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Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources
Biosecurity in the Australian honey bee industry
House of Reps
- Parl No.
- Committee Name
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources
CHAIR (Mr Rick Wilson)
Pasin, Tony, MP
Keay, Justine, MP
McVeigh, John, MP
Dr De Barro
Dr de Barro
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources
Biosecurity in the Australian honey bee industry
BAKER-GABB, Dr Murli, Director, Technical Team, Animal and Biological Import Assessments Branch, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
BOURKE, Mr Lindsay, Chairman, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council
DE BARRO, Dr Paul, Research Director, CSIRO
FRASER, Mr Greg, Executive Director and CEO, Plant Health Australia
HUTCHISON, Ms Tina, Assistant Secretary, Pathway Compliance, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
RITMAN, Dr Kim, Australian Chief Plant Protection Officer, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
WEATHERHEAD, Mr Trevor Francis, Executive Director, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council Inc.
Committee met at 12:22
CHAIR ( Mr Rick Wilson ): I would like to declare open this public hearing of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources. This roundtable on the biosecurity of the Australian honey bee industry is being broadcast on the parliament's website, and the proof and official transcripts of the proceedings will be published on the website when they have been prepared. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee. I would like to apologise for the delay today. The Prime Minister was making a statement in the House, and I think the Leader of the Opposition is about to respond, which is why some of the members of the committee have been held up.
As we all know, biosecurity is of critical importance to Australia's ecosystems and agricultural sector. Although Australia's isolation has helped it remain free from many of the world's most serious plant and animal diseases, increases in trade and international travel make it much more likely that exotic pests and diseases will arrive here. These risks are particularly relevant to Australia's honey bee industry. While Australia has remained free of some of the worst bee pests and diseases, ongoing biosecurity risks are very high, both to the honey producers and to the industries that depend on the pollination services that honey bees provide. The committee is holding this roundtable to gather information about these biosecurity risks, to hear what the government and the honey bee industry are going to do to address them, and to perhaps identify some areas where we might be able to do more and do better. I welcome participants to today's roundtable. Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?
Mr Bourke : I am also Biosecurity Farmer of the Year.
CHAIR: Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege.
I now invite witnesses to make a brief opening statement. Perhaps we could start with the honey industry.
Mr Bourke : I am very pleased to be here at this committee, because I have really been looking forward to this opportunity. We are doing a reasonable job in biosecurity, but we could do far better than what we are doing at the moment. Mr Chairman, in your opening remarks you said it is vitally important for the honey bee industry, but it is also very important for the crops that our honey bees pollinate. The combined value is approximately $4 billion, but our tiny little industry is only worth $100 million per year.
As we lead into it, I would really like to talk about our port surveillance, which is very vital for us because we get three or four incursions a year. Thankfully, we mostly control them, but we are going to get one sooner or later. Now that we are starting to have direct shipping from New Zealand and New Zealand is on the same time frame as us, bees are in the same mode as ours are. Previously we have had bees from the Northern Hemisphere come to our Southern Hemisphere, and they have not been on the same time scale, but now they will be. New Zealand has a lot of Varroa destructor. We are very concerned that it is going to arrive in Australia and come ashore without us capturing that swarm. As we get into the meeting further, I would like to elaborate further on that and how the honey bee industry feels that we could be better prepared than we are at the moment.
CHAIR: Dr Ritman?
Dr Ritman : In regard to the biosecurity issues in the Australian honey bee and pollination industries, the government remains engaged and committed to appropriate surveillance and preparedness. Australia has a world-class biosecurity system with robust processes in place across the continuum to mitigate the risks of exotic pests and diseases. The assessment of biosecurity risk is based on scientific analysis and is applied to vessels and cargo across import pathways. All vessels arriving and cargo imported into Australia must be reported to the department and are profiled for biosecurity risk. Vessels or cargo of potential concern may be assessed on documents, inspected or sent for mandatory treatment, depending on the nature of the biosecurity risk. Measures are also applied to manage non-cargo-related risks such as hitchhiker pests—and bees are included as hitchhiker pests. Safeguarding our critically important honey bee and pollination industries is part of this system and remains a priority. Collectively with industry, we are well prepared.
While Australia is one of the few beekeeping countries that remains free of most significant pests and diseases, there will always be the risk of incursions. I want to clarify a term there. We detect things at the border and we intercept them. When they get beyond the border, we call that an 'incursion'. I know Lindsay is aware of that terminology, but it helps in being able to identify the statistics when we use that sort of language. As such, strong evidence based surveillance and preparedness is facilitated by the National Bee Biosecurity Program, administered by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council—AHBIC—and the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, administered by Plant Health Australia. We have response through the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed—EPPRD—and rigorous underpinning from a range of research and development and awareness initiatives. There has been ongoing interest from the government in developing and strengthening the core functions associated with the program since the fully funded government National Sentinel Hive Program was established in 2000.
Collaborative review and considered response to previous parliamentary inquiries have been key elements towards continual evidence base improvements. For example, the recommendations of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, which operates at key entry points around Australia to provide risk based early warning for bee pests and pest bees, are currently under consideration for continued funding.
Collectively we strive for a comprehensive approach to surveillance and preparedness that will promote profitable, responsive and sustainable honey and pollination service industries into the future. Thank you.
CHAIR: Mr Fraser, would you like to say something?
Mr Fraser : Plant Health Australia is a public company limited by guarantee and member based. Members include the Australian government, all state and territory governments, 38 industry peak bodies representing about $30 billion worth of agricultural production, a number of associate members including CSIRO, RDCs and other interested organisations that are involved in the broader plant biosecurity supply chain. We are heavily involved with biosecurity; all we do is plant biosecurity.
We look after the deed that Kim just referred to, which is the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed, which is signed by all governments, PHA and the majority of our industry members. That is used when we have an incident that we have to respond to—so post-border stuff—and there are some processes around that that work quite well. Unfortunately, we have a range of incidents—because the system is working well, surveillance is working well and we are picking up things in a broad sense. It is not just related to bees; it is a range of plant pests and diseases. We work with members, and members fund us to do a whole range of projects around plant biosecurity. Hence we are working with the bee industry around surveillance and also their broader biosecurity plan.
CHAIR: Dr De Barro?
