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Honey Import Health Standard issued

DATE 11 July 2006

Honey Import Health Standard issued

Biosecurity New Zealand (BNZ), part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), today issued a new import health standard for honey and related bee products from Australia.

The new import health standard allows for:

- Heat treatment as a risk management measure for European Foulbrood and Nosema ceranae for all products from areas where these diseases are likely to be present

- Inspection or heat treatment or specified testing for all bee products as risk management measures for American Foulbrood

- Alternatively, irradiation can be used as a risk management measure for American Foulbrood, European Foulbrood and Nosema ceranae for bee products other than honey

- Extra heating during packaging for bulk honey from states with small hive beetle.

This follows a complex process that started in 2001. At the end of 2004 BNZ completed a risk analysis of imported honey and bee products that followed two rounds of public consultation and expert peer review. Consultation on the draft import health standard (IHS) began in December 2005.

BNZ Director Pre-Clearance Debbie Pearson said Australia had been requesting access for its honey bee products for many years. But the major obstacle had been the threat of European Foulbrood, a bacterial disease of bees, which is present in many honey-exporting countries.

“The comprehensive risk analysis undertaken by Biosecurity New Zealand concluded that honey could be imported from countries where European Foulbrood is present, provided it was subject to heat treatment giving a million-fold reduction in bacteria. This means that 99.9999 percent of the bacteria will have been killed,” Ms Pearson said.

“The risk analysis was peer-reviewed by bee disease experts, with international and New Zealand-based reviewers considering key parts of the document. New Zealand has a reputation for being extremely rigorous when making decisions on biosecurity, and I am confident that BNZ has considered the best scientific information available.”

Ms Pearson said the conditions of the issued IHS were largely in line with the draft standard released for consultation in 2005.

“Biosecurity New Zealand considers Western Australia to be free of European Foulbrood and Nosema ceranae because of its physical isolation and its strict biosecurity controls. This means that untreated bee products can be imported from that state.”

Ms Pearson said the risk mitigation measures for honey were consistent with measures applied to the importation of other products that could affect New Zealand’s other primary industries, such as dairy and meat.

“So when deciding on whether to allow the import of a good, Biosecurity New Zealand must consider the importance of international trade for New Zealand alongside the protection of human, animal and plant health, taking into account economic, environmental, social and cultural values.”



1) Who made this decision?

Under the Biosecurity Act 1993, decisions on issuing import health standards are the responsibility of the Director-General of MAF, on the recommendation of a Chief Technical Officer from Biosecurity New Zealand. Biosecurity New Zealand is the part of MAF that administers the Biosecurity Act.

2) What products are covered by the new Import Health Standard (IHS)?

Bee products eligible for import from Australia under the new IHS are: foundation beeswax; honey; raw beeswax; pollen in bulk form; raw propolis and royal jelly in bulk form. These products must be certified by the Australian government as having met specified sanitary requirements. Highly processed bee products from Australia are covered in an existing import health standard for bee products.

3) Why import honey and related bee products?

The Australian Government has been requesting access for its honey since the late 1980s, so this is not a new request. New Zealand is a signatory to trade agreements which say we cannot prohibit imports unless there is a valid biosecurity reason for preventing them We expect other countries to accept our exports on the same terms.

4) What have you done to investigate the risks posed by imported honey?

Biosecurity New Zealand is very aware of the seriousness of European Foulbrood and other bee diseases not present in New Zealand, and the potential impact on our beekeeping industry if they became established here. Biosecurity New Zealand has analysed the risks associated with honey imports using the same robust, internationally recognised process it uses for any other category of biosecurity risk goods. This risk analysis, which was peer-reviewed by international experts in bee diseases, concluded that risks could be effectively managed.

The risk analysis process has extended over five years. Evidence was collated from:
- peer-reviewed journals and other respected publications
- consulting with experts both locally and internationally
- new cutting-edge research.

Issues raised by stakeholders and any new information is considered on an on-going basis.

5) So, honey and other bee products can be safely imported?

Yes; honey and bee products can be safely imported because we have assessed the risk to be negligible. Biosecurity New Zealand uses the following Oxford dictionary definition of negligible: “Of a thing, quantity, etc.: able to be neglected or disregarded; unworthy of notice or regard; spec. so small or insignificant as not to be worth considering.”

6) Is there a need or demand for imported honey anyway?

This is not a question of whether there is a need or a demand. The only question is whether the biosecurity risks associated with imports are acceptable. If the product can safely enter New Zealand, it is up to individual consumers and food manufacturers to decide whether to buy it or not.

7) What process was followed in carrying out the risk analysis?

The legal responsibility for issuing import health standards under Section 22 of the Biosecurity Act 1993 is the Director-General of MAF. This is done on the recommendation of a Chief Technical Officer, who must consider:

 the likelihood of any organisms being brought into New Zealand
 the possible impact on New Zealand of any imported organisms
 New Zealand’s international obligations.

The process by which these matters are considered is Import Risk Analysis. Biosecurity New Zealand has played a leading role internationally in the development of Risk Analysis methods, and the methodology used by Biosecurity New Zealand adheres closely to the internationally agreed process. The honey bee products risk analysis was peer-reviewed by seven international experts with experience in these exotic diseases in their own countries. This has ensured transparency and lack of bias.

