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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee - 15/04/2014 - Future of the beekeeping and pollination service industries in Australia

HOOPER, Mr Benjamin Allan, Spokesperson, Executive Council, South Australian Apiarists Association Incorporated

PITT, Mr Michael George, Member, Executive Council, South Australian Apiarists Association Incorporated

ROBERTS, Mr Ian Jeffrey, Chairperson, Executive Council, South Australian Apiarists Association Incorporated

Committee met at 09:01.

CHAIR ( Senator Sterle ): Welcome. I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee. The committee is hearing evidence of the committee's inquiry into the future of the beekeeping and pollination service industries in Australia. This is a public hearing and a Hansard of the proceedings is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time. Finally, on behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all of those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today.

The South Australian Apiarists Association has lodged submission No. 4 with the committee. Would you like to make any amendments or additions to your submission? If not, I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions.

Mr Hooper : Good morning and thank you for being here and beginning this conversation. We have our three key topics which we believe are imperative for our industry in moving forward. They are resource security, biosecurity, labelling laws and honey standards of Australia. Ours is a brief submission, but they are the three key topics that we would like to discuss with you today.

CHAIR: Brief is very good with us, direct to the point. Does anyone else want to add anything? If not, we will start with Senator Xenophon.

Senator XENOPHON: Good morning and thank you very much for your submission. Your submission suggests that the government formally recognise the importance of commercially managed honey bees to primary production and that access to the natural environment is essential to promote healthy bees. Can you expand on that? Can you explain to the committee what you mean by the words 'formally recognise'—in other words, what is it that you want the government to do for your industry?

Mr Hooper : There are a few key issues there. The role of bees in agriculture has changed significantly. The demand to provide pollination services is an integral part of agriculture,

and that then goes to access to national resources, which we rely on to produce those bees and keep them at a standard that allows us to provide an adequate pollination standard. And that then comes back to the key issue of resource security and access to public lands, which we have a little trouble with in that it is on so many different levels.

Senator XENOPHON: Can you expand on that access to public lands? Are you talking about national parks? What are you talking about?

Mr Hooper : National parks and state owned land, so SA Water resources and so forth. National parks are the typical ones, the biggest parks and so forth in this state that we rely on, but there are other land tenures. It is confusing to the average beekeeper as to who controls those titles. For instance, we have a memorandum of understanding with SA Water. However, a single land manager can take control and he can individually say that he does not want bees in that area, even though we have an understanding with the peak authority. It is just that it can be undermined so easily.

Senator XENOPHON: What happens in those circumstances? You have a memorandum of understanding with SA Water, but the individual landholder can veto your right to be there?

Mr Hooper : Yes—the manager.

Senator XENOPHON: Sorry, it is the SA Water manager. So we are talking about the same organisation?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: So we are talking about someone within the same organisation who has given you a memorandum of understanding blocking your access to land, notwithstanding the memorandum higher up the food chain?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: What do you do in those cases?

Mr Hooper : We are at the mercy of the land manager.

Senator XENOPHON: Have you gone to the CEO and said, 'What the hell is going on?'

Mr Hooper : We have.

Senator XENOPHON: What did the CEO say?

Mr Hooper : It is quite confusing. We are still in those communications at the moment.

Senator XENOPHON: What is confusing about an MoU?

Mr Hooper : Nothing, I believe. It can be vetoed by an individual so simply. Bees rub people up the wrong way sometimes and I appreciate that—some people do not like them.

Senator XENOPHON: I wonder if the committee could make some inquiries of SA Water in relation to that because that seems quite extraordinary. If it is happening here in South Australia, I imagine it might be happening in other states.

CHAIR: That is a very good point. We should write to them.

Senator GALLACHER: The access that you require is for a hive?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Bees can go wherever they like. You need permission or agreement to place a number of hives in certain areas?

Mr Hooper : The specific example we are talking about with SA Water is that some of those lands are behind locked gates and so forth, so it is controlled access as well. There is a new move within the national parks as well to lock existing beekeeper tracks.

Senator GALLACHER: But this is a practice that has been going on for 100 years.

