CATCH THE BUZZ: Oz Bees Back To The US?

Australia-wide survey to ascertain health of bees
Tas Country Hour

Australia’s honey bee population and their hives have been booked in for a thorough health assessment.

Australia remains free of many major honey bee pests, such as the Varroa mite, that are present in other countries.

But speculation in the USA that a virus, potentially imported from Australia, may contribute to colony collapse disorder in honey bee populations across north America, has halted Australia’s live bee exports to the US.

CSIRO scientist, Dr John Roberts is testing the bee virus theory with an Australia-wide survey, to discover what viruses and diseases are actually present in bees.

Dr Roberts says when the project is complete in June 2015, the results could help reopen the big US live export market for honey bees.

“An important part of the bee industry is being able to export live bees, so packaged bees and queen bees,” he said.

“One of those markets that has been quite good for Australia in the past is the US.

“They have quite a demand for bees to pollinate their almonds.

“In about 2010, they banned imports of live bees [of packaged bees] from Australia, because they had done some survey work of diseases that they had, and they didn’t have a couple of bee viruses.

“We, at the moment, haven’t found these viruses in Australia.

“But it’s been quite some time [since] we’ve had a really good look.

“And there are newer techniques now, that we can [use to] look for some of these viruses, that might be present at low levels in our bee populations.

“So it’s an opportunity to look at the whole range of pests and diseases that affect our bees.

“This survey is purely focused on our managed hives.

“To keep things practical, we’re sticking to our commercial bee keepers.

“[I’m] getting samples from across Australia and having a sufficient spread of beekeepers that we can get a really good look at all the diseases that we have.

“If we don’t find some of these viruses that the US are concerned about, we can say that we’ve looked sufficiently to have a proof of freedom [from disease].”

By Rosemary Grant