Biosecurity New Zealand is satisfied that the decisions reached by following the established Risk Analysis process in this case deliver a level of protection that is consistent with that achieved by standards for other animal products such as milk products from countries or zones with foot and mouth disease.

8) What about concerns from the bee industry about ‘gaps’ in science used in the risk analysis?

Even though there is scientific uncertainty, Biosecurity New Zealand’s view is that the body of evidence is sufficient to support its conclusion that appropriately treated imported honey can be safely imported.

Biosecurity New Zealand and the beekeeping industry largely agree on the available scientific information and its limitations. Where the two differ is over perceptions of ‘acceptable risk’.

9) What about calls from some in the industry for an independent review of submissions?

An independent review would transfer responsibility for making a recommendation on ‘acceptable risk’ from a government department whose head is legally responsible for such decisions, to an appointed individual not provided for in law.

Biosecurity New Zealand does not consider that an “independent review of submissions” on the Biosecurity New Zealand Import Risk Analysis: Honey Bee Products (2004) would add anything new or result in a change in the decisions that have been made.

10) Is this a case of ‘Australian honey for New Zealand apples’?

No. New Zealand does not engage in reciprocal deals on biosecurity. While New Zealand depends on its agricultural and horticultural products having as much access as possible to overseas markets, it strongly advocates a rules-based approach to international trade.

Each risk analysis must be considered on its own merit, and any deviation from this may result in New Zealand losing ground on international disputes over market access.

11) Australia imports Chinese honey. Could this get passed off to New Zealand as Australian honey?
No, any imported honey would require certification from the Australian government stating that the honey was a product of Australia, from hives inspected by an Australian government official.

12) So what if members of the public see heat-treated bee products in New Zealand shops and try to import similar products that have not undergone heat treatment and are not certified accordingly?

New Zealand’s border controls are the tightest in the world, including passenger declaration forms, signs, 100% baggage x-raying, the detector dog system and questioning by biosecurity inspectors at the border, and the system for notifying commercial importers of the current import health standards. Biosecurity New Zealand already invests heavily in publicity about the risks of bringing in personal consignments of honey and communicating with commercial importers. Biosecurity New Zealand is confident that these systems will continue to manage the risks posed by illegal importation of honey by the general public and by commercial importers.

Commercial importers and the public already attempt to illegally import honey into New Zealand, and the MAF Quarantine Service seizes significant volumes of honey at the border. Biosecurity New Zealand assumes that this will still be the case when Australian honey can be imported into New Zealand.

13) What happens if new threats are identified or new information becomes available?

Import health standards are constantly reviewed in the light of new information such as changing disease status in exporting countries, changes in international standards and latest research findings. For example, Biosecurity New Zealand became aware of the possibility of Nosema ceranae, a newly identified bee parasite that is linked to bee diseases in Europe, being introduced into New Zealand. Biosecurity New Zealand investigated this possibility and a technical report was completed. The conclusion of this technical report was that there was sufficient uncertainty regarding this organism to include temporary measures in the import health standard for bee products from Australia.

14) Given the recent Varroa incursion in the South Island, why are you releasing this IHS now?

This honey IHS process has been underway for years. Beekeepers have been waiting for a decision for some time. Biosecurity New Zealand wanted to end the uncertainty sooner rather than later; there would never be a ‘good’ time.

Varroa has been present in New Zealand for six years and is a completely separate issue to the IHS. Biosecurity New Zealand does not believe that an internal disease control operation in New Zealand should have a bearing on decisions on international trade.

15) What is American Foulbrood?

American Foulbrood is a bacterial disease of bees caused by a strain of the spore-forming bacteria Paenibacillus larvae. This organism has been present in New Zealand since 1877 and is under a national control programme. American Foulbrood affects developing bees and infected colonies often die. It is spread mainly by the movement of beekeeping equipment and by bees moving between colonies, but also by bee products. Beekeepers can reduce the impact of the disease to below economically significant levels by following good management practices.

16) What is European Foulbrood?

European Foulbrood is a bacterial disease of bees caused by Melissococcus pluton. It is not present in New Zealand, but is found in many other beekeeping countries. European Foulbrood does not form spores, but can be spread on bee products and beekeeping equipment. European Foulbrood is often considered internationally as a ‘stress’ disease - a disease that is usually not fatal to a colony unless the colony is already under stress for other reasons. Healthy colonies usually survive European Foulbrood. Overseas, outbreaks are controlled chemically by feeding antibiotics to infected colonies.

17) What is Nosemosis?

Until recently Nosemosis (or Nosema disease) was thought to be caused only by Nosema apis, a spore-forming parasite that invades the intestinal tract of adult bees and is widespread in beekeeping countries throughout the world including New Zealand. Nosema is spread mainly by the movement of beekeeping equipment and by bees moving between colonies, but also by bee products. Nosema is normally only a problem during cold weather when infected bees develop dysentery. A related Nosema species from Asia, Nosema ceranae, has recently been identified as causing Nosema disease in European honey bees. Nosema ceranae has not been identified in New Zealand.

18) What is small hive beetle?

Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida) originates from Africa and has in the past seven years become established in the southern region of the United States, Egypt and in three Australian states. It is not present in New Zealand. Rather than causing larval disease, small hive beetle larvae cause significant damage to honey bee colonies, stored combs and apiary products. In some locations, small hive beetle has been reported to cause deaths of bee colonies.


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