Mr Hooper : Since the bees came out, as Mr Duffield up the back in the audience always points out. They came out on the First Fleet, and they have always been part of agriculture.

Senator GALLACHER: Access is becoming an issue.

Mr Hooper : Yes. The classic example is Ngarkat, a national park in South Australia. It was originally given to the beekeepers as a beekeeper resource, but due to practices that went on in the south-east where land was given to beekeepers during bad times they then reverted back to common farm practices of grazing sheep and so forth and those lands were lost. So the beekeepers decided that they would give back to the state government at the time to maintain that resource in its entirety.

Mr Roberts : Further to that, access to these parts is not for six months at a time. We may only be in there for six weeks in a year. It is not like we are there for extended periods and go in and out every day. We are there for a specific reason for a short period of time and it might not even be every year.

Senator GALLACHER: There no instances, for example, where you put in a couple of hives and six tourists get stung to death? Nothing like that happens, does it?

Mr Roberts : No. I work in the Crystal Brook-Beetaloo Valley area. You have to let them know when you go in and you have to let them know when you go out. So the workers are aware and they know where the sites, and they would be familiar with working in the vicinity of bees.

CHAIR: Thank you. That is helpful.

Senator XENOPHON: Have you given us a copy of the memorandum of understanding?

Mr Hooper : We have not included that.

Senator XENOPHON: Can you provide us with a copy of that?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: When was that entered into?

Mr Roberts : It was about 23 years ago.

Mr Hooper : The most recent one.

Senator XENOPHON: Could you give us any previous ones as well, and any correspondence you have had with SA Water about your frustration in dealing with them?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Can we now go to the national parks issue. Do you have access to national parks and how do you interact in the context of being on national parks land and the sensitivities involved with that?

Mr Hooper : The SAAA has been in negotiation with Parks in Ceduna—they have changed their identity—and we are looking to develop an MOU with them as well. We have a very good relationship with them at the moment. However, once again, that comes back to the land manager at the time, who was then based out in the field.

Senator XENOPHON: So things are generally okay with SA Parks?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: So SA Water is the main problem at the moment?

Mr Hooper : It goes back a long time. Whilst we do have a good relationship with them, there are some 240 sites, and previously there were more than that. So we have lost some in time—as nature burns and so forth, things get transferred and moved around. We just like to make sure we maintain the maximum amount of sites in there that we possibly can.

Senator XENOPHON: There are some questions on labelling laws and honey standards which perhaps some of my colleagues might touch on. But I just want to touch on a separate issue. There is a concern about the Asian honey bee and the varroa mite. If we do get the varroa mite in this country, what will that do to the industry and how will it change the way you do what you do?

Mr Hooper : We can look at some very strong examples of our close neighbours. New Zealand was the most recent bee-keeping nation to receive the varroa mite. It originally decimated their industry. For 10 years solid they were in decline, but they are now recovering.

Senator RUSTON: Why are they recovering?

Mr Hooper : The significant thing is that they have learnt to manage the mite better—over time, they have developed a stronger genetic bee that is able to deal with it a bit better.

Senator RUSTON: So the bees that you are genetically modifying—

Mr Hooper : Not genetically modifying, just selecting.

Senator RUSTON: So the natural bees, the bush bees, they obviously—

Mr Hooper : They were completely decimated. The severe impact for agriculture in Australia is that we have an extremely high native population that exists in the wild and they will be decimated, nearly completely eradicated. There will be pockets that will survive and, over time, they will come back.

Senator XENOPHON: And what will they do to your industry in the short to medium term?

Mr Hooper : After varroa incursion, we would struggle with re-infestation. So we will not be able to escape it, wherever we go. Until that wild population has been eradicated, we will just be continually facing re-infestation of varroa mite.

Senator XENOPHON: So it will wipe out your industry?

Mr Hooper : No.

Senator XENOPHON: What—50 per cent, 60 per cent?

Mr Hooper : Examples suggest that it is initially about 30 per cent in the first year and up to 50 per cent in the first three years. And that would be compounded by the age of our industry, as well. We would possibly see a more significant impact because the average age of our beekeepers is above 65 and it would be easier for them to just walk away. So our industry could be more compounded than other industries internationally.

