Australia is killing millions of bees to save its honey industry

The first step is to pour gasoline into the hive. Then it’s time to wait. The work is finished when the hive is burned the next day.

Since last week, the cycle has been repeating near a port in eastern Australia as part of a government effort to protect the country’s multi-million dollar honey industry.

Millions of bees have been killed to contain the spread of the deadly varroa mite, which re-emerged in the country last week near the port of Newcastle.

“Australia is the only major honey-producing country that is free of the varroa mite,” said Satendra Kumar, chief plant protection officer for New South Wales, where the plague was discovered on Friday. If the varroa mite takes root in Australia, it could cost the national honey industry more than $70 million a year, in addition to its impact on crops that rely on bee pollination, he said.

The global agricultural industry is already suffering from higher prices for fertilizers, fuels and machinery, as well as supply chain problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The war in Ukraine is an additional blow.

Authorities have ordered a virtual blockade of beehives in the affected area of ​​the state. Typically hives are moved from place to place, a process that is critical to Australia’s $15 billion horticultural industry as they are used to pollinate crops.

Reddish-brown mites, about the size of sesame seeds, can spread from bee to bee and through beekeeping equipment, including combs that have been removed. The government said that if left untreated, the mites could kill an entire colony of honey bees.

Containing the mite is not easy, with even the New South Wales government agency in charge of eradication efforts acknowledging that “it is generally accepted that varroa mites will inevitably eventually establish themselves in Australia”.

However, the government is struggling to delay the inevitable. According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, previous incursions in 2016, 2019 and 2020 are considered to have been successfully eradicated.

According to Danny Le Fevre, acting head Australian Honey Bee Industry Council. According to him, it is necessary to contain the port of Newcastle and the beehives within a radius of 31 miles from it.

The port is the main point of departure and one of the busiest coal export centers in the world.

mr. Febvre and his team are partnering with at least 300 beekeepers to visit farms and assist authorities with inspections. They wash the hives with alcohol and use sticky mats to check if the bees are infested with mites.

So far, at least 600 hives have been destroyed in the area, each containing about 30,000 bees, he said.

But authorities have found at least nine more sites of infections – one 235 miles away, near the city of Dubbo. State Secretary of Agriculture Dugald Saunders said at a press conference on Thursday that more bees could be culled.

“Beekeepers are very nervous right now. Fevre said.

He said he was confident the country could contain the spread given its history. previous eradication efforts bee mites and strict controls at all airports that prohibit passengers from bringing live plants, soil, fruits and vegetables into Australia.

“We eradicated them for so long,” he said. “We’re going to do our best.”