Dr De Barro : CSIRO has had a fairly long history in the bee biosecurity space. It maintained probably most of Australia's expertise around Varroa and the pathogens associated with bees, particularly the viruses. Deformed wing virus is a significant issue when it comes to Varroa. We have also had an ongoing involvement in pollination and, especially since about 2007, we have been consistently pushing towards trying to get a substantial focus around biosecurity issues relating to bee health and pollination. As we understand, it has been pointed out in CSIRO's biosecurity futures report, where we see an incursion of Varroa and deformed wing virus as a substantial shock factor to agriculture, in particular the horticulture industry and the beekeeping industry.
CHAIR: Thank you for those opening statements. I think we will now open it up for questions and discussion. Mr Pasin.
Mr PASIN: My question is probably best directed to Lindsay. Would you mind giving us a summary of where the honey bee industry is at generally so we can set the scene? How is it relative to previous years and those kind of things?
Mr Bourke : We are in a pretty good position at the moment. Our crop, however, is down a little bit and has been down for the last four or five years. But pollinating requirements are growing at an alarming rate, and we cannot keep up with it.
Mr PASIN: Do you earn your revenue exclusively from honey, or is there a fee for pollination services?
Mr Bourke : There is a fee for pollination. I myself am going to earn $500,000 myself this year from pollinating many crops. I am working every day, taking bees from one crop to another. The carrot crops are growing like nothing now—with the seed—and we are getting very good results. It overlaps into our honey crop a little, but we seem to be able to do it.
There is a problem; we cannot get enough bees at the moment to pollinate. Almonds are another thing: we go to three states to pollinate almonds. The fees for almonds are not quite high enough and they are not as high as in other countries. There is always a risk when you are not paying enough for a service that you could lose that service when there is a honey crop available; beekeepers have to weigh that up.
Beekeepers are an ageing population; 58 is the average age of beekeepers in Australia. But, we are very lucky here because we do not have the pests that they have in other countries, such as Varroa destructor and all the viruses that come with it. It is a very big threat to us in Australia, more so than in other countries and a lot more so than in New Zealand, where they get higher prices for their product—Manuka. They can afford to pay for the medication and to do it. We produce a lot of very good honey, but it is at a lower price than what they get.
I am also concerned with Australia's way of life; as I said, our beekeepers are fairly old and if it goes down the way that it did in New Zealand when Varroa destructor came, half of the beekeepers could walk off because they could not afford to do this. So, I am a little concerned. We have a good way of living in Australia—we pay full wages and everything else—we are not going to struggle. I am concerned about our beekeeper numbers going when we get Varroa destructor.
Ms KEAY: In relation to that issue, a lot of the recommendations of past inquiries and research suggested that the capacity within the managed hive honey industry for pollination be built up, particularly in preparedness for the Varroa coming through and wiping out the feral population. I think the modelling suggested about three or four years. Are we in a position—it sounds like we are not—where the capacity is there for more managed hives to come in and do the pollination in that three- or four-year period of delay?
Mr Bourke : It is possible.
Ms KEAY: Are we lagging? If Varroa came in today, would we be in a position to manage hives to pollinate our crops in three or four years' time?
Mr Bourke : We have about 550,000 hives in Australia, and forward estimates have identified that we will need nearly 800,000 to make up for the loss of incidental pollinating. We would really have to increase. You have two things here: you are going to have many fewer beekeepers and they are going to have to increase dramatically to keep up with everything.
Ms KEAY: What are we doing now to get ourselves in a position to act, if that should occur? I think it is a matter of when not if, isn't it?
Mr Bourke : That is true. We are doing a lot of things, and Plant Health Australia has been very good. It took us four years to decide. I was previously chairman when we were in Animal Health Australia and it was very good. Then we joined Plant Health Australia and for three or four years we had a toe in both camps. In the end we made the decision and joined Plant Health Australia, solely for the reason that when we have an incursion, and we had one in Cairns, we are left on our own. The cattle people did not want help us—they did not need to help us—but pollinating industries needed to help us.
Now, Plant Health Australia has done an excellent job in getting all of the pollinating-dependent industries in agreement to come in and help us with an incursion. We have a little fund at the moment. It is only $2.5 million, but all of those industries that will be affected have come in on a weighted index to help us with that. As I said, it is $2.5 million, but if we get Varroa destructor that will be $25 million and it will be a different thing. Thank you to Plant Health Australia for that. We are working very well with them. They need a little help, of course, because they have put a lot of their eggs into the National Sentinel Hive Program, which is quite a good thing because it is a national program that is throughout Australia. CSIRO have done some very good work with Simon Barry to identify the 84 ports that are at risk from cargo, and of bees with Varroa destructor coming ashore.
HIAL—Horticulture Innovation Australia—put money in with RIRDC and we had a pollination committee. They identified that we needed to do more than what we were doing with the sentinel hives. They said that we can photograph fruit fly, so surely we can photograph and identify bees if they come into a trap hive. So that was a project and that trap hive has been developed. We have 20 in Australia, but they are only in Queensland. They need to be brought out throughout Australia. They are firsthand alert systems. We need to have them.
Plant Health are monitoring every one of those. It is up on a screen and there are alerts there. The thing is that if they get into a sentinel hive it is far too late. That needs to be there to let us know that we have lost that battle and it has infected everything around it. We do not have clear ports. We have lots of amateur beekeepers with bees within those areas and once they infect the sentinel hives it is too late, we have it. No country in the world has been able to get rid of it once they have it. We need to do more about identifying it when it first gets here, and that is with the trap hives.
Dr Ritman : With regard to preparedness, HIAL—Horticulture Innovation Australia—has $17.3 million worth of pollination investment that they have got together with RIRDC and other organisations and R&D for-profit investments. They are put together across three themes, which further elaborates on what Lindsay was talking about. The three themes are managing European honey bees, optimising pollination efficiency and identifying alternative crop pollinators. That is with regard to the question that you asked about how prepared we are onshore for alternatives should that happen. But we have more of a discussion to have before that.
CHAIR: I will take it back to basics, and maybe Dr De Barro might be able to answer this question: the physiology of a bee. How long can they survive away from a hive? What temperature do they die at?
Mr Bourke : They live for six weeks. When they are 21 days old they become guard bees and when they are 22 days old until death they pollinate. So if you lose your field bees by spraying in a crop you only get five per cent more the next day, then 10 per cent. It takes a long time to grow fielders to come through, because not every bee is a fielder. They have other duties, they are too heavy and they cannot pollinate until they get older. So six weeks.
