‘Protecting’ the industry, or devastating it?
BEE HIVE CULL
The NSW Government’s Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) first reported the detection of the the Varroa mite parasites in biosecurity surveillance hives of the Port of Newcastle in June.
Since then, it has been undertaking an eradication plan, citing that as Australia is the only major honey producing country free from the Varroa mite, it could reportedly cost the honey industry more than $70 million a year. Mead is of course reliant on this, as fermented honey is its primary ingredient.
The plan included the establishment of ‘red zones’ where the mite has been detected, in which hives would be euthanised. Bees from 1,533 hives on 31 infected premises have been destroyed between the NSW central and mid-north coasts, as well as at Narrabri in the state’s north-west, in the culling.
Each hive contains anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 bees, which means tens of millions of bees have been euthanised in an attempt to control the parasite since it was first detected.
The culling has been devastating for beekeepers involved, who are now demanding for it to end.
One petition against the cull has racked up almost 27,000 signatures so far, calling for the NSW DPI to end the cull and release the modelling underpinning the strategy.
Dolfi Benesh, a NSW Central Coast beekeeper who co-authored the petition, said he felt bullied by the Department of Primary Industries after it ordered the destruction of his 60 hives.
“They have imposed an impossible and needless actions against farmers. Surely with their budget of billions of dollars per annum they could have come up with a much better solution,” Benesh said.
“The biosecurity laws have turned into the bio-insecurity of the farmers.”
Benesh said officials, escorted by the police, arrived at his property to exterminate his hives after several injunctions and protests failed to save his bees.
He is not the only one facing massive loses.
The husband-and-wife team that owns Honey Wines Australia have been hit hard by the euthanisation process of bees in ‘red zones’, for which they are right in the heart of in the Hunter Valley.
The region’s only mead manufacturing business has lost 90% of their beehives in the cull.
Despite supporting the necessity for bee euthanisation in affected areas, they have some criticisms of the effectiveness of the rollout, specifically in regards to lack of communication from authorities.
They also say authorities were very fast to organise a group to come and euthanise them, doing so by applying a petrol-soaked cloth and wrapping the hive boxes in plastic film to seal them.
The NSW government has announced reimbursement payment options for beekeepers under the National Response Plan for impacted beekeepers.
Minister for Agriculture, Dugal Saunders, spoke on the compensation package:
“Beekeepers have been at the centre of our emergency response since Varroa mite was confirmed through routine surveillance in sentinel hives near the port of Newcastle in late June.
While we know our eradication measures are crucial to the ongoing viability of our industries, they have significantly impacted beekeepers, which is why this package of support measures is so critical.”
But is financial compensation really enough to cover the damage being caused?
Benesh, highlighted earlier, says compensation measures have failed to cover his losses, particularly those not directly linked to the sale of honey, such as loss of brand awareness and customer base.
And what about the bees themselves?
Let’s not forget the importance they hold on a worldwide scale.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEES
Beekeeping is a widespread and international activity, with millions of beekeepers depending on bees for their livelihoods and well-being.
Together with wild pollinators, bees play a major role in maintaining biodiversity, ensuring the survival and reproduction of many plants, supporting forest regeneration, improving the quantity and quality of agricultural productions, and more.
They provide high-quality food —honey, royal jelly and pollen — and other products such as beeswax, propolis and honey bee venom.
Bees are part of the biodiversity on which we all depend for our survival.
As the landmark 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) notes, “Sacred passages about bees in all the worlds’ major religions highlight their significance to human societies over millennia.”
Beekeeping also provides an important source of income for many rural livelihoods.
According to IPBES, the western honey bee is the most widespread managed pollinator worldwide, and more than 80 million hives produce an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of honey annually.
Furthermore, pollinators contribute directly to food security.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a third of the world’s food production depends on bees.
And this is where the questions need to start being asked.
Given the well-documented mismanagement of biosecurity and infectious threats over the last two years, and ongoing attempts to re-shape the world’s food systems, should these authorities be trusted?
Is this type of response justified to deal with this ‘threat’? Or could there be a larger agenda at play?
We’re interested to hear your thoughts below!
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