Bio-security and honey May 09 2016, 1 Comment

It’s certainly that time of the year for everyone to escape the ‘bitter Perth winter months’ and head to somewhere warmer for a while. As people are returning, we often hear the complaint about how strict our airport and border security is regarding bringing in honey from interstate or overseas. So, I thought I would offer some information about the importance of our bio-security and why apiarists in Western Australia are pushing for even more bio-security measures, particularly throughout the port systems.

 

Western Australia is now among the safest place in the world for bees. We have the healthiest bees, the cleanest honey. We do not have the most deadly pest to bees – the Varroa Destructor Mite here in Australia. Yet. Nor to do we have the Small Hive Beetle, now endemic to the east coast of Australia. Other diseases such as AFB, EFB and a number of others are rare, isolated occurrences in WA, and because of our isolation, controlled easily and quickly (although full apiary sites must be destroyed if it is detected).

We want to keep it that way.

Many of the diseases we have in Australia can be traced back to imported honey and pollen products, mostly during the 1970’s and 80’s when the importance of tight bio-security was not understood properly. A further few have come in through the break out of swarm hives found in fruit that been imported from other countries.

The eggs of Varroa Destructor and other pests, and the spores for EFB/AFB are not visible to the naked eye. This means that raw honey products can contain any number of diseases.

 

Image: Left - Small Hive Beetle Lava  

    Right: Varroa Destructor Mite eggs growing on Bee Brood

‘But, I will be eating all that honey I bring in, it’s not going to the bees’, I hear you say!

Bees suck 0.004mg of nectar into their stomachs per trip to the hive. There will be honey left in the bottom of that jar, and it will end up in landfill (because let’s face it, recycling isn’t really a thing in Australia yet, even if you do put it in the right bin! But that is an issue for another day). The jar WILL attract bees. Maybe not straight away, but bees can detect nectar reliably up to 5km from their hives! In times of dearth, they will access ANY source for food, including sugar factories, MM factories (link) and landfill items.

The last dregs of honey will be about 1-2 teaspoons worth (approx 15ml or about 19g of honey). Trust me, I know my left over honey! That is enough for 76 bees to take back a load to their hives. Microscopic eggs/spores can be in that honey and within 3 days that hive is infected. Sick hives will abscond, move locations, and ‘healthy bees’ (infected, but not symptomatic) will join other hives in the local area. Across WA, we have a wild hive (unmanaged) every 2sqkm!

In other countries records of outbreaks show wild hives are the first to be decimated by a new disease, and then managed hives are next. When Varroa Destructor was detected in New Zealand in the late 1980's, the wild hives were destroyed within months, and the managed hives were nearly wiped out in one year. NZ beekeepers suffered losses of over 75% in the first year. It took decades to build back to sustainable levels of bees, and proactive investment from the NZ government.

 

Image: Worker with Varroa Destructor Mite

‘But, I’m not really keen on honey, I can go without it’…

I have heard this a few times. I don’t know how you could live without the golden nectar from the Gods, but I try not to be judgmental of peoples food choices ;-) Yes, you can live without honey. Food though? Every third mouthful of food you eat comes from a pollinator. 90% of all pollinators are bees (and virtually all commercial food crops requiring pollination are pollinated by bees). Here is a list of foods you would not have without our bees (link – the most important ones being coffee and chocolate!). Our agricultural industry accounts for 12% of the Australian GDP, and 65% of all agricultural crops rely on bee pollination. That’s 7% of our GDP that relies DIRECTLY on bee pollination. The effect of no pollination services will equate to food insecurity and loss of economic benefits. Is that pot of imported honey or bee pollen still worth it?

Take it one step further – bees pollinate many of our flowering trees. Our wild hives are responsible for much of this pollination and imagine the loss of flora diversity if bushland and forests aren’t being pollinated? Taking a selfish human perspective… what about the air we breath? Trees clean, filter and produce oxygen… where are we heading if we allow our bees to die? Just a thought...

‘But, I paid for it and I want my moneys’ worth!’…

Let’s go back to the ‘cleanest and greenest’ honey is from Western Australia bit. Coupled with our tight labeling laws and solid hive management practices, our honey in Australia is free from anti-biotics, not mixed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fillers or watered down. When the label says ‘100%’ honey’, it almost always is! The same can't be said about other countries, where honey can be sold with corn syrup with it, and still legally labelled as 100% pure honey...

I can’t imagine you are getting your money's worth with an inferior product, possibly laden with antibiotics (as many countries have to use them to keep their bees alive. It is illegal to use them in Australia), not necessarily 100% honey, and possibly containing spores and eggs of diseases, and doesn’t taste as nice as WA honey! Ok, that last bit may be a little biased, Thyme and Lavender honey is pretty special, but you understand my point.

I hope that this explains the need for our strict bio-security, even from honeys from the east coast.

 

Image: Dead Out. From Disease or Pesticide.  Sometimes it can take less then a day to kill an entire hive, sometimes weeks.

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When we travel, we enjoy that regions honey, visit other honey producers and eat up big. But we don’t bring it home. Please leave it for someone else to enjoy in that region.

 

 Image: Happy, healthy bees on comb!