CHAIR: So they can easily survive a sea voyage in a container. What is the most likely scenario of an incursion?
Mr Bourke : They can live longer if they are in a dormant position, like hibernating through a winter. They can live for four months.
Mr Weatherhead : On ships et cetera we have records of the interceptions. We have had bees come out of Malaysia, out of Irian Jaya and out of Papua New Guinea. They have survived as swarms—that is just a clump of bees together—during the sea voyages here to Australia. If they are in a nest form, which we have intercepted at ports like Brisbane, then they have a lot longer to live because they have honey stores in their comb with them. But as a swarm, as a group of bees, there are records of them coming from those places and surviving when they get here. We have even had giant honey bees turn up as well as a swarm. Those ones that we do not want to come to Australia can certainly live that length of time coming here and survive—through the records we have shown that that can happen.
Ms KEAY: What is the likelihood of them coming into southern ports?
Mr Weatherhead : There have been interceptions in Melbourne and Adelaide. With Adelaide, for instance, it was the trade out of Malaysia in vehicles—nests that had formed in vehicles in Malaysia and when they were loaded on they survived. They even called into Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne on the way and they had survived in a nest form until they got to Adelaide. So they can survive quite well.
Ms KEAY: Also for the Varroa mite: can that live in colder places? I know in New Zealand, obviously—
Mr Weatherhead : As long as it has bees. Varroa mite can only live off a bee for about five to six days. After that they will die. But they need to have bees there because they feed on the blood—the hemolymph of the bee. While they have a group of bees together and they are in that group the Varroa mites can survive—
Ms KEAY: And any climate or temperature is not a barrier?
Mr Weatherhead : Any climate. Of the two strains that are in the world, Varroa destructor, which is the one that we are worried about, came out of Korea and Japan. So they certainly survive in cold climates up there, and they have survived all around the world. Australia is the only major honey-producing country that does not have them.
We have the records of the Asian bees with the other one, Varroa jacobsoni, and that has been found on nests and swarms when they have arrived in Australia. They survive quite comfortably over that time, so as long as they have bees to feed on then they keep surviving.
Dr De Barro : And the pathway which we have not discussed is smuggling. We get smuggling of queen bees through the mail, and those bees may well have Varroa on them. Of course, they are going to be put straight into hives so it is in fact likely that establishment is much higher. So while the incidence, which we do not really have a handle on, is possibly lower, the likelihood of establishment is potentially much higher, because they are putting them straight into a hive.
I think that is possibly a major issue, because it circumvents all our surveillance. The surveillance assumes a port of entry. But, of course, if you are getting bees smuggled in they are going to go into towns and cities, and will probably be well established before you actually have a chance of detecting them.
Mr PASIN: What would be the motivation for someone to import a bee in that form?
Mr Weatherhead : Improved genetics.
Mr PASIN: Right. So that is their drive.
Mr Weatherhead : That is their drive. There have been two cases prosecuted in Australia for smuggling. Both of them were for improved genetics, particularly around chalkbrood in the case of one that came in from Italy or France. They improve genetics. And, of course, with Varroa, there is work going on overseas to breed bees resistant to Varroa, so that is an incentive to bring them in. In those cases where we had the importation protocol for queen bees they just did not want to go through that, so they tried to bring them in. One was through the post and the other one was the famous one that came in biros—in pens—and was intercepted.
We used to have a dog program with bees at the ports. They were trained to intercept bees. I know, because as growers breeding them in Queensland we used to supply queen bees to the dog program there to refresh their training. But I do not think that is the case now. The one in Sydney that was picked up was picked up by the dogs.
CHAIR: Dr Ritman, what is the surveillance at those 84 ports? What is the procedure there for—
Dr Ritman : I will talk about a through chain, so along the pathway of surveillance. We have annual surveys in the Solomons, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, and also in the Torres Strait, which targets pest bees and bee pests. That gives us heads-up intelligence about what is in those locations.
As I said, we have inspections of cargo and material coming into Australia. My colleague Tina Hutchison can explain that a bit further. We then have the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, administered by Plant Health Australia. That is targeted at ports of entry, with sentinel hives, lures, traps and so forth to try to get them. We have awareness onshore through industry and good relations with industry—sharing information on interceptions and detections so that any report can then trigger response processes. As we saw in Townsville, we have a response underway. And then we have all the preparedness things, should an incursion happen through whatever means. It is most likely in the longer term that we will have this. We have much pressure at the border with swarms and with bees of different kinds, with and without Varroa of various types.
So we have a multifaceted approach. I am trying to paint a picture that is realistic. We can say that we have a whole lot of intelligent, smart and science-based set-ups. But in the longer term, we have a real chance that destructor will establish in Australia. I do not think that anybody disagrees with that position.
CHAIR: Can you expand on this emergency deed that you were talking about.
Dr Ritman : This is a deed which is administered and curated, if you like, by Plant Health Australia. All governments—state and federal governments—are signatories to this and so are key industries. Most plant industries are signed up to it. What it allows is a smooth process to respond to an emergency. It has rules around the cost sharing of responses. I will paint a picture of what happened in the Townsville incursion of Varroa jacobsoni using the deed, as we call it, as the model.
The detection is reported to me, to my office, within 24 hours of it being detected. That then triggers a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests, which includes the relevant industries—so, AHBIC in this case—and other industries, the state governments and the federal government. We meet by email, in person and by teleconference. It is much faster to do a teleconference than face-to-face. In the case of the jacobsoni, we react immediately and convene a committee to look at the technical feasibility and cost beneficiality of eradication. The deed is all about eradication; it is not about a managing established pests. The combatant state—in this case, in Townsville, Queensland—puts together a response plan, which then goes for consideration to the National Management Group, which is heads of agencies and industry around the country, to okay the money to pay for it. In this case, it was $2½ million or so to undertake that response.
I do not want that to sound like a bureaucratic process because in parallel there is immediate action that is occurring with the detection. We had officers from the department collecting the bees, sending them off to CSIRO for analysis of viruses and inspecting them for Varroa, for example. What is found is destroyed. Queensland immediately applies within its powers quarantine and movement restrictions so that you do not get managed hives being moved out of the area. The beauty of the deed is that it involves government and industry. We had experts like Trevor Weatherhead advising on the strategy and engaging the community, including beekeepers, in the response. Greg, I think that covers the deed operation.
