THE McGowan government has been asked to provide emergency funding to expand Western Australia's surveillance and compliance systems to safeguard the State's multi-billion dollar bee industry.
An infestation of the highly mobile varroa destructor mite in the Port of Newcastle, New South Wales, which was detected last month, has prompted bee and fruit industry organisations to urgently seek extra State government support and a commitment to funding increases over the next 10 years to protect WA's European honeybee populations.
Industry representatives are due to meet WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan next Wednesday to further discuss the issue.
In a letter already sent to Ms MacTiernan, the groups have warned that a funding re-prioritisation had meant fewer WA ports now host the sentinel hives used to detect pest incursions under the joint State and Federal government-funded National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, and that the assessed risk of incursions at some ports had been dangerously downgraded.
"We are seeking an ongoing commitment from the State government to fully fund and expand the current sentinel hive program to all major port and other strategic locations in WA for the next 10 years,'' said the letter, which was co-signed by three peak industry groups and three supporting industries.
"Given the likely costs to WA beekeepers and agriculture if varroa becomes established, the cost of inaction will be unimaginable."
In a five-point plan, the industry groups called for increased funding to appoint compliance officers to ensure all WA beekeepers were registered; for the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) to investigate machine learning-based visual detection systems which could improve varroa detection; for mandates for annual screening for commercial beekeepers; and for the development of an app or web-based system to trace the location of all registered beehives.
The letter to Ms MacTiernan was co-signed by the Bee Industry Council of WA (BICWA) chairman Brendon Fewster, Agricultural Produce Commission beekeepers producers' committee chairman Matthew Colvin, WA Apiarist Society president Stephen Boylen, plus Almond Board of Australia Swan region grower representative Stephen Beckwith, Avocados Australia chairman Brad Rogers and Costa Group manager Spencer Clark.
A big effort is underway in NSW to contain and eradicate varroa mites, which have been likened to the bee sector's version of foot and mouth disease, as it can kill honey bees.
The collapse of bee hives would significant disrupt Australia's $14 billion bee and bee-product industries and have flow-on effects for a range of livestock, grain, fruit and vegetable growers.
Varroa has so far been detected in at least 43 NSW locations.
If the NSW outbreak cannot be contained it will significantly raise the risk of varroa coming into WA through interstate freight movement - a risk the groups said needed to be fully addressed.
BICWA chairman of resource and biosecurity Mikey Cernotta said his message to WA authorities and its beekeeping community was "you are either serious about biosecurity, or you are not''.
Mr Cernotta said bees needed to be treated as livestock - and in the same way cattle and, increasingly, sheep carry electronic identification tags for lifetime traceability, a system of live tracing of hives, via a DPIRD app or website, needed to be developed urgently to record hive movements.
More information: See this week's Ripe magazine. "Bees are livestock and they need to be treated that way, people for a long time have view beekeeping as a cottage industry,'' Mr Cernotta said.
"Collectively, we don't value the role the beekeeping industry plays in our food security - but it impacts everybody.
"In an outbeak, traceability is absolutely paramount, you stand absolutely no chance of eradicating a pest if you can't trace where all of the managed bee hives are.''
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