health research and development is lower in real terms now than in 2001.

"Colony Collapse Disorder has been responsible for massive losses in the United States but in Britain right now the priority must be tackling the Varroa mite.

"DEFRA has a responsibility to investigate Colony Collapse Disorder; but given the massive restriction on funds it seems crazy that they are tackling a problem that has yet to hit the UK rather than the Varroa mite which is wiping out wild bee colonies across the country."