Mr Fraser : Yes, pretty well. I think it is worthwhile saying that we have about 15 industries involved, as well as governments and AHBIC. So it is a pretty big program from that perspective.
CHAIR: On a practical level with that incursion, what did you do? Did you just kill all the bees that you could find in the vicinity? Is that it?
Mr Bourke : I wish.
Mr Weatherhead : Basically, the response when they first find the Varroa is to send the bees off for identification checking, and then they do delimiting surveys. They check to see if there are any more around. They have processes, one of which is called floral sweeping. This is where they go out and check the flowers, and if they find Asian bees—because the Asian bee is the vector for this particular Varroa—on flowers they then do what they call beelining. They convert the bees over to sugar and water, and then they watch where the bees go. They can follow them back and find the nest and destroy the nest in those situations.
There is a new system now where they send up a helium balloon, and on that they have filters like those in cigarettes. They put a queen bee pheromone on the filters and send the balloon up in the air. Drones go to a drone congregation area; it is like a men's shed. That is what I call it. They all go there and hang around and wait for a queen to come past to mate with. So you have that to be able to find the drones of those Asian bees. It is just a process of going out and looking and looking. The biggest help is the public. A lot of publicity went out. As the officers were going through the streets, checking all the floral sources—the flowers—they would drop little notes in the letterboxes. Most of the detections—we are up to 10 now—have come through the public reporting the activity of bees. When they see the bees, they do this beelining, follow them to the nest, destroy the nest and check it out. Basically, it is the on-the-ground work of just going around and checking.
CHAIR: What is your level of confidence that you have contained that incursion?
Mr Weatherhead : At the moment there is no activity there. My gut feeling from a previous incursion in Cairns is that there are probably a couple more nests around there. The weather in Townsville at the moment is not conducive to good bee foraging. My gut feeling is that there are probably another one or two there. They will pick them up when the weather changes and they get the activity. They will be out there looking. They will see the floral sweeping and they will get them from there. I think we have a very good chance of eradicating this particular one at this point in time.
Dr Ritman : We found five mites on the initial detection at the port and then one mite right in town in Townsville and no mites since. As Trevor was explaining, we are chasing down the bees. The strategy is not to eradicate the bees, but we keep finding the bees and destroying them, so we are hoping that in the process of getting a pest free period for Varroa—the time between when you have your last detection and sometime into the future—that we would have wiped out all the Asian honey bees in that district.
CHAIR: If there are no more questions on the process up to this point—getting through the ports, how the incursions might incur and how we deal with that—we will move on to what it is we can do better. We have talked about there being 24 traps, but there are 84 ports. Are there more resources required? Do we look at breeding a Varroa resistant bee? Dr Ritman is quite pessimistic about our being able to keep them out forever, so should we be breeding a resistant bee now? Over to you to tell us what your thoughts are.
Dr Ritman : I might start. I think I used the term 'realistic' rather than 'pessimistic'. In relation to what we are doing, as I explained, there are a range of R&D measures underway. To give you a flavour of that, Africanised bees, when destructor—Trevor and Lindsay would probably be able to correct me if I am wrong here—South Africa got destructor a number of years ago. What emerged there was a resistant variety called Africanised bees. There has been some work done at Sydney university into Africanised bees and whether that will help from an R&D perspective. Alternative pollinators is another aspect to the R&D, because there are native bees but there are also native insects that are pollinators—there is R&D around that. We hold stockpiles and permits for chemicals and pesticides to deal with destructor so that we do not have to wait two months if it gets here—so we are prepared in that case. In regard to the strategy around the ports, maybe I can deflect that to Plant Health Australia, who manage the national bee surveillance program.
Mr Fraser : The program used to be run by Animal Health Australia, and we transferred to Plant Health Australia in 2012. What we have been doing during that time is trying to improve the number of hives we have. There are a number of different sorts of hives we use for different sorts of reasons. Of course, there are some reasonably remote locations, which are the ones that Lindsay referred to, which have the cameras in them because you cannot go and visit them on a regular basis.
Earlier this year we did a review of the bee surveillance program. We are currently refunding it more significantly, trying to get more sentinel hives out, do more activity, engage more partners, cover more ports. We cannot cover all the ports. We have about 40-odd covered now, I think, with either remote catch boxes or just normal hives that might attract a swarm when it comes off a boat, or a plane potentially. That program is being expanded at the moment. We are trying to do more with the resources we have. There has been great support from industry. AHBIC have changed a number of things around their levies over the last couple of years, which has given the industry a lot of ability to engage in conversations with RDCs and governments about improving those surveillance programs.
Mr Bourke : We may well be not doing enough with our surveillance at ports. We do the best we can. Sentinel hives is a wonderful program because it is a national program, but you cannot put the sentinel hives where you should have them. Waterside workers and people who work around the ports do not want live beehives near them, so some of them are located up to three kilometres away from the port. That is far too late. We do test them every two months; it is very good. We test to see if we have Varroa in there. But, once we find them, that Varroa will have infected all the amateur hives and everything else that is within the vicinity of that port. But we do not have the heart to do something about that. We should do, if we are really serious about this.
The other thing is the remote catch boxes. They have a closing mechanism, so once they are located—once you see them in there—you can lock them off, take them in and have them frozen and sent down to CSIRO or somebody to have them checked. That is instant. We can put them where we want them. Waterside workers have even had their lunch on one of them! You can put them in the right position where they should be, and you can put many of them in. CSIRO suggested that we need 10 at larger ports and five at smaller ports. That is about 800 that are needed at a cost of about $1,000 to put together. We should have a lot more of those. We are fiddling. We are not doing enough.
CHAIR: Who would be responsible for funding that, if it was decided that that was the best way to go?
Mr Bourke : Industry cannot afford it. We are a small industry. As I said, $100 million is our estimate, but we are responsible for a lot of the pollinating for up to $4 billion worth of crops. We do not have that money.
CHAIR: I understand. Is it AQIS's responsibility?
Mr Fraser : I can expand on that a little bit. What we try and do is get as many partners as possible to get engaged in biosecurity activities. One way we can do that, clearly, is to work through organisations like Horticulture Innovation, which has a lot of pollination-dependent industries or growers of those commodities as their members. What we can actually do is look at engaging with the RDCs. The two we work with on pollination-related activities are RIRDC and HIA. We also work with all states and territories and the Commonwealth government as well. We try and put together a program that is funded by as many people as possible, so that we can not only increase the total quantum of funds but also share the activity a bit and get resources. Some of those resources might be in kind from a state perspective, for example, but that is fine, if it allows us to do the job better.
