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Beehive Threatens Bees with Amendment Bill


31 March 2008

Beehive Threatens Bees with Amendment Bill

New Zealand's honey industry could be under attack from introduced bee diseases, if the Biosecurity and Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Legislation Amendment Bill is passed.

National Beekeepers Association Waikato Branch spokesperson, Russell Berry, said the Amendment Bill which is due for its final reading this week would effectively disregard a Court of Appeal ruling, and could potentially prove disastrous for the country's multi-million dollar honey business and food producing sectors that rely on bees for pollination.

In 2007, the beekeeping industry won a Court of Appeal action making it unlawful for MAF to allow new organisms such Paenibacillus alvei (P.alvei) a disease of bees, to enter New Zealand.

"It affirmed that the only body with power to approve the introduction of new organisms into the country was the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA)."

ERMA declared P.alvei which is currently found in some Australian honey, a new organism and gazetted it as such in February 2007.

Russell said that among other things, the proposed amendments to the Biosecurity and Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Legislation would adopt a retrospective stance effectively overturning the Court of Appeal ruling.

"If this were to happen, P. alvei will undoubtly become establised in New Zealand. In addition, other bee diseases could be introduced such as European Foulbrood and Colony Collapse Disorder which is currently being linked to the importation of live bees from Australia. This Disorder is proving to be a major problem in America where it is killing approximately 30 per cent of beehives there every year."

He said New Zealand's unique and highly sought-after UMFR Manuka Honey could also be adversely affected.

"New Zealand has not imported any honey for approximately 50 years. It's for this very reason that the country has been reasonably free from bee diseases except for varroa which was a biosecurity breach."

"The beekeeping industry, along with the rest of the primary production sector, needs to be protected against the importation of new diseases and new organisms. Primary producers from a huge range of sectors united before the Select Committee to oppose this legislation, yet they were ignored. Bees are a vital link in the ecology of our food chain.

"Some of these new diseases and new organisms could also detrimentally affect the flora and fauna of New Zealand."

Russell said the beekeepers' concerns about honey imports were not financially driven, as a comparison of local and Australian honey product prices clearly showed that New Zealand products were cheaper.

"This is a matter that not only affects beekeepers but the whole of New Zealand's biosecurity."

Russell said he believed that the amendment will further weaken the biosecurity and GE free status of New Zealand.

"The amendment could also open the door for horses from Australia which have been vaccinated with a genetically engineered virus to enter the country," he said.

"Already we've seen varroa, didymo, and gypsy moths enter New Zealand. If the proposed amendment in its current form gets the backing of Parliament this week, the beekeeping industry and New Zealand as a whole should brace themselves for further problems.

"Even if the Amendment is not stopped, in the committee stages of the Bill the house will have the opportunity to allow the beekeepers to enjoy the fruits of their victory in the courts. The attitude to these proposed changes will be a measure of the commitment of the National Party to primary producers of New Zealand and their support for the rule of law.

"Parliament does not usually legislate to deprive parties of their victories in the courts. It is a measure of how desperate New Zealand is to curry favour with Australia that it is prepared to ignore that principle, in this case."

- ENDS -

Background Information

American Foulbrood
* New Zealand currently has in place a National Pest Management Strategy (NPMS) for the elimination of American Foulbrood. The NPMS involves checking for clinical symptoms of American Foulbrood in the hives at least once a year, although most people do it many times a year.
* If P.alvei or European Foulbrood (EFB) were to enter New Zealand it would be difficult to run a successful American Foulbrood elimination programme, because the symptoms for all three diseases are similar.
* If P.alvei and European Fouldbrood entered New Zealand, the beekeeping industry would have to make a choice of either feeding bees antibiotics or allowing a high percentage of them to die. In the latter case, this could potentially impact adversely on the pollination of kiwifruit orchards and other crops for 2 -3 years until the bees have built up some resistance to European Foulbrood and P.alvei.

Colony Collapse Disorder

* Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is not yet present in New Zealand. CCD is a phenomenon where most of the bees disappear from a beehive usually dying out in the field. The loss of bees from hives occurs very rapidly.
* The US government is spending up to USD$100 million over the next five years researching CCD.
* CCD is currently killing approximately 30 per cent of beehives in the US every year and causing half the queen bees to supercede annually. This is proving to be a problem for growers who need hives for pollinating their crops.
* The beneficial effects of free pollination are largely underestimated in New Zealand - 80% of all insect/plant pollination of food crops is carried out by the honey bee.
* US beekeepers are currently concerned about the viruses that may be imported from Australia with live bees, as they could be a possible cause of CCD.
Honey Trafficking
* US beekeepers and authorities are also deeply concerned about honey imports from Australia involving Chinese honey that has been illegally labeled as Australian honey.
* Recently, an Australian court case involved the prosecution of a company for exporting 1.7 million litres of Chinese honey from Australia which was falsely labeled as being Australian honey.
* The New Zealand beekeeping industry is concerned about the possible trafficking of Chinese honey through Australia to this country. Chinese honey has a reputation for contamination by illegal drugs and bee diseases.


* While New Zealand has Varroa it has not experienced the worst of the problem.
* Varroa has yet to become resistant to the chemicals that are used in New Zealand to prevent its spread, although it is expected that this will come in time.
* Bees with Varroa are more susceptible to imports of exotic diseases.

Nosema Ceranae
* Nosema ceranae, a bee parasite which kills beehives, has been found in Australia.
* The parasite is rife in the US and may be a contributing factor in Colony Collapse Disorder.
* While New Zealand has the closely related Nosema apis it does not have Nosema ceranae which could be transferred in spores to New Zealand in honey and bee products from Australia.
* Very little is known about Nosema ceranae. While it has been around for a relatively short time, it has already spread to many countries.


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