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Speech to NZ Honey Producers Cooperative

2pm, 6 May 2000
Washdyke, Timaru
Embargoed till delivery

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to speak today. It is with great pleasure as both local MP and Minister of Rural Affairs that I welcome the expansion of the New Zealand Honey Producers Cooperative.

As you will well know, this is not a good time for honey producers and beekeepers at the moment.

The introduction of the varroa mite has the potential to cause millions of dollars of damage - if not billions.

Currently, its spread appears to be limited to a relatively small area of the country ? around South Auckland and Thames. Both the beekeeping industry and the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry are working hard to find out exactly how far it has spread and how well established the mite is in the feral bee population.

Only then will we be able to determine whether it will be possible to eradicate the varroa mite.

Nowhere else in the world has done so. But if anywhere can, it will be New Zealand that does eradicate it.

It will be a huge challenge, and no-one should have any illusions about the difficulty and cost of doing it. Rough estimates I have heard suggest it could be at least $50 million. Since the first three weeks of dealing with the mite have cost the thick end of $1 million ? and that's just to find out where it is ? that cost does not surprise me.

As well as the cost, the consequences of eradication have to be considered.

To eradicate varroa mite, we also have to eradicate the bees. The affected area would have to be depopulated completely for six months.

That has huge flow-on effects for horticulturalists and farmers generally, who rely on bees to pollinate their fruit trees and pastures.

So far, the varroa mite does not appear to have spread further than the affected area. The South Island appears to be completely free ? good news for your co-operative which draws on about 150 beekeeper owner-suppliers here.

I beseech you to maintain that status.

It appears the varroa mite was inadvertantly introduced by a beekeeper illegally importing a queen in a desire to improve breeding stock.

The varroa mite is a terrible way to highlight the immense importance of biosecurity rules to New Zealand. Please take the misfortune of North Island beekeepers as a warning to yourselves. Obey the bee movement rules set out by MAF and keep the South Island free.

On a more cheery note, I would like to congratulate NZ Honey Producers Co-operative for the sterling work done in processing and marketing honey.

You have the number one retail selling brand of honey in New Zealand. That means a lot because New Zealanders eat a lot more honey than most people ? twice as much as Australians and four times as much as the English.

We are all well aware of the health-giving properties of our honey ? something to highlight in our exports.

Wearing my other hat as Trade Negotiations Minister, I want to encourage all exporters. You have an excellent product here in your honey.

New Zealand honey is well-thought of overseas and I encourage you to increase your exports.

The way you are doing it ? aiming value-added products at the luxury end of the market ? is also to be commended. I am sure your more than 20 customers in more than 12 countries are extremely pleased with your supplies.

NZ Honey Producers Co-operative has also had the distinction of having its Pleasant Point packing operation as one of the first to achieve accreditation to the AgriQuality Assurance Mark.

Today, we open this new facility here in Washdyke, which will take over the many of the Pleasant Point site's functions.

Congratulations and every success in the future.

ENDS

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