Dr Ritman : In summary, the funding for the ongoing program, in discussion at the moment, comes through the RDCs. There is matching funding from the Commonwealth, in that it is an industry program. PHA run a technical committee, which includes industry, to look at improvements to the program. There are a number of recommendations that have come out of that, and the Commonwealth, with Plant Health Australia, is looking to fund some of those.
Mr Weatherhead : Under the review of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program there is provision to put some more of these hives out. The funding is put into it to increase the number of those hives. It will not be to every port, but there is funding available to increase the number of those hives that are there.
CHAIR: We have talked about seaports. What about airports? Do bees get into cargo holds as they are being loaded? Is that something that has happened?
Mr Weatherhead : The only incidents that we have really had with planes have been with the giant honey bee, Apis dorsata, which comes out of Malaysia. They have found those bees—individual bees not full nests—in the holds of planes when, for instance, they come into Adelaide, particularly if they fly at night, because there are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia into Adelaide. This large honey bee, Apis dorsata, will fly at night. They get attracted to the lights at the airports when they are loading cargo or something like that, and so you get individual bees that turn up. Often they are dead when they arrive. I think there has been the odd live ones. But, in the main, except for the Apis dorsata, we have never had what we call interceptions that have come off planes as such. If it was a cargo hold that was not pressurised, the temperature gets down to minus 50, so that would kill them in that case. But in normal cargo holds there have only been individual giant honey bees that have been found that I am aware of.
Ms Hutchison : It is a lot less likely. In a very similar way, we work closely with operators around airports. If ground handlers find something, they tell us about it, and we will go out and collect samples and those sorts of things. But we do not tend to have the swarms that were spoken about earlier that might attach themselves to superstructures of vessels or bits of cargo that sit around. It is a different pathway than a sea pathway—apart from the point you raised earlier about people smuggling things through, which is a different process. We have a range of things that we do there; we have detector dogs operating in halls. If people rang us up and said they had specific information about individuals, we could look at doing something around targeting individuals as they come through. But it is part of the general activity that we undertake in screening international passengers.
CHAIR: With the smuggling, surely someone who is committed enough to the bee industry to want to import superior genetics would be careful enough to make sure that the bee they imported did not have varroa.
Dr De Barro : I think there were a number of incidents, in the past—and this is not just in the bee area—where growers smuggled in plant material et cetera that might have been infected with diseases. It is all driven by commercial gain. If they can see there is an edge, they will weigh it up. They do not often think about the negative consequences. That is unfortunate, but I think that is human nature.
Mr Weatherhead : Another thing with bees is that there is another mite called a tracheal mite. It is an internal mite that gets into the trachea, which is the breathing passage of bees, and you cannot see that unless you pull the bee apart. For instance, if they were coming back from the United States or somewhere like that, you could physically look at a bee for varroa mites, because they are on the outside, but you could not tell if it has tracheal mites in it. So there is a possibility of bringing in tracheal mites in that particular way. There are people who do not want to pay.
The other danger with the smuggling side that we see is, for example, someone in the peri-urban areas who has three or four hives—maybe up to 10 hives—who visit their relations in Italy who also have hives, and their relations say, 'Well, this is a good bee; you should take it back to your hives in Australia,' and they do not think about it. That is the sort of thing they would bring back. So, as well as the commercial fellas, there is that side of, what we call, the hobby beekeeper, who maybe wants to have that connection back to the old homeland and bring something in. That is the other danger with the smuggling side of it.
Mr PASIN: What lessons have we learnt from the New Zealand experience?
Mr Bourke : How not to do it.
Mr PASIN: Do you want to elaborate on that just a little bit?
Mr Bourke : They had the mite in the North Island. I was there through all of that time. The bees with mites migrated, so they kept changing the zone further and further down. They got to the bottom of the island and then they decided they were not going to let it in the South Island, so they commandeered a lot of commercial hives and turned them into sentinel hives to stop the mite getting in. Well, the mite got in.
I have to keep coming back to this: a sentinel hive is a hive of bees that defends their colony from any other bees. They keep them out. But the sentinel hives did not work for New Zealand. They are there to let us know when it is too late—when we have the mite. We have to do something more immediate. We have learnt a lot of lessons. The New Zealanders have been coming to us in Australia and teaching us. They have been very helpful teaching us how not to do it.
Mr Weatherhead : In the New Zealand situation, particularly for the South Island, when the mite arrived there they wanted to do an eradication program. But the government would not cough up the money for it, so it did not go ahead. So we do not know whether they could have eradicated it off the South Island, because it did not go ahead. The problem was that in an eradication program you have to get rid of the feral hives that are out there in the bush. There is a certain chemical called fipronil that is used. You attract bees to a bait station, and then, after a while, you add some fipronil. The bees take it back to their nest, and it kills the nest. The chemical company that produced it would not allow them to use it in New Zealand. We do not know, in the New Zealand situation, whether they could have eradicated the mite from the South Island, because they never attempted it.
Dr De Barro : One of the challenges we have in Australia is feral bees. It has been suggested that Australia has more feral bees per unit area than any other country because we have lots of eucalypts and proteas that produce lots of bee food like nectar and pollen, which is great for bees. Therefore, if you are going to be doing an eradication, being able to find those feral bees and being able to eradicate them is a real challenge. We have never actually tried the experiment to go into an area and see what it would take to find every feral bee and eradicate it. You can imagine eucalypt forests and things like that. That is going to be an enormous challenge, and I think that is one of the significant differences between Australia and New Zealand. We have just got a lot more bees in a given area.
If you are going to be serious about eradication, finding the managed hives is easy; finding the ferals is the real challenge. And it is not just ferals here; it is a continuum. And so things spread through the ferals much faster, I imagine, than they do through the managed hives. It is a big, complex challenge. Personally, I would be somewhat pessimistic. It is going to depend where it is. If it is an area where there are a lot of bees over a very large area, you might have a substantial challenge to eradicate. Like a lot of these things, the decision would be made on the circumstance of the incursion.
