Eradication of bee varroa mite ‘very achievable’, Senate told

Biosecurity co-ordinators say Australia is on track to eradicate the varroa parasite from beehives.

Biosecurity co-ordinators say Australia is on track to eradicate the varroa parasite from beehives. Photo: AAP

Beekeepers weren’t fully prepared for the arrival of a deadly mite that is now hurting Australia’s bee industry, which remains confident it can be eradicated.

Honey Bee Council CEO Danny Le Feuvre told a Senate inquiry on Thursday night there weren’t enough trained personnel to deal with the pest, which was first detected around the Port of Newcastle in June.

“We thought we were prepared, but we weren’t,” he told the inquiry examining Australia’s preparedness and response to the mite’s arrival.

The council is calling for an import biosecurity levy on all shipping containers and large machinery imports.

Mr Le Feuvre said the entire Australian industry had been affected by the varroa mite’s arrival.

“The whole industry is hurting … we’ve got beekeepers in my home state in South Australia that can’t access queens for the whole season now because of this incursion,” he said.

But Mr Le Feuvre is confident the mite can still be eradicated with the emergency response in place.

“It’s very achievable, provided everyone supports the program,” he told the inquiry.

Plant Health Australia, the national coordinator of the government industry partnership for plant biosecurity in Australia, also told the hearing the mite can be killed off.

“We are on track for achieving eradication,” said chief executive Sarah Corcoran.

Mr Le Feuvre told the committee it was still not clear how the parasite arrived, but it was unlikely to have arrived through the port.

“We have no way of knowing at this stage how it got there, but it’s indicating that it probably did not come in from the port,” he said.

He said a lack of record-keeping by beekeepers has made it hard to know where hives are located.

“If a beekeeper doesn’t want to tell you where they are, we’re not going to find out,” Mr Le Feuvre said.

The council, which represents Australia’s bee industry, is calling for better preparation and documentation for response teams to biosecurity threats.

Mr Le Feuvre also criticised the “different rules” across Australia’s various jurisdictions.

He told AAP not having documentation such as orders and legal documents ready to go slowed the response process, as well as communication and compensation for beekeepers.

However, Mr Le Feuvre said it had no impact on how widely the mite spread.

The council is also calling on the Commonwealth to help fund a surveillance system to cover medium- and high-risk entry points.

There are currently 99 premises infected with the varroa mite across NSW, from the north and northwest of the state to south of Newcastle, with no new detections in three weeks.

As of September, 27,000 hives had been inspected and millions of bees euthanised.

An $18 million support package was announced in July for affected beekeepers.

A standstill of movement of beehives remains in place in NSW, though some registered commercial beekeepers can move hives in low-risk areas of the state.

The Senate inquiry is also examining Australia’s response preparedness to foot and mouth disease detected in Indonesia.

Representatives from Meat and Livestock Australia and the sheep and pork industries will give evidence to the committee on Friday.

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