Legislative Council: Thursday, July 07, 2022


Ministerial Statement

Biosecurity Response to Varroa Destructor

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:16): I make a ministerial statement in regard to the South Australian biosecurity response to Varroa destructor. Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) was detected in sentinel beehives at the port of Newcastle, New South Wales, on Wednesday 22 June 2022 as part of routine surveillance. Multiple further detections in New South Wales have since been made. Varroa mite is not established in Australia and is considered the greatest threat to Australia's honey and honey bee pollination industries. Australia remains the only major beekeeping country in the world to remain free of varroa mite.

The South Australian apiary industry pollinates agricultural and horticultural crops valued at an estimated $1.7 billion and produces more than $11 million worth of honey bee products. Varroa parasitises European honey bee (EHB) and potentially transmits several serious viruses also not currently known to be present in Australia, including deformed wing virus. Collectively, the mites and viruses can lead to colony collapse if left unmanaged.

Once hives become infected with varroa, without treatment the hives will weaken and typically die out. This can take anywhere between a couple of months and three years, depending on mite numbers. During that time, hives infested with mites can also infect surrounding managed hives and feral colonies.

Effective biosecurity response to exotic pests such as varroa mite relies on swift action from both government and industry, as well as the public. Movement restrictions are critical to successful containment and eradication. I can advise that the New South Wales government is implementing an emergency response and has issued an order restricting all movement of honey bees within New South Wales.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) is working with the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) and liaising with industry on South Australia's response to the detection. I can advise that PIRSA has set up an incident management team to stop the spread of varroa mite into South Australia.

A prohibition on the import of risk items into South Australia was put in place on 28 June 2022. Restrictions have been introduced on bees, hives and associated beekeeping products and beekeeping property. These items cannot be brought into South Australia without written permission of the Chief Inspector of Stock. This prohibition also applies to any of these items that have been in New South Wales since 1 January 2022.

I can further advise that, following a risk assessment, the movement of commercially processed honey and new apiary appliances and hive components is allowed. PIRSA has brought forward scheduled surveillance at sentinel hives in Port Adelaide. This was conducted on 2 July 2022 and no varroa mites have been found. Furthermore, PIRSA is asking all beekeepers to inform PIRSA of any movement of risk items into South Australia since 1 January 2022. Beekeepers are also being urged to check their hives for varroa and send the results to PIRSA. This information will be used to inform tracing and surveillance to provide assurance that South Australia remains varroa free.

There are nearly 3,000 beekeepers registered with Biosecurity SA and approximately 61,000 hives in South Australia. South Australian registered beekeepers and the industry network have been issued an SMS alert and email providing detailed information and advice on what beekeepers and apiarists in this state need to do in response to the detection. All South Australian beekeepers are advised to be alert for signs of varroa mite in their bees and if varroa mite is suspected beekeepers must contact the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 or email pirsa.beebiosecurity@sa.gov.au.

Beekeepers can apply for permission to move bees or bee components by visiting the PIRSA website www.pir.sa.gov.au/varroa. I have spoken with leaders from both industry and hobby beekeeping associations over the past week about the situation and to hear the concerns of beekeepers. The New South Wales incursion is a rapidly evolving situation that the South Australian government will continue to closely monitor and respond to for the protection of the South Australian apiary and honey bee pollination-dependent industries.