Mr Weatherhead : In defence of that: the feral hive population in Australia has dropped off dramatically in recent years because of the incursion of the small hive beetle in 2002. It is taking out a lot of the feral hives. Our ability to find feral hives is fairly high. We have trained beekeepers in this beelining technique to be able to find hives, so we have teams that have been trained up over the years to be able to go out and find those feral hives. With the small hive beetle taking out a lot of them and our ability, our confidence is fairly high that we could detect all the ones that are there and successfully do something that way. But the proof of the pudding would be when that happens.
Ms KEAY: It seems as though the best way of dealing with this is the first line of defence: quarantine. We were talking about sentinel hives maybe not being the best method of doing it. I know you have raised a number of ways of looking at things, but you are looking at the catch boxes and you have got this review that you have completed with recommendations to increase the number of catch boxes but not to all ports. Is that—
Mr Fraser : We are doing as much as we can, yes. But I think the other thing is you have got to have a multipronged sort of approach. We know that Varroa is in New Zealand, so obviously the government is going to have a pretty clear view on making sure that it does not come here from New Zealand. So we understand the pathway, which is really good. We are doing a lot of work in New Zealand to understand what lessons we can learn and what we have learned. We have seen what has happened there. I think expanding the program is an element of all the things you do to try and get yourself prepared for a potential incident. We give ourselves the best chance we possibly can of picking it up as soon as we can if it gets here, containing it and reducing the speed at which it spreads. There are a whole range of things that can be done. I would really like to encourage the industry, too, to look at these breeding opportunities that exist, as we do in a whole range of other commodities. When we have got a potential threat out there, we try and build resistance into our own crops to make sure it is less risky when things do come in. So, again, I think that is part of the answer as well as being really vigilant at the border and working with trading partners.
Ms KEAY: What I am trying to get at is, if you are looking at the cost of, say, a widespread incursion where we are going to have the beekeeping and horticulture industries impacted—I looked at some figures, and it was about $60 million a year. I do not know if that is up to date. I am trying to get at what the gaps are that we need to fill to ensure that we are in the best position with front-line defence to try to stop this happening. What is it that we need?
Mr Weatherhead : I am not as pessimistic as Lindsay about surveillance hives. I believe the situation in North Queensland was that they picked them up fairly early there. They checked every six weeks. I think that, if we found Varroa in some of those, we would still stand a chance to eradicate the mite, because we would pick it up very early. We have only got to find one mite. In the New Zealand situation, they had it for about two years before they even picked it up. They never knew what they were looking at. In our case we are doing active surveillance of these hives. We have only got to pick up one mite to know that they are there and go into it straight away.
Ms KEAY: But are you confident that there are no gaps? Are you confident that the first line of defence is enough?
Mr Weatherhead : It is part of it. Part of the defence I see is pre-embarkation inspections before it even gets onto the boat. For instance, the last incursion in Brisbane from Apis cerana—Asian bees—that turned up, they came in a cable reel that came out of Singapore or somewhere like that. That nest was in there, and our contention is: why did they not pick it up when they loaded it on the way in? We have had vehicles come out of Malaysia with nests actually in the vehicles. Why did they not pick them up when they loaded those vehicles into the thing?
CHAIR: We will suspend for a division in the Chamber.
Proceedings suspended from 13:15 to 13 : 22
CHAIR: We will resume the hearing.
Dr De Barro : I would like to ask for some clarification about what you mean by frontline.
Ms KEAY: That frontline defence at the border, at the port—before it gets into hives, before we start losing—
Dr De Barro : My concern is that we have a lot of emphasis on the border, which is a bit like playing a soccer game without a goalkeeper. In the end, if you get past that, what is your next line? I think that is a key question that needs to be—
Dr Ritman : With respect, I think at the start I talked about pathway, and that along the continuum you can do work, which gets to Dr De Barro's pointing to one end of it. The border is important, and it is part of the system. There is pre-border work that we do offshore—my colleague can talk further—with shipping companies with awareness at the ports by handlers. We do surveys overseas. We have webcrawlers that are looking for where pests are moving internationally to be able to get intelligence about where things are on the move, so we are not just stupid in the way we are looking at things but evidence based. The Townsville is not destructor, it is jacobsoni, and it was not picked up in sentinel hives, because they are not set up for picking up this. But it was reported, so the system works, and we responded. That is another part of the system. We give it a red-hot go to do the response, and with industry doing the response. There is a significant amount of research underway—involving industry and led by industry—for strengthening and making the industry more resilient. That is why I wanted to paint the picture of realism, because it is a longer term thing I am talking about. I am not expecting destructor to have an incursion in the next year or two—I hope not—but we can always improve on the systems.
During the break I was having a discussion with Lindsay Bourke about the sentinel hive program, the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program. It has presently undergone a review—I am sure PHA will help you to the review papers—which has identified some improvements, and if there are more certainly PHA should consider that through its processes to keep improving. We dearly want to know if there are gaps in the system. One of the strengths in what we have now is the national bee biosecurity program, which is administered by AHBIC, which takes on inquiry findings, the continuity strategy with Varroa. There is a report done on what do we do, how does the bee industry have continuity with Varroa established in Australia. The bee biosecurity program is looking to take on the findings of all those, and whether we have the complete system, strategically, set up. We will keep improving and keep getting the feedback as that comes forward. But I have not heard yet of major things other than what Lindsay was talking about with the strategy at the port. But we work in a risk based environment—there is always a chance.
Dr McVEIGH: In a previous life I had a bit to do with Trevor and Asian honey bees, or the tail end of that transition to management, as agriculture minister in Queensland. I am therefore familiar with the processes and procedures across the jurisdictions. I think Greg described it earlier as a multifaceted approach which can always benefit from continuous improvement, as you were just saying, Kim. The one thing I am not quite clear on is eradication. Pardon me for oversimplifying this, perhaps: realistic, pessimistic, whatever you want to call it—and probably realistic is the right descriptor—incursion is likely at some stage in the future. We are inspecting our borders et cetera the best we can. As I understand it, with a significant incursion by Varroa at some stage in the future, decisions would be made through the existing channels—consultation with industry—as to whether or not eradication programs should commence. Am I understanding it correctly that you cannot really decide what an eradication program would be until you are dealing with the situation and you have some context about where, when et cetera? Could we not at least be looking at some eradication plans that you can swing into gear anyway or is it not possible to have a draft eradication plan?
