Currently Australia is free of many serious honey bee pests that damage the health of European honey bees overseas.
A number of programs have been developed to help protect Australia’s honey bees from exotic pests, and to preserve the pollination benefits they bring to many crops.
The honey bee industry, governments, research and development agencies, and crop industries that benefit from pollination are all collaborating and contributing in various ways to make these programs possible.
A national honey bee health program
The aim of the National Bee Biosecurity Program is to help beekeepers to manage pests that are already in Australia, and to prepare for incursions by exotic pests.
Generally speaking, governments in Australia will focus on pre-border and biosecurity at the border, pest surveillance activities and emergency pest or disease incursions. The honey bee industry and individual beekeepers are responsible for managing established pests and checking for exotic pests.
As a result, the beekeeping industry has established a levy to pay for biosecurity activities, and has developed a Code of Practice for all beekeepers to follow.
The importance of managing pests
Pests and diseases that are already in the country cause ongoing economic and social harm to the beekeeping community.
Exotic pests such as Varroa mites, Tropilaelaps or tracheal mites are a constant threat for Australia. But their effect can be much worse, if pre-existing bee pests and diseases are not being controlled. Varroa would virtually eliminate unmanaged honey bee colonies, and the free pollination services they provide for a wide variety of crops.
The general health of honey bee colonies would decrease and so would yields of honey. The costs to manage commercial hives would increase, and this would likely be passed on to growers who would need to pay for pollination services.
The Code of Practice
There are simple things every person can do to help keep the honey bees in Australia healthy.
The honey bee industry, which includes all of the state-based beekeeping associations, has developed the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice. The Code includes basic biosecurity practices that should be used by all beekeepers in Australia. These actions help to minimise the impact of pests and diseases on their own hives and those of other beekeepers.
Key elements of the code are:
- reporting diseases
- hive inspections
- controlling or eradicating pests and diseases
- maintaining records
- hive construction and labelling
- neglected hives
Some parts of the code will only apply to beekeepers with more than 50 hives because of the increased risks that they pose.
The Code will be worked into existing industry quality assurance programs, so anyone already following a program will only have to make minor changes to their hive management practices.
Beekeepers are already subject to existing state and territory biosecurity legislation, but the code will become part of ensuring that they are following best practice guidelines.
The National Bee Biosecurity Program
To help beekeepers to implement biosecurity measures and to ensure that they are complying with the code and relevant legislation, Bee Biosecurity Officers will be employed within five state departments of primary industry.
The biosecurity officers are there to provide training and education.
If there is an exotic pest incursion, the biosecurity officers will be on hand to provide expert support to industry, and to help design and implement response measures.
Australia has a healthy bee population and we want to keep it that way. If you see anything unusual on your bees call the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.
For more information about bee biosecurity, the code of practice, pollination of crops by honey bees, pests, news and videos, go to the BeeAware website beeaware.org.au