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Wanted: Billions of bees for farms in the European Union

PARIS -- Many countries in Europe face a worrying lack of crop-pollinating honeybees, a problem caused mainly by an EU policy shift in favor of biofuels, scientists warned on Wednesday.

“Europe as a whole only has two-thirds of the honeybee colonies it needs, with a deficit of more than 13.4 million colonies — equivalent to around seven billion bees,” they said.

Researchers at the University of Reading in southern England compared the number of beehives in 41 European countries with pollination demand from 2005 to 2010.

In 22 countries, honeybees were unable meet demand, they found — with farmers increasingly having to rely on bumblebees and other wild insects.

The situation was best in Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, where there was a strong tradition of beekeeping, and supply met at least 90 percent of demand.

It was worst in the former Soviet Baltic republics and in Britain, with less than 25 percent, and in France and Germany, with 25 to 50 percent.

As a result, farmers relied more and more on wild pollinators rather than domesticated honeybees, whose services they rent during pollination time.

This growing dependence is worrying, given the fluctuations in wild insect populations and their vulnerability to intensive, mono-culture farming with few flowering plants to offer food or shelter, the study said.

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