Mr Weatherhead : There are what we call contingency plans that are held within Plant Health Australia as to how we deal with these particular incursions, so there is a strategy already in place if we find them. Basically, what would happen is that you would have the initial find. There would be a restricted area quarantine that is put in place and we would do the delimiting surveys to find out how far it has spread. That information, as Dr Ritman has said, goes to the consultative committee, who then make recommendations to the national management group as to whether eradication is technically feasible. That is the first assessment that has to be made. We have plans in place to deal with it through the contingency plans that have been developed over the years, but the actual question of whether you go to eradication or not comes out of the information you gather when you do this survey—how far it has spread, how long it has been there; things like that—and then the consultative committee will make a recommendation to the national management group as to whether it is technically feasible to eradicate, to go from there. That is how an eradication program would be put in place.
Dr McVEIGH: So no scenario planning? I used the example of foot-and-mouth disease. In both Australia and New Zealand there are emergency plans, scenarios for response plans, that are in place and tested from time to time. Obviously foot-and-mouth disease would have, with all due respect, a far greater economic impact in New Zealand and Australia than Varroa mite would have on your industry. But is there no scenario planning at all?
Mr Weatherhead : There has been planning carried out. For instance, in Victoria they have had two exercises. There was one up at Mildura for the pollination, so what would happen if Varroa turned up there. The other scenario they worked on just recently was what would happen if it turned up in the Port of Geelong. We have done exercises to work out where we go from there. If it comes to Australia and if the decision is made that it is not technically feasible to eradicate, then we have what we call a Varroa contingency plan. So basically it is going on from there. We have the shelf registration, as we mentioned, of these acaricides, the chemicals, so with the stroke of a pen we can use them. Unlike like New Zealand, which took six months to get them through, we have that.
Dr McVEIGH: Which refers back to those lessons—
Mr Weatherhead : Yes, so we have that situation. We are prepared that when it does come we move in from there, and then we look to the technology that is around the world and what is the latest. We invite overseas beekeepers and researchers to come to Australia, to our beekeeping conferences, to talk to our beekeepers about it. So we are preparing everyone for that day when it does turn up.
Dr De Barro : I do think, though, that we can do much more, to be honest. One of the things with foot-and-mouth disease and those sorts of things is that you have to do scenario planning because you cannot actually have a real, live action. You just cannot go out there and say, 'We're going to kill all of the cows in this area.' You can do that with honey bees. If you really want to say, 'Let's see if we can actually have a real practice', then you can go in there and say, 'If we had to eradicate feral bees and things from an area like this, let's actually try doing it for real'.
What I have learnt through fire ant eradication in Brisbane, for example, is that you actually learn by doing. Scenarios are good for setting up, but when you put it into place you find out all of the things you did not think about when you actually try to operationalise it. There would be a lot of advantage in Australia in operationalising some of that thinking, to test it out and to identify what works and what does not work. So when you actually have to put it into place, you have a group of people in Australia who have tried to eradicate bees from a large enough area that you would think would be part of what you need to do for an eradication. That is where you have a real advantage with Varroa or bees that you do not have anywhere else with virtually any other pest or disease that comes in. You can do a live fire exercise without causing much in the way of economic harm.
It would really help build that body of experience in the states, in industry et cetera, working together with the community, because you are going to have to get community onside as well. What we have learnt out of that fire ant campaign is that really, really important thing of getting industry and government at all levels working with the community. That has actually led to a very effective outcome. The fire ant eradication in Brisbane has exceeded any sorts of attempts anywhere else in the world, because they got it all together. We could actually do that.
Dr McVEIGH: I know you worked very hard on that one.
Dr De Barro : Exactly.
Dr Ritman : That is a really good suggestion around scenario planning. We have the advantage in the plant area that we have live things happening, so we have got Townsville happening. We are actually responding to Varroa. We have something in the order of 15 emergency responses underway nationally at the moment. Animal people practice a lot because they do not have emergency responses, thank God. We do a lot of emergency responses in the plant world, and probably we get less time to do the planning so that is something that we should consider further.
Having said that, what I have seen in all of those emergency responses, and the ones we have said that are not technically feasible, is that every case seems to be different. We seem to have this great idea about this is how it is going to happen, and it turns up with some aspect that just really throws us. The contingency plans are useful in some respects. I have seen and I have heard that contingency plans lasted a week and were then thrown out the door because they had to rewrite the strategy.
Dr McVEIGH: True, but in my limited experience, however, we learned things out of fire ants that we could apply to a response to Bovine Johne's disease and that we could apply to redwitch weed in the cane industry in Central Queensland. There are things you can learn from any emergency response, I guess.
CHAIR: We are coming to our last 10 minutes, so we probably need to start wrapping things up and drawing a few threads together. Can I clarify the cost of these catch boxes—you think around $1,000?
Mr Bourke : Yes.
CHAIR: What about the ongoing—
Mr Bourke : The ongoing supports to that?
CHAIR: Yes, the monitoring of and testing et cetera.
Mr Bourke : Greg would be able to enlighten us on that.
Mr Fraser : There are a few things to run around. There is a whole range of activity going on at the moment, let alone simulation exercises, practising, so on and so forth, and contingency planning. With the assistance of AHBIC, again, we are establishing bee biosecurity officers in every state in partnership with the state governments. We are trying to coordinate those activities. States have other people on the ground. Beekeepers will also put in an in-kind contribution; they will go and check some of these catch boxes in certain situations as well.
The issue we have got is really about making sure we have got the catch boxes in place. We can check them on a regular basis. Whatever data we have is captured in a database that we manage, called AUSPestCheck, and we can map all the negative responses we get around Varroa in the countryside. You can see we have got a little dot up around Townsville, but everything else is green because we are checking things and we do not find anything, and that proof of absence is critical.
All of this stuff is going on at the same time. The programs that we are running are the sentinel, the surveillance program and the bee biosecurity program. That is about a $10 million investment over the next few years, and that is about having all those people I talked about before—the RDCs, the industries, the governments—involved in trying to improve not only the chances of picking up Varroa at the border or just after the border but also training around skills for beekeepers so that if something does come in they know what to do. We have got a lot of learnings from New Zealand—there is no doubt about that. There is a massive amount of stuff going on at the moment, which is actually quite positive. Can you do more? You can always do more, but how high do you want to build a wall? There is going to be a hole somewhere.
