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Varroa spread delayed but inevitable

24 September 2008 Media Statement

Varroa spread delayed but inevitable

The move to management, rather than elimination, of varroa was inevitable, Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton said today.

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand today announced all movement controls associated with varroa bee mite will be revoked from tomorrow, after 17 beekeeping operations in Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts have been confirmed positive for varroa. High levels of mites detected in some operations indicate varroa may have been present for six months which suggests varroa is established and widespread.

Jim Anderton said the widespread establishment of varroa meant any thoughts of eradication were not feasible.

"It has spread too far. With no significant geographical features to stop the flight of bees, varroa could be all over the Canterbury plains and well on its way to Otago and Southland now.

"Once varroa made its way to New Zealand, we really had no choice than to learn to live with it.

"No other country in the world has successfully eradicated the mite, and if we were to give it a meaningful attempt, it would have meant two export seasons with no fruit because all bees would have to have been wiped out to ensure there was no mite spread. Given the rugged bush of the upper North Island, the chances of eliminating all feral bee populations so that they didn't re-infect domestic hives were pretty slim. It wasn't remotely feasible to go ahead with an attempt. Drawing lines in the sand or on a map doesn't make any difference to bees - they fly right past them!"

Jim Anderton said the spread of varroa did not mean the end of beekeeping in New Zealand.

"Other countries with varroa still have viable beekeeping industries. The focus of the industry may change - pollination services are likely to become more important, for example, as has happened in the North Island.

"And certainly, hive management will require close focus by beekeepers. More work will be involved. But it will stay profitable."

He said the remaining funds from the South Island varroa response would be used to help beekeepers adapt through advice, hive testing and education workshops.

"I'll be taking part myself as my wife and I are amateur beekeepers too.

"MAF Biosecurity will also discuss with industry and research providers whether there are immediate, high value research needs that remaining funds could assist."


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