Government rethinks fight against Asian honey bees

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 4th April 2011

Peak horticulture organisation Growcom today welcomed news that the federal government has told a Senate enquiry it has decided to rethink its decision not to fight the invasion of the destructive Asian honey bee.

Growcom recently made a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Rural Affairs and Transport currently investigating the science underpinning the technical feasibility of eradicating Asian honeybees.

Growcom argued that more time and debate needed to be given to the question of whether Australia could eradicate the Asian honey bee, since key scientists were not in agreement about whether or not it was “impossible” to achieve.

Chief Executive Officer Alex Livingstone said that Growcom supported the efforts of the Australian Honey Bee Industry’s Council to have funding restored to the Asian honey bee eradication program in Queensland.

“We represent the interests of fruit and vegetable growers in Queensland, who rely heavily on the pollination services of European honey bees. These services to agriculture are estimated to be worth millions of dollars annually,” said Mr Livingstone.

“Bee populations are on the decline world-wide, but Australia has been relatively protected from many of the natural enemies and competitors of the European honey bee due to its isolation as an island nation and through the protective operations of our quarantine inspection services.

“Asian honey bees are a natural host for varroa mites, a major threat to Australia’s honey bee industry. Currently, Australia is the only honey-producing country in the world where varroa mite is not present. It is estimated that between 20-30 per cent of managed honey bee hives would die in the first wave of varroa infestation in Australia.

“In addition, the Asian honeybee robs honey from hives and competes for flora, leading to the death of hives of both European and native honey bees.

“These impacts ultimately mean the loss of vital pollination services to the horticulture industry.”

Mr Livingstone said that Biosecurity Queensland had so far detected Asian honeybees in Queensland at Cairns, Gordonvale and Aloomba, at Mareeba and Lake Eacham, and as far south as Innisfail.

“However, the pest should be considered a national problem since it could well become established in states further south, as Queensland fruit fly has done, to the detriment of horticulture Australia-wide.

“Growcom considers that if there is any chance that the pest can be successfully eradicated then it should be pursued.”