22 May 2013

Australian honey imports likely to be some years away

10:15 pm on 22 May 2013

The chance of Australia being able to send honey and other bee products to New Zealand still looks likely to be some years down the track.

Bee-keepers are continuing to challenge any moves to allow imports from Australia or elsewhere that they think would increase the risk of new bee pests and diseases arriving here.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is three years into a five year programme of developing a generic system of import health standards for all animal products.

The long running and legally challenged proposal to accept bee products from Australia is caught up in that.

MPI director of animals and animal products standards Matthew Stone says the ministry has been working on gaps in the proposed import standard for Australia that an independent review panel identified in 2009 after court action by bee-keepers.

He says surveillance has been undertaken for two organisms, nosema ceranae and Israeli acute paralysis virus.

Dr Stone says MPI has also commissioned research into the heat and activation parameters of Israeli paralysis virus, but unfortunately the results were not as conclusive as had been hoped so the research must be repeated.

He says the beekeepers have now been briefed.

Dr Stone says that re-testing is likely to run into next year.

Heat treatment not completely effective

But National Beekeepers Association president Barry Foster says it's not convinced that the heat treatment currently being assessed will be completely effective.

"Because we don't know in any given shipment of honey if you heat-treat it, the amount of bacteria or viruses going into the heat treatment, and therefore what will remain after it."

Dr Stone says scientists say there will still be infected material after heat treatment, which means viruses and bacteria will be brought into New Zealand that are currently blocked for biosecurity reasons.

He says that poses big risks to New Zealand not just for beekeeping but for agriculture.

Dr Stone says MPI also has to update the risk analysis for bee product imports from Australia, done back in 2004.

Barry Foster says beekeepers are also worried that developing a generic import health standard covering all countries will open up more gaps in biosecurity.

He says the risks vary between different countries and it's important to take a broader view because heat treatment will not deactivate all of the pests.