Australian apiarists left with half a bee industry
Food security is one of the major challenges facing the world. In the coming decade with the population expected to increase to around 10 billion, access to food particularly food that is safe and free from disease will increasingly challenge many nations.
Australians are rightly proud of the high quality food that we produce. But as the world grows flatter and we increasingly import food, the high standards that we expect in Australia come into question.
An example of this is the Australian honeybee industry, which for all intensive purposes has its back against the wall.
Only a few years ago Australia did not import honey, we were a net exporter. But in recent times this has changed with a large amount of overseas honey being imported at far cheaper prices.
In 2009 there were substantial imports of honey to Australia with 1,000 tonnes from China, 1,684 tonnes from Argentina and 120 tonnes from Europe, all of which were produced at minimum cost and sold at discount prices.
The problem with this is that the overseas honey is not subjected to the same standards we demand of local producers. The local producers are kicking against the breeze making it impossible to compete but worse still risking the importation of dangerous diseases that have the potential to destroy our local industry.
After meeting with local honey producers in my electorate, it is apparent that the lack of food standards imposed on foreign honey products is threatening the industry’s financial sustainability.
Australian honey producers are required to meet strict Government imposed regulations at great expense, whilst import standards do not impose similar restrictions on foreign honey products.
Over the last 16 years this $80 million industry has been threatened by exotic honey bee incursions, inappropriately treated apiary products and strict product regulations. We are also at risk of being affected from an external mite that will decimate the honeybee industry and lead to losses of $20-55 million per annum, or approximately 25-54% of the entire industry.
In response to this ongoing threat it was recommended by the Parliament that the Australian Government commit funds to improve the National Food Standards imposed on imported honey products.
Not to my surprise, almost two years down the track we’ve seen little evidence of the Rudd Government taking any effective action on the Committee’s recommendation, unless ‘forums’ and ‘further discussions’ are considered effective action.
The long and short of this situation is simple – Australia’s food standard regulations for overseas honey products must be improved drastically, or this bio-security threat will fast turn from risk to reality.
However, it is not only the biosecurity of our environment in danger, but also the financial sustainability of an industry that employs hundreds to thousands of people across Australia; most of whom would fall into the demographic Kevin Rudd professes to be the great saviour of - working families.
This has created a situation where Australian honey producers are struggling to remain competitive, as their international equivalents can produce similar products in higher volumes at a far lower cost with much lesser standards applied.
If these circumstances continue it is extremely likely that the Australian honeybee industry will be permanently incapacitated or wiped out over time.
With rising costs, soft food standards on imports and low prices at the farm gate, beekeepers are being forced to exit the industry in search of another living.
Beekeepers don’t want a ten goal head start they just want an even playing surface.
Other countries have import standards to protect their food security so why don’t we? Canada for instance recently rejected a container of Australian honey that was mixed with honey from another country because it did not meet their high food security standards.
But what makes this story worse is that this situation is not just contained to honey. Apples, pears, olives, meat and a range of other agricultural produce face their own challenges with standards in comparison to food imported from overseas countries.
The Rudd Government needs to act and act fast. Strengthening our standards today will protect our food security in the future. This is not good enough for our agricultural industries and it’s time the Rudd Government steps up to the plate and finds an effective solution to this growing problem.
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