Broadly speaking, I agree with Trevor. We have got a pretty fair chance of being successful if something comes in, as long as we get it quickly. I think the Varroa program in Townsville is running extremely well at the moment, and I am pretty sure we will be successful in that one as well.
Mr Bourke : It is Varroa destructor that I am really concerned with, and first alert. In my opinion, we do not have any quarantine at our ports. We have a last-minute alert system—a too-late alert system—called sentinel hives. That will tell us when it is too late, because it infects everything around there. We do not have the heart to eradicate all the feral bees and all the amateur bees in that port. We could say to everybody: 'Please remove them. We are going to have a blanket poisoning system in that area.' We do not do that. We have not got the heart to do it in Australia.
I would really like to see these catch boxes put out there. I would like to ask Plant Health how much extra it would cost to monitor the proper allocation of catch boxes that we should have, which is 840—we have got 20. They are monitoring 20 for us. How much extra would it cost to monitor the other 820?
Mr Fraser : I cannot give you an answer to that, but if you want, I can go and think up some figures. We are monitoring a fair few more than 20 as well, so there is a fair bit of activity out there at the moment. As I said, if you apply more money, you can have more catch boxes and you can do more surveillance. That is all good, but if you take a risk based approach to it and you focus on those high-risk ports—we have used the data from CSIRO—you have got to be pretty targeted in what you do. I think we are doing that at the moment. Yes, you can always put more resources in, but you would just do more work.
CHAIR: Can you provide us with some information on step levels—the Rolls Royce—
Mr Fraser : We can do that.
CHAIR: the most cost-effective of what we have got today?
Mr Fraser : Yes.
CHAIR: That would be excellent for us to have that.
Ms Hutchison : I think it might be worthwhile—Lindsay might be referring to something slightly different—but in terms of quarantine at ports, there is a whole raft of things that happen on vessels and for cargo that arrive into port. I do not want to leave the committee with an idea that nothing happens, and I think that Kim has—
CHAIR: I think we understood that he was referring to bees in particular and not to quarantine in general.
Ms KEAY: When you are talking about the bee population, are you talking about genetically modifying bees to be resistant to some of these—?
Mr Weatherhead : It is not genetically modifying; it is breeding. It is not GMO. Do not let that word get out there, because we will be in big trouble!
Ms KEAY: No, I just wanted to clarify that a bit—you are 'genetically improving' the bee through breeding.
Mr Weatherhead : Yes. There are programs overseas at the moment, and we are looking to import some of that genetic material into Australia. The contention with the breeding program itself is whether the resistance is to the actual mite or to the viruses that are being vectored by the bee. It is actually viruses that kill the bee in the long run; it is not the Varroa. So we are looking to do that. One of the ways we are looking to do that is that we have a provision to be able to import queen bees into Australia. The latest is through drone bee semen, but we are having a disagreement with the department on what protocols should be in place to check for this deformed wing virus in particular, when it arrives in Australia. It is our contention that it should be checked for here, because we do not have it in Australia and we do not want it. We have been told by experts at the CSIRO that there is a possibility that, when a Varroa comes, it may not bring the deformed wing virus, and that was shown because we had Asian bees in Cairns without the Varroa mite with it. So we want to give ourselves every chance of being able to keep this deformed wing virus out, which is really what kills the bees more than the Varroa. So we are looking at that and trying to work that situation.
Dr de Barro : I think, though, we could learn from—and again I think move out of the bees space to look, for example, at the work that has been done in up in Queensland et cetera with the use of Wolbachia to suppress virus replication in yellow fever mosquito. We should be looking simply outside of the box a bit to say, 'Could we do something similar in bees or like?' and starting to look more broadly. There are two issues: resistance to the Varroa and resistance to the virus. How could we perhaps look at other perhaps nontraditional ways to give us that edge because we have not really explored that right now?
CHAIR: Trevor, did I understand you right when you talked about there being chemicals that you can treat the bees with to protect them?
Mr Weatherhead : It does not protect them; it kills some of the mites. They are used overseas, different chemicals. They do not kill all the mites; they just reduce the number of mites within the hive. If you reduce the number of mites, you reduce the virus load within the hive. We have a problem in that Varroas has become resistant to the chemicals that are being used overseas. For instance, in the United States it was about 1987 that they got the Varroa mites out of this chemical, so they are looking at different ones along the way now to try and do it. But those chemicals are only really a stopgap. They only reduce your mite loads in the bees so that the bees can survive. And then you come up against problems with residues in honey and things like that. The chemicals will probably be the first stopgap measure to keep bees alive, but in the long run we have to go a bit further. They are there and they are available through this 'shelf' registration system with the APVMA, where they are registered now, but it is just a stroke of the pen to be able to use them when Varroa comes. If we declare it endemic then they will be able to be used straightaway.
For instance, with this port surveillance work we do with the hives, those chemicals are being used now, but only in that very restricted area. They are also licensed for what we call the delimiting surveys to be able to check hives in an event, but they are not registered for general use. It is only in these restricted areas. And it is a cost to beekeepers, if they get it, to have to use those chemicals. It would be the first response, but we would have to try to move away from that, because you get resistance anyway. There are only so many chemicals that are available around the world. We would lose that clean, green image for the honey, as we would end up with residues in the honey and in our beeswax as well. Australia has a big sale overseas at the moment for beeswax because it is residue free and it commands a very high price.
Mr Bourke : The other one is breeding, of course. Around the world—not here in Australia. We are breeding for rapid hygienic behaviour, but there is Varroa hygienic behaviour, where bees can actually detect that the Varroa is in the cell. They uncap it and they disrupt the breeding cycle of that Varroa. So there is a lot of work being done about that. That is why we need the genetics and the breeding and that line because we are sitting down here with—we sent 250 hives to America a few years ago to see how they would fare with the Varroa. They succumbed very quickly; they had no defence. That happened. There is a little bit of breeding in Australia for rapid hygienic behaviour—one group is doing that and have been doing that for 10 years. But Varroa hygienic behaviour is very important to give us some chance of holding it off a little.
CHAIR: Thank you all very much for your contribution today. It has been a really interesting and informative discussion and I am sure that we would all like to keep it going but unfortunately we have been called away. Anybody who has been asked to provide additional information, could you please forward it to the secretary at your earliest convenience. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have the opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors.
Resolved that these proceedings be published.
Committee adjourned at 13 : 46