Friday, 24 December 2010 14:33 Written by Analia Manriquez

Editorial  written by Kim Flottum , Editor, Bee Culture Magazine



Recently APHIS halted imports of honey bees from Australia into the U.S. They cited as a reason reports of a virus found in Australia, but not in the U.S., slow paralysis virus. After a short time, they released a report that said simply all imports were temporarily banned, citing no specific reason. This is good, but below I propose over 300 reasons why this ban should remain in effect - forever.

Let me share a bit of history on quarantines in this country. When tracheal mites were first discovered in the U.S. over 25 years ago, quarantines were set up by APHIS to stop the spread. Thousands of colonies were “depopulated” in an effort to slow or stop the spread of this creature in the southern U.S. Texas beekeepers closest to the Mexican border where the mites were found went out of business. Queen and package operations went out of business because they were banned from selling bees outside the quarantine zone.

In California, beekeepers protected by the quarantine zones fought to keep their bees clean and restrict travel of those living outside the no-mite zone. Once friends, now enemies had fist fights in their efforts to keep the dirty bees from mixing with those believed clean. Twenty years later, the few who survived still have not forgotten, nor forgiven the trespasses of their neighbors.

The sad thing was…tracheal mites moved where ever there were bees. All the fights, the lines drawn in the sand, and rules and regulations…were for naught. Mites, and the bees that carry them are immune to state and country borders, written rules, and lines in the sand.

When Varroa mites were found in Florida and Wisconsin a few years later the same scenario was played again. Colonies were “depopulated”, beekeepers put out of business, friends became enemies, and still the mites and the bees that carried them went wherever they wanted to go.

African honey bees….it’s the same story. They go where they want to go. No rules, no human interference will ever stop a mite, or a bee from moving from there to here. And that same story is being played in Australia with Apis cerena. Since its first excursion into that country, over 300 swarms have been captured. 300. Hundreds of people have been chasing it for years, and still it goes where it wants to go. These bees are no better at reading the lines in the sand in that country than the bees here.

The band aid Australian bees have been to solve the mess in almonds each year has kept everyone here blind to the biological facts that exist. The science says that Apis cerena will spread in Australia to every corner in that country and eventually to every corner in this country. Not this year, maybe, but some year soon if the ban is lifted.

Did you know there were several strains of Apis cerena? I suspect most people don’t. But there are. The strain in Australia is called the Java strain. It is different from its cousins found in south east Asia that can be kept in boxes, are not aggressive and will yield a small surplus of honey. This is the strain most often encountered by U. S. beekeepers because they are in apiaries. And this is the reason so little resistance to this bee has been felt so far when it is mentioned that they may come to our shores…”Oh, I’ve worked those bees. They’re gentle and cute, and I don’t see the problem”, has been heard so often that people are beginning to believe it.

Don’t for a moment believe the bees in Australia are anything like that. NOT FOR ONE MOMENT! The difference between the cerena bees in Australia and the bees in Thailand and Japan is the difference between the honey bees in your back yard and a nest of yellow jackets…or African honey bees.

The Java strain of this beast is not gentle. In fact they are aggressive and dangerous. They can not be kept in boxes, so live in small places that cause all manner of problems for home owners, mailboxes, water boxes and the like. They abscond at the slightest disturbance, and they do not produce any surplus of honey at all. Like their very distant African cousins, they turn all the food they collect into more swarms. And they do collect a lot of food…food honey bees could be collecting and storing. Moreover, they nest in places no other bee will nest, and beekeepers have no incentive at all to remove them or to even collect swarms. Who will the public turn to when stinging incidents occur with increasing  frequency? Further, reports from Australia talk of the swarms actually taking over bird nests for the cover, and killing the birds that lived there. The Audubon folks will have something to say about that.

Beekeepers and growers in this country do not want to contend with another pest. The science exists that says this bee will be counterproductive to beekeeping in this country, to the pollination business in this country, to the safety of the citizens in this country, and to the balance of pollinators in this country. What they will eat is food a native pollinator or your honey bees would have eaten. And over 300 swarms caught with no end in sight in Australia so far, with the government considering the task too great to handle and abandoning the hunt altogether argues that even they cannot handle the problem.

So should we continue to import bees from Australia when the history and science of containing any creature has always failed? My answer is no.

And here’s one more thought on this Christmas Eve. Look closely at those who seek to continue this practice. Have they considered the long term effects of this effort? And look, too, at the suits that will write the rules and regulations and hold that the science is not good enough to keep the ban in place…will their jobs and pensions and personal status suffer when, not if, the lines in the sand are crossed once again? Beekeepers will go out of business. Bees will be regulated to death. And beekeeping businesses and suppliers will suffer. But the suits… There is no arguing when they say…”we weren’t funded enough to keep the lines in place, and beekeepers simply violated the rules.”

That’s been the reason for every failure so far, and every attempt has failed. Why would it be different this time?

APHIS initially said that bees from Australia could come into the U.S. as long as there was only one species of Apis on the Australian land mass. When that changed, APHIS believed the Australians when they said it didn’t matter. Three hundred swarms later Australia is rethinking that statement. Aphis made a wise decision to halt imports of Australian bees. Maintaining that ban forever is the next wisest thing they can do.

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