Work continues on varroa control options

13 June 2000

Work continues towards completing the report to Cabinet on the options for the government response to the varroa incursion. MAF believes the deadline of end of June will be met.

The delimiting survey has been completed following 7 weeks of outstanding work by MAF National Centre for Disease Investigation, AgriQuality NZ Ltd and National Beekeepers Association members.

In that time, 2874 apiaries were visited. Of the 55,305 hives on those apiaries,13,525 were tested by Apistan. There are now 284 infected apiaries owned by 132 beekeepers.

Five clusters of infected apiary sites are recognised, in South Auckland, Pukekohe, the Hauraki Plains, Orewa/Kumeu and Te Puke. There are also infected sites on the Coromandel Peninsula, Rawene (Northland), Te Awamutu, Otorohanga and Raurimu (southern Waikato and King Country).

The technical advisory group has met twice, on 2 and 31 May. This group originally included MAF, AgriQuality NZ Ltd, National Beekeepers Association executive members and representatives, HortResearch and other nominated experts. The first meeting considered the technical response possibilities, including the components of both the eradication and managed control options.

The group was expanded for the second meeting to focus on the technical feasibility of eradication. Representatives of the horticultural industries and pollination service providers were invited to participate in the group, as were AgResearch scientists. An independent chairperson, Dr John Hay, from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd, was appointed. Treasury, the Department of Conservation, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology participated as observers.

The economic analysis group has involved MAF, Treasury, the National Beekeepers Association, the Federation of Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Federated Farmers and a wide variety of experts. Assumptions on the impacts of varroa for beekeeping, horticultural, pastoral and arable agricultural sectors have been formulated, and the potential economic effects of varroa modelled. The model has been refined through an iterative process of testing the assumptions.

A further group has focussed on the issues involved with the bee depopulation exercise that would need to be undertaken during any eradication attempt. HortResearch, MAF, Ministry of Health, Department of Conservation and representatives from the regional councils are working through the requirements to ensure that a widespread feral bee depopulation campaign, if undertaken, is performed in a manner that minimises risks to public health and non-target species.

Other work contracted by MAF from AgriQuality NZ Ltd is the update of the apiary database to further support disease control purposes, and the two collaborative projects to develop technical plans for eradication and managed control. The technical plan for eradication is available on the MAF website. The managed control plan will be completed by the end of the week, and will also be made available. MAF expects a high level of industry interest and feedback on both documents.

All this information will feed in to MAF's paper to Cabinet, to be presented by the end of June. Cabinet will decide how government will respond shortly thereafter.

MAF wishes to acknowledge the active and constructive participation in these processes by the beekeeping industry, at a time of crisis for the industry and its members.

"The National Beekeepers Association members have been a crucial component in the field surveillance work, and continue to be involved in the regular conference calls overseeing the operation, and the workings of the technical and economic groups," says Matthew Stone, MAF's project co-ordinator. "The Ministry accepts that it is inevitable there will be a variety of views on the best way forward. The decision-making process has attempted to ensure all such views are captured and appropriately considered."

MAF also wishes to recognise the outstanding work of AgriQuality NZ Ltd, the state-owned enterprise contractor that has played an important technical role in the varroa response. In addition to the current emergency bee response, MAF contracts AgriQuality to undertake routine bee disease surveillance work. Bee and hive samples routinely tested for exotic diseases last year exceeded the contract specifications by 30 percent.

Our overseas bee product markets have been notified of the varroa incursion and it seems likely that exports will continue to our major markets, of which most already have varroa present. Bee exports will have to meet the internationally agreed specifications certifying that bees have not been exposed to varroa.

Only two small markets, Tahiti and New Caledonia, have stopped imports. Both are island nations free of varroa.

On the importing front, the Ministry has received an application from an individual to import live bees from China. New Zealand has not imported live bees in 40 years. Before importing can occur, an analysis of the disease risk for importing bees will need to be undertaken by the Ministry. This is a time-consuming, long-term process, which would need to be undertaken in consultation with the bee industry. It is unlikely live bees imports will be permitted in the near future.

Field staff numbers have been scaled down since completion of the delimiting survey, however a team will continue working from Hamilton. The freephone enquiry line remains operational (0800 809 966). Movement permits must still be obtained by beekeepers wanting to move hives and related equipment and products. Phone the movement permit hotline on 0800 109 383.

For further information contact:

Gita Parsot, MAF Communications, Telephone: 04 498 9806
Lin McKenzie, National Beekeeper Association Executive Member, Telephone: 025 357 970
Malcolm Linn, AgriQuality NZ Ltd, Telephone: 09 262 7357

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