Senator RUSTON: In your submission, under 'Resource security', you say we should investigate national programs and foreign ownership of properties that make easier access for beekeepers—for example, Bush Bids.

Mr Hooper : I do not have a great understanding of Bush Bids, but my understanding is that it is a national directive. It was taking over what used to be the heritage agreements—it is now under new land management. There was a clause in there that the landowner was paid more to lock beekeepers out of a certain area of vegetation. We were concerned that it was something that was not well advised in policy decision as to why that would occur.

Senator RUSTON: So obviously you would be seeking to have a greater conversation taking place in relation to your access.

Mr Hooper : Absolutely, yes. Once again, that is up to the individual arranging that agreement with the landowner. Someone who appreciates the industry or understands how important those resources are to us, certainly would not make that decision.

Senator RUSTON: It makes for an interesting legislative instrument or the like to protect it. What sort of instrument would that be and how could we go about achieving the outcomes that you need for access? Whether it is foreign ownership or any type of ownership, if you are seeking to have access to lands that can potentially change ownership, how do you maintain some sort of continuity of access to the resources that you need? I am interested, from a legal perspective, in how you would actually do that and how we could help if we are able to. I am interested in reading a lot of the other submissions in regard to what honey is. We had a debate about this before the parliament broke up—I do not know whether it was in this particular hearing. In terms of the labelling laws on the information you have to provide on the label, if you say that your product is a product of Australia do you have to have 100 per cent honey in your container?

Mr Hooper : Do you mean 100 per cent Australian honey, or honey in general?

Senator RUSTON: I mean 100 per cent Australian honey.

Mr Hooper : The answer on both points is no, because it does not have to be 100 per cent honey either.

Senator RUSTON: If you say it is 100 per cent honey, does it have to be 100 per cent honey?

Mr Hooper : No.

Senator RUSTON: So it can say on the label that it is 100 per cent honey, but it could have some sort of sugar thing?

Mr Hooper : It is still derived from bees, but the honey has been induced by feeding sugar syrup to the bees.

Senator RUSTON: So the sugar syrup has gone through the bee before it gets in the container—it is not just sugar syrup going straight into it?

Mr Hooper : Yes. And it would be extracted in the same way.

Senator RUSTON: So what percentage of that is allowable if you still say it is 100 per cent honey?

Mr Hooper : I would like to defer this conversation, if I may, because there is a packaging expert at the back of the room who is speaking later on. She would be the one to speak to that.

Senator RUSTON: And the same thing for the percentage of Australian honey?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you suggesting that some people actually farm bees in a synthetic or artificial environment?

Mr Hooper : Absolutely.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I was not aware of that.

Mr Hooper : It is not so much here in Australia. The classic example is China. They are the ones that can produce it the cheapest and land it in Australia at the cheapest price. The big supermarkets demand that honey goes on the shelf at a certain price.

CHAIR: As far as SAAA are concerned, are there any detrimental health effects in the way the Chinese do it?

Mr Hooper : No. And that is exactly the reason why it is hard to effect change on our behalf—because it is not a health issue.

CHAIR: With anything that comes down to trade they can do it cheaper than us?.

Mr Hooper : Yes. I guess what we would be looking for is to strengthen the Australian honey standard and put us on a level playing field. When we export to those markets, they demand it is of a certain standard and premium, but we do not demand that back here in Australia.

CHAIR: That is as clear as anything.

Senator RUSTON: Obviously there is the honey bee industry and then there is the pollination side of things. Do you represent both?

Mr Hooper : Yes, all three of us do both.

Senator RUSTON: In terms of value and importance to your industry, which one is the most significant to you as beekeepers? I understand the numbers.

Mr Hooper : The simple answer is that nearly all commercial beekeepers in Australia still rely on bulk honey production as the core of their income—that is for the commercial side of things. There are some specific big pollinators, but the majority of beekeepers in Australia rely on making honey as the core of their income.

Senator RUSTON: The honey industry is worth $90 million. What is the pollination component of that—for you, as opposed to the industry?

