Varroa mite chemical approved

Hon Jim Sutton
Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Trade Negotiations
Minister for Rural Affairs

28 July 2000

Apistan, a chemical which can be used to control the varroa bee mite, has been approved for use in New Zealand, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton said today.

The chemical, a miticide, has had its use approval "fast-tracked" by the Pesticides Board and the Animal Remedies Board as part of the Government's response to the varroa mite invasion.

Applications have been received from companies manufacturing other products for treating varroa to sell their products in New Zealand and these are also being fast-tracked.

The varroa mite was first found in South Auckland bee hives in April. Infestations are prevalent and heavy around Auckland, Pukekohe and Hauraki Plains as a result of natural spread. Beekeeping activity has spread varroa to several outlying sites including Helensville, Te Puke and Hokianga and to single sites at Te Awamutu, Otorohanga and National Park. Feral bees are also known to be infected.

At July 27, a total of 3106 apiaries containing 60,479 hives have been inspected. The survey detected 292 infected apiaries, containing 4074 hives, owned by 136 beekeepers.

Earlier this month, the Government ruled out attempting to eradicate the Varroa bee mite and opted for a Government-assisted management programme, which has three stages.

The Government is committed to minimising the impact of the mite.

The first stage involves offering beekeepers from all infested apiaries and apiaries within a five kilometre radius of an infested apiary free treatment of their hives with Apistan.

That stage will take 10 weeks and cost almost $1.3 million.

Mr Sutton said MAF had approached beekeepers to gain consent to treat hives and treatment would begin early next week, now that Apistan had been approved for general use.

He said he was aware of concerns among some beekeepers that miticide residues could affect their honey and other bee products.

Data was insufficient to confirm that residues in beeswax, comb honey and propolis from treated hives would be within acceptable levels over an extended period of time.

Comb honey is almost uniquely a New Zealand product, so there is no information in the international arena covering this issue.

Officials advise a residue level at 0.1parts per million for honey, beeswax, comb honey, and propolis, will not be exceeded in the first two years of use. Levels are well below food safety and public health concern levels.

Apistan use is to be restricted to brood boxes, not the supers from which most honey and other bee products are harvested.

The approval of Apistan for general use is only for two years, in order to enable data to be collected to set a maximum residue limit, and to review Apistan against other products which will be available then.

There is international evidence that the mite can become resistant to Apistan, Mr Sutton said.

It is understood that this could be because of mis-use. He said it was important that beekeepers used the product as directed.

The Pesticides Board and Animal Remedies Board have both recommended that Apistan be used only for short periods once or twice a season and then not re-used to avoid resistance problems.

Mr Sutton said it was also important beekeepers used chemicals specifically designed for use in bee hives. If other garden chemicals and pesticides were used, they could leave dangerous residues in the hives and the bee products and could lead to chemical resistance in the mite.

He said the second stage of the management programme was being developed by MAF with the beekeeping industry now and would involve a two-year Government-supported management programme which was likely to include financial assistance and support.

It aims to keep the South Island free of varroa for as long as possible and to reduce the effects of the mite in the North Island.

The third stage will be an agreed long-term management plan under the Biosecurity Act.

Mr Sutton said it was disappointing that Federated Farmers, which has had access to all the information used by the Government in its decision not to attempt eradication, was continuing to spread misinformation about the decision.

"The decision to control rather than eradicate was made on the basis of the feasibility of eradication. It was not made because of the cost. The Government would have been happy to spend twice as much as the estimated $55 million eradication cost, if we had been convinced it had a reasonable chance of success. Less than 10 per cent is not reasonable."

Mr Sutton said a failed eradication attempt could have left significant parts of the country without bees for pollination seasons of produce such as kiwifruit, which were dependent on bees for good fruit. The eradication plan proposed depopulation of 40 per cent of North Island bees in the first year.

"A failed eradication attempt would have left beekeepers, horticulturalists, and pastoral farmers worse off and would have left their industries severely weakened. It would have a worse effect than a control programme."

Cabinet made the decision for control reluctantly, he said. But it was made in the country's best interests.

"Farmers deserve to be told the truth by their leaders."

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