Australia’s varroa-free status was something to be proud of and to protect. The pest is endemic in other countries worldwide, causing harm to bees and their hives. The mite cannot affect honey, and is not present in honey, but the impact of varroa mite can have a significant effect on honey production. Varroa mites carry several viruses that can weaken and deform bees, leaving them unable to fly or forage for food. These viruses only affect bees and cannot be passed on to humans.
Please note: At the time of writing, varroa mite is NOT established in Australia. Authorities and beekeepers are working hard to contain and eradicate the mite before it becomes a permanent threat to the Australian honey industry.
Varroa mite in Australia
In June 2022, news broke that the Varroa Destructor mite had been discovered in sentinel hives in Newcastle NSW. Sentinel hives are an early warning system put in place by the Department of Primary Industries (DPI). The hives are located close to places where invasive species are likely to arrive (e.g., ports and freight storage areas), and are checked regularly for unwanted arrivals. The detection of Varroa Destructor mites in sentinel hives triggered an emergency biosecurity response.
How the government is mitigating the impact of varroa mite
When varroa mite was detected in the sentinel hives, the government immediately enacted an emergency response. Eradication, surveillance, and biosecurity zones were established. Hives within a 10km radius of a mite detection are euthanised. The government’s policy is that destruction of affected hives is the only way to prevent those mites from spreading.
Surveillance zones are established within a 25km radius of a mite detection. Authorities and local beekeepers in these areas are on high alert, with hives – including colonies of feral honeybees – being regularly inspected for mites.
Biosecurity zones are established within 50km of a mite detection. Beekeepers in this area must notify the NSW DPI immediately if mites are detected, and the location of all their hives – with or without mites – is recorded and monitored.
The NSW DPI, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), other government bodies, and beekeepers are working hard to contain and eradicate the mite before it can become established. A government scheme has been put in place to encourage reporting and compensate beekeepers for the loss of destroyed hives.
What happens if varroa mite becomes established in Australia?
Bees are important for far more than just making honey. Australia’s food security depends heavily on a healthy honey bee population, with around 65% of Australia’s agricultural production relying on natural bee pollination. Beekeepers move their hives across Australia to pollinate vital crops and food sources, including many of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Bees also pollinate clover and lucerne, which is vital feed to the livestock industry.
Without bees, Australian food production would drop significantly, and prices rise exponentially.
If varroa mite becomes established in Australia, it could cost the honey bee industry $70 million a year in lost revenue and hives. The loss of pollination services to the agricultural and horticultural industries could cost up to $14.2 billion annually*.
The impact on the cost of living and inflation would be catastrophic.
*source: Financial Review, 29 June 2022.
What does this mean for you?
For now, the varroa mite is contained within a relatively small area of New South Wales. There are strict restrictions in place regarding the movement of hives and honey in those areas. If you have beehives, please ensure your hives are registered with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in your state. Forms are available online.
AB’s Honey is monitoring the situation very closely and remaining in full communication with all our beekeepers. Our aim, as always, is to deliver “reliable supply, exceptional quality”. Our extensive network of Australian beekeepers in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania guarantees that we can still meet that commitment far into the foreseeable future.
Australian honey remains some of the finest and purest in the world. We encourage you to support the Australian honey industry by continuing to only buy Australian honey for your business needs.