Mr Hooper : One of my key points was going to be that we need to update the data on that. The last survey was done in 2008 and the ball game has significantly changed in that. I sit on the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation panel for the Honeybee Advisory Committee and we cannot financially afford to revisit the figures. ABARES has quoted us between $300,000 and $500,000 to resurvey our industry, to increase our GVP, which is obviously important for us to bring more dollars into our research part of things.

Senator RUSTON: If the pollination component of the industry was diminished or even became unnecessary for whatever reason, would you still have a viable industry? Or is it having both sides of the industry that enables you to be commercially viable?

Mr Hooper : Pollination is becoming an increasing facet of our business—there is no doubt about that—and will continue to increase. Under the influence of varroa it would significantly increase because of the diminishing native population.

Mr Pitt : In the past two years, in South Australia especially, there has been a honey drought. We have not had the honey production that we would normally have. So it has been the pollination that has actually carried us through.

Senator RUSTON: I suppose where I am going with this is that industries are always very clever at becoming adaptive to mitigate any threat. I understand that the almond industry is a significant user of your product. If the almond industry saw the varroa, the Asian honey bee or whatever as a significant threat, it stands to reason that they would go to a huge amount of trouble to try and find alternative methods of pollination for their industry. What is the impact of that? What is the timing on that? What needs to be done? Obviously everybody has to support everybody else in this, but you cannot really blame an industry if they feel that there is some sort of threat. Is there a conversation around that and, if so, where is it going?

Mr Hooper : I do not know of any conversation about finding an alternative pollinator—and I do not believe there is anything out there that can cover the size of the commercial industry. Just for almonds alone, the honey bee is too diverse and it is the most abundant pollinator that we have. I saw an example in the United States. The largest agricultural company in the world privately invested $10 million into pollinating their almond orchards with an alternative pollinator. They had a never-ending budget. They spent $10 million in this one case, and they said it was not financially viable to use anything other than the honey bee to do this.

Senator GALLACHER: On the pollination side of things, you get paid to stick a beehive in a cherry orchard or something like that—is that how it works?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: If you were not doing that work, my garden would not grow, my veggies would not grow, and the national parks would not exist. Is there any quantification or attempt at adding that intrinsic value on top of your industry to make people aware of how critical the work you do is?

Mr Hooper : Absolutely. There are a number of publications out there, particularly from RIRDC, about pollination awareness and there is specific data around each individual of the top 35 most pollination dependent crops.

Senator GALLACHER: What is killing the native bees? Before you were around, there were bees doing the job. What has happened to them?

Mr Hooper : There is nothing really that badly affecting our native population at the moment.

Mr Roberts : The true native bee is not really a big commercial type of thing. It is a totally different type of social structure.

Senator GALLACHER: So they cannot do it?

Mr Roberts : No. The European bee that we are using is the efficient pollinator.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Does the same apply for the Asian honey bee—is that not an efficient pollinator either?

Mr Hooper : The unfortunate part about that is that the particular strain that we have in Australia has some fundamental flaws when it comes to applying basic husbandry skills to it—that is, it absconds very easily. That means that it swarms and swarms. With the European honey bee that we use, naturally in spring there is a significant build up, and that would be the time that it would normally swarm without manipulation. The Asian honey bee that we have—the Java strain—is very hard to manage.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I noticed that it did not appear on our list of pests but I had a forum years ago in Tasmania on the European wasp and the problems we are having with it down there. A lot of the bee producers came along and said that it was a significant issue for them. Does that factor into your concerns here in South Australia?

Mr Hooper : Not currently, no.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You have not seen any evidence of it?

Mr Hooper : No. We know that it does attack honey bees, but it is not a big enough problem for us.

Mr Roberts : Some of the areas in which we are working are not conducive to the wasp's range or where it lives.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You are lucky. You mentioned in your submission that honey should be prescribed goods. Is that in relation to what you were saying earlier about synthetic sugars being used for honey manufacturing?

Mr Hooper : Exactly.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you talk to us a little bit more about that.

