7 Jul 2009

Call for second look at safety of bee product imports

1:00 pm on 7 July 2009

An independent report on the Ministry of Agriculture's proposal to allow imports of bee products from Australia questions some of the scientific reasoning and assumptions behind the decision.

The Government set up a three member panel to look at the scientific arguments after bee-keepers mounted a successful legal challenge to the import health standard the ministry developed.

The panel recommends that MAF review its assessment of pest and disease risks associated with allowing Australian bee products into the country, and the effectiveness of treatment options.

Bee-keepers disagreed with MAF's view that treating honey and other products would remove the risk of bringing in new bee pests and diseases from Australia.

National Beekeepers Association chief executive Jim Edwards says the industry expects the further investigations recommended by the panel will confirm that importing Australian honey is too risky.

The association one of the areas in which the panel has challenged MAF is in its conclusions about the effectiveness of heat-treating honey to control the bee disease European foul brood.

Ministry of Agriculture director general Murray Sherwin says officials will consider the independent panel's findings, which point to some areas in which scientific evidence has evolved since the original risk analysis.

Mr Sherwin says the report also raises issues of different interpretations of the nature of the risk and of trade policy.

He says as well as reviewing the scientific issues, the ministry will need to obtain fresh advice on the legal and trade ramifications of the panel's findings.

In the meantime, Mr Sherwin says, the import health standard the ministry developed for bee product imports from Australia will remain suspended.