Legislative Council: Tuesday, February 06, 2024


Bee Deaths

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (14:50): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development on bee deaths in the Riverland.

The Hon. H.M. Girolamo interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order, the Hon. Ms Girolamo!

Leave granted.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: A number of apiarists have contacted my office because they have seen significant bee deaths that they allege occurred directly after PIRSA staff had been present, spraying Naturalure for the eradication of fruit fly in the Riverland. My question to the minister is: given that Naturalure is dangerous to bees, can the minister guarantee this chamber that all PIRSA staff and all personnel have been following protocols in regard to the administration of Naturalure around beehives and on plants in flower when bees are active?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:51): I thank the honourable member for her question. My department, the Department of Primary Industries and Regions, is of course aware of a recent incident of bee deaths from alleged chemical poisoning reported to PIRSA by a Riverland beekeeper and reported through the media.

PIRSA has investigated the cause of the bee deaths, where bee samples were submitted for toxicology testing. The toxicology results detected the presence of a registered insecticide, Fipronil. No other chemicals were detected in the toxicology analysis from a wide screen of chemicals. Prior to toxicology results being received, the beekeeper and the landowner where the bees were located reported that, whilst it was unclear what had killed the bees, PIRSA had been spraying properties in the area at the time as part of the fruit fly program.

However, Fipronil is not used by PIRSA's fruit fly eradication program. Fipronil is known to be highly toxic to bees and has been detected in relation to previously reported bee poisoning incidents. The beekeeper has been advised of the toxicology results and the outcomes of the investigation.

ABC News also reported that an apiarist reported bee deaths in July 2023. I am advised that PIRSA investigated that incident, where the toxicology results showed that no agricultural chemicals were detected in samples. ABC News reported in January this year that several apiarists were concerned that PIRSA was not following instructions on applying fruit fly spray safely.

As part of its fruit fly eradication response, PIRSA uses Naturalure, a certified organic bait that is safe to use around family, pets and wildlife. Interestingly, it's the same solution that is used on organic farms. PIRSA follows all approved label directions when using Naturalure. Naturalure is designed specifically to attract fruit flies, and it is not applied directly onto bees, hives or flowering plants where bees are foraging. As a precautionary measure, PIRSA conducts a risk assessment on properties where the agency is aware that managed beehives are present. In communication with the landowner, Naturalure may be applied appropriately in those circumstances.

PIRSA continues to work with apiarists in the Riverland to ensure hive locations are identified and effective bee management practices are in place. PIRSA staff receive training and they also operate in teams with a supervisor and a team leader, and therefore it is clear that they have a very responsible attitude to the application of Naturalure within the Riverland and anywhere else it might be required.

It's also worth mentioning that the ongoing efforts to eradicate fruit fly in the Riverland are very highly supported by those in the Riverland—by the fruit growers—and we are very pleased to continue that eradication process. We have obviously invested large amounts of money and effort into trying to eradicate fruit fly from the Riverland so that we can regain the fruit fly free status, and I will certainly expect that to continue.