Mr Hooper : I am looking to strengthen the guidelines around what honey is. I guess there is a pretty clear definition in there under 2.8.2. We feel that the definition needs to be strengthened.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So that we can say that honey comes from natural—

Mr Hooper : It already says that. I just wondered if there is more scientific language that we can put around that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: It is interesting. If synthetically produced or refined sugars go through bees could that still be considered a natural process because it is going through a bee? Have there been any tests, for example, on the antimicrobial properties of the type of honey that has not come from a natural environment?

Mr Hooper : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I know that the leatherwood honeys and the other honeys that we have in Tassie are often sold on that basis—

Mr Hooper : Absolutely.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: to attract the premium. So there is plenty of work left to be done around that.

Mr Hooper : Yes.

CHAIR: What are the threats, which you currently receive through your association, of the possibility of Varroa mite entering Australia?

Mr Hooper : What are the threats?

CHAIR: Yes. Are you seeing our biosecurity standards slipping? Is that a fear of your association?

Mr Hooper : What we see here—we will stick to South Australia because that is the environment we are operating in—is that Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, PIRSA, have committed to moving to a focus on exotic pests and diseases, which would mean looking at Varroa. That leaves a gaping hole in the current endemic disease management plan. We have been working for a number of years on developing a code of practice for beekeeping, which we are very close to. Now they are looking to rolling it out nationally.

The fundamental thing is that if you can detect it early—which is PIRSA's concept—we have a chance of eradicating it. I guess the big thing is trying to monitor all our ports. There are 80 significant ports in Australia, so it cannot be done by one person in South Australia alone. So we are looking at remote monitoring and so forth. There just needs to be a continuation of the program that already exists. That is something that we struggle to fund ourselves. We feel that there is a public-good factor to it, as well.

CHAIR: Sure, but there is no immediate threat, is there, in your view, that standards could be slipping?

Mr Roberts : There has been, in the last 12 months, a few incursions of bees on planes coming into Adelaide airport, and also on shipping. That would be where it would come in from. Luckily, the airport staff here at Adelaide airport are very switched on in that sense. I think the bee that came in did not have Varroa, but I know there was a ship that went to about four ports before they found the swarm on it. We could say, 'Is it here already?' We do not know.

Senator GALLACHER: Would that be in relation to cargo the plane or the boat was carrying?

Mr Roberts : On the planes they actually got in under the landing gear or it could be tucked inside part of a shipping container, or something like that, and nothing has shown up. Has one slipped through?

CHAIR: Everyone on this committee speak as one voice in that our biosecurity is second to none. But we also want to keep it up to that level.

Senator XENOPHON: In relation to standard 2.8.2 and the imported honey, are the bees fed sugar syrup? Is it synthetic?

Mr Hooper : Yes, sugar syrup.

Senator XENOPHON: The bees are fed sugar syrup?

Mr Hooper : Yes, water mixed with sugar which creates sugar syrup.

Senator XENOPHON: That does not happen here in Australia?

Mr Hooper : It will happen under certain conditions. As we suggested earlier, we have been under a significant honey drought. In times of desperate need, particularly in winter when trying to build up hives for pollination, people will feed sugar syrup to hives as a way of—

Senator XENOPHON: If you analyse the honey, are you able to tell whether it comes from sugar syrup or from natural pollination, the nectar of blossoms or secretions of living parts of plants?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: You can tell?

Mr Hooper : To a degree.

Senator XENOPHON: What do you mean? Are there any tests to determine this?

Mr Hooper : If there is a minute amount of sugar syrup in the honey, you are not going to pick it up but you can if there is a significant amount.

Senator XENOPHON: What is minute? Is it anything more than 10 per cent? What is your understanding of that?

Mr Hooper : Probably more than 10 per cent; probably 20 per cent.

Senator XENOPHON: So you would be able to tell to an extent? You are saying that that should not be labelled as honey, given it breaches 2.8.2?

Mr Hooper : Yes. Under the Australian example, the sugar syrup would be consumed quickly and it is only done to stimulate breeding before they go into somewhere where they are required to—

Senator XENOPHON: Do you have a problem if it is used in times of a honey drought?

