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Import of honey, bee products subject to scrutiny

Import of honey and bee products subject to tough scrutiny

The assessment of the risks around the importation of honey and bee products into New Zealand has taken more than five years, involving comprehensive analysis and three rounds of consultation, Biosecurity Minister Jim Anderton said today.

Last year, MAF completed a risk analysis of imported honey and bee products that followed two rounds of public consultation and expert peer review. Submissions from the third round of consultation, on the draft import health standards for honey from Australia and the Pacific Islands, are now being analysed.

"This has been a long, complex process, driven by the broader trade context in which New Zealand operates," said Mr Anderton. "I understand the issues it raises for the beekeeping industry and acknowledge that the last few years have been a difficult time for beekeepers."

The major obstacle to honey imports has been the threat of European foulbrood, a bacterial disease of bees, which is present in many honey-exporting countries. The risk analysis undertaken by MAF concluded that honey could be imported from countries where European foulbrood was present, provided it was subject to heat treatment giving a million-fold reduction in any risk posed by the disease to the New Zealand bee-keeping industry.

"The risk analysis was peer-reviewed by experts, with eight international and two New Zealand-based reviewers considering key parts of the document. New Zealand has a reputation of being very rigorous when making decisions on biosecurity, and I am confident MAF has considered the best scientific information available," Mr Anderton said.

Biosecurity-related import requirements are the responsibility of the Director-General of MAF under the Biosecurity Act. Depending on the outcome of submissions, MAF is likely to issue import health standards that will permit the import of honey from Australia and the Pacific Islands, under a regime of stringent risk management treatments.

Imports from countries other than Australia and the Pacific Islands would require the development of separate import health standards, which would consider the risks present in that country. "Consequently, any decisions will only apply to honey imports from Australia and the Pacific Islands at this time," said Mr Anderton.

"I understand the risk mitigation measures are consistent with measures applied to the importation of other products that could affect our other primary industries such as dairy and meat."

"New Zealand is a major primary producer, hugely reliant, more than any other developed nation, on the export of our primary produce. Over a third of New Zealand's total honey production, for example, goes overseas. This amounted to $36 million in 2005."

"We cannot ignore or have double standards over our international trade obligations alongside our domestic obligations. We must continue to support a rules and evidence-based approach to international trade," he said.

"Import decisions must comply with both the Biosecurity Act and the World Trade Organisation SPS Agreement and any measures that have a trade protectionist aspect would be open to challenge by another country to the WTO."

"The fact is New Zealand is a small trading nation and we have to follow the rules. In light of this I think it is important that the process around honey imports should come to a conclusion and I am now awaiting final decisions from MAF," said Mr Anderton.

ENDS

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