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PM's Presser: The Bee Bug Is Here To Stay

The Varroa bee mite is here to stay and could eventually destroy New Zealand's entire native and wild bee populations, said Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton yesterday. Chris Holm Reports.

Speaking at the weekly Parliamentary Press Conference yesterday Mr. Sutton said a preliminary investigation by MAF had confined the Varroa bee mites to areas in Auckland and the Coromandel areas, with the Lower North Island and South Island bee populations still remaining mite free.

However Mr Sutton said because the mites had spread to feral bee populations they would be very expensive to completely eradicate.

Varroa, a parasitic mite which attacks bees at the larval stage decimates bee populations and causes widespread deformities in living bees.

While the mites have already affected New Zealand's $1.2 million dollar bee industry, Mr Sutton said the long term effects on horticulture could cost "in the region of a billion dollars."

Bees are used in many horticultural operations to naturally pollinate plants and growers could have to revert to hand pollination techniques if the varroa mite took hold.

The mite was also likely to put a large number of 'hobbyist' bee keepers out of business as the mite's introduction meant it would become more expensive and difficult to protect bee populations.

No country had entirely eliminated the bee mite once it took hold Mr Sutton said.

Left unchecked the mite would spread 5 kilometres a year naturally, and would move faster if restrictions were not put on the commercial transport of bee populations.

MAF was currently preparing a report on the matter which would help the Government to decide on the best outcome. Mr Sutton said he estimated that the costs of containing the varroa mite at up to $50 million.

The Government had already committed an additional $1.35 million to aid work fighting the bug on top of the $1 million spent by MAF so far.

Questioned on who or what MAF thought had caused the introduction of the mite, Mr Sutton said bees illegally smuggled into the country for breeding stock were thought most likely to be the behind the mite's arrival.


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