Mr Hooper : No.

Senator XENOPHON: But it is a question of whether it is used predominantly and that is where there is an issue?

Mr Hooper : Yes. It is just that the practice is not done in Australia; there is just no need for it. There is no gain. It is not ideal for the honey bee to be fed on it.

Senator XENOPHON: What is your knowledge of labelling that says that the honey is made in Australia from local and imported ingredients? Is there much of that around

Mr Hooper : There is a considerable amount of that around. You cannot go to a supermarket now and pick up a select brand without it containing imported product.

Senator XENOPHON: We will hear from Beechworth later and they can give us the processing and the packaging perspective. We heard earlier that Australian honey is being defined as a prescribed good. Is that for the purposes of food labelling?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Are you saying that it is not being enforced at the moment under 2.8.2?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Have you made complaints to say that you have concerns about this?

Mr Hooper : For 10 years our national chair has been attempting to have the standards strengthened.

Senator XENOPHON: Is that through calling Food Standards Australia New Zealand or by writing to them? How is that done?

Mr Hooper : Our national chair is in the back of the room and he will be able to elaborate on that.

Senator GALLACHER: Where does the resistance come from for honesty in food labelling? You grow a product, you want to sell it at a premium and tell the truth about what is in it, who pushes back on that? Who says you cannot label your honey as 100 per cent Australian?

Mr Hooper : No-one.

Senator GALLACHER: Where does the lack of transparency in food labelling come from?

Mr Hooper : It comes from government.

Senator GALLACHER: We don't want that. We want to know what we are buying.

CHAIR: We can you a clue, but we do not want to put words in your mouth like 'the Food and Grocery Council'! If I am wrong, I will retract that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Is it not the problem that you can voluntarily put that information on your labels but other people can also use it and if it is not audited properly then you have false and misleading statements on labels? That is the issue. The government and others have to come up with processes to audit these things.

Mr Hooper : Yes.

CHAIR: Senator Whish-Wilson and I are on the same wavelength. Your chair has been pushing for 10 years and has not been getting anywhere. So all we can assume is that, to the best of your knowledge, no-one is listening in government—and we will ask the question later to whomever we need to ask.

Mr Hooper : That is what we are saying.

CHAIR: Okay. But you do not know of anyone who is actively trying to stop the labelling being more transparent? Would that be fair? You are not going to get hung. You are protected by parliamentary privilege. If you tell us what you are thinking, it will make our work a lot easier.

Mr Pitt : It is a couple of things. To a certain degree supermarkets are trying honey on the shelf at a certain price and people are forced to try to match that price.

Mr Roberts : It is possibly the big two.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: We have heard this before in relation to other products.

Senator GALLACHER: We need to be talking about it honestly, that is the thing.

Mr Roberts : That is where I see it coming from. They want it for X price.

Senator XENOPHON: You say 'possibly the big two'. Are you being kind by using the word 'possibly'?

Mr Roberts : Possibly.

Senator XENOPHON: Let us explore this briefly. You are saying there has been a race to the bottom in terms of standards because of the pressure from the two big supermarket chains? Is that your concern?

Mr Roberts : I would go along with that, yes.

Senator XENOPHON: And if there was an enforcement of standard 2.8.2 in the Australia New Zealand food standards, that enforcement would put an end to that and there would be an minimum standard that would be adhered to?

Mr Roberts : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: And it is not being adhered to, in your view?

Mr Roberts : No.

Senator XENOPHON: How difficult is it to analyse honey? If we wanted to do it today or tonight, how hard is it to do it?

Mr Hooper : Not hard at all.

Senator XENOPHON: You have the testing equipment for that?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: Is defining Australian honey as a prescribed good part of the standard or an additional standard that you are looking for?

Mr Hooper : We are looking at it as an addition to the standard.

Senator XENOPHON: What would you want in addition to what is in 2.8.2?

Mr Hooper : Can I leave that?

