This doesn't look good.
A new invader from the north could spread "like a cane toad with wings", seriously threatening two-thirds of Australia's food supply, experts have warned.
An Indonesian strain of the Asian bee, now contained to the area around Cairns, could wipe out the European honey bee within years if left unchecked, an industry panel has heard.
Australian agriculture is heavily dependent on the European honey bee, which pollinates about 65 per cent of the nation's food crops, as well as clover and lucerne pastures, which feed the meat and dairy industries.
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In a decision that has incensed many in the honey bee industry, the federal government has decided to shift resources to containing rather than attempting to eradicate the Asian bee.
This amounted to "Winnie the Pooh thinking", the experts warned. "I'll go on the record to say that one of the biggest threats to Australian food security is the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture," Max Whitten, a former CSIRO bee researcher, said at the industry panel held at the Australian Museum last month.
Dr Whitten's comments were backed by Greens Senator Christine Milne, Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck, Beechworth Honey apiarist Jodie Goldsworthy and CSIRO bee expert Dr Denis Anderson.
But a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said the government's Asian Honeybee National Management Group had concluded eradication "is no longer technically feasible", despite adopting a strategy paper which warns of annual losses of $50 million to the $70 million horticulture industry alone if the wild European honey bee population was killed off.
Australia remains the only continent in the world free of a honey bee parasite called varroa. Yet the Asian bees are natural carriers of the pest, which wiped out 95-100 per cent of wild European honey bees in the US and Europe in four years. Varroa has not yet been detected in the Asian bees in Cairns.
"There is a growing awareness of the problem, but I don't see any management plan in case varroa arrives here," Senator Colbeck said.
Dr Anderson has studied the Asian bee's progress through the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea including its temperate highlands, where he said there were indications that honey bee hive numbers had fallen 40 per cent since 1994. "We have to look closely at how we deal with biosecurity in Australia," he said.
The Asian bee is considered a tropical bee and the department spokesman said it was not known that the bee would spread to Australia's temperate zones or kill all the wild European honey bees if it did. The decision to give up on eradicating the Asian bee was based on its tendency to frequently relocate nests, as well as its rapid breeding cycle and ability to travel long distances, he said.
Several foods are 100 per cent reliant on European honey bees for pollination, including almonds, apples, pumpkin and macadamia nuts.
Ms Goldsworthy wants to get that information on restaurant menus, to educate the public about the significance of a problem which she said so far has been grasped only by Australia's 1700 commercial beekeepers and scientists in the field. She is lobbying the government for honey bee management to be considered a vital issue of food security in the national food plan, now under development.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/plan-to-contain-asian-bee-slammed-as-winnie-the-pooh-thinking-20111103-1my26.html#ixzz1chUS8tkY