Senator XENOPHON: Yes. I am very happy for you to take that on notice. It is not a trick question. Your evidence has been very valuable and I want to see what you are looking for with that. If you could take that on notice.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I am interested in the sugar syrup. We have read in a lot of submissions about the potential chemical contamination of honey and it is an issue that has been explored in a lot of detail over the decades. A local orchard I know of brought in bees this year for the first time ever. I also know that he uses a lot of different types of chemicals. Are there random audits, for example, on the honey that is used by that producer or do they do that voluntarily? If you can use refined sugars in a managed process, you are probably not going to have chemical contamination. I am interested in whether in the future that might be the way to go if this chemical issue becomes a bigger one.

Mr Hooper : I cannot speak to the exact situation of the chap who is pollinating in the orchard. It depends on how that hive has been delivered and whether it is a specific pollinating hive and he is continuing on for another pollination crop. The problem is when you stock hives densely for pollination generally that removes the amount of honey that a hive can store. They would normally be consuming everything. Generally there is no residual.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The bees would be using it for energy.

Mr Hooper : Exactly right. The pollen becomes protein and it needs to become a carbohydrate.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The chemical issue that we will get to later no doubt is not really a big issue at the moment in Australia for honey standards; it is more for imported products?

Mr Hooper : Not so much for honey standards. There is a great deal not known about chemicals and how our bees are interacting with them in the environment. The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation are just beginning to address some of those issues and starting to sample hives working in the natural environment and working on pollination crops, and working out what is coming back in from the environment.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: But it is more an issue of bee health at the moment?

Mr Hooper : Absolutely. It would come as no surprise to you that an insecticide will kill a bee.

Senator RUSTON: I have just a couple of quick random questions. Have you been involved, or are you aware of any involvement from your industry, in the development of the incursion plan for the Varroa mite by what was DAFF and is now DOA?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator RUSTON: Are you happy that DOA has an incursion response plan that would be satisfactory if we found this particular mite in Australia?

Mr Hooper : I think the plan is as good a plan as we are going to get to a certain degree.

Senator RUSTON: That was not my question.

Mr Roberts : I suppose you could say that there is always room for improvement.

Senator RUSTON: Is there room for lots of improvement, or a little bit of improvement?

Mr Hooper : The first significant one is that if we are going to eradicate it we need a method that is able to eradicate the mite, the bee, and an area, essentially. That is where we fall down currently, and that is where other countries have failed to exterminate the pest in their attempt to eradicate. So, the first fundamental one is that we need a method to basically eliminate bees in an area, and we do not have an approved method at the moment.

Senator RUSTON: That takes me to my next question. I understand that at the moment the industry is seeking to have the biosecurity component of your levy increased significantly. Is that increase being driven by, amongst other things, the need for you to actually undertake your own research into being able to do some of these things?

Mr Hooper : Research and manage, yes.

Senator RUSTON: This is my question then. I notice that your levy at the moment is actually taken on the weight of honey. In the use of your hives purely for pollination, is there an opportunity there for you to increase further the capacity to get money into this really important research area by extending your levy to cover pollination?

Mr Hooper : Yes.

Senator RUSTON: So, there is a capacity to pursue it.

Mr Hooper : Absolutely.

Senator RUSTON: And are you?

Mr Hooper : No.

Senator RUSTON: Will you?

Mr Hooper : Potentially, yes.

Senator RUSTON: If there are 500,000 hives out there, if you popped on $1 a hive nobody is going to notice when they are out there on the floor of the orchard—well, you would like to think that they would not—

Mr Hooper : Yes they will!

Senator RUSTON: And it would be a very tidy $½ million that goes not just to protecting your industry but to protecting their industry. And that was what I was really getting to.

Mr Hooper : Absolutely.

Senator RUSTON: Finally, are there any issues that the South Australian Apiarists' Association have that are different from or in conflict in any way with those of other state bodies or your national body in terms of the things you are advocating for?

Mr Roberts : I think probably all states are experiencing situations.

Senator RUSTON: So you speak with one voice?

Mr Roberts : Through our national body, yes.

Senator RUSTON: Great. I cannot tell you how important that is.

Mr Roberts : Yes, we realise that.

CHAIR: How different that is for the agricultural and horticultural industries. I am allowed to say that! Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time.