NSW Government Euthanizes Millions of Bees

The NSW Government is killing millions of bees to stop a parasite epidemic in what beekeepers say is short-sighted, inhumane and preventable.

The petition had more than 5,000 signatures at the time of publication and begged the state’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI) to investigate alternative treatments for varroa mites when not exterminated abroad.

The DPI set up an emergency zone where 70 per cent of hives had been euthanised by Wednesday, with more operations being carried out in the Newcastle and Hunter regions.

Both recreationally and commercially operated hives are affected as part of the Biosecurity Emergency Order, placing hives with healthy, uninfected bees currently in the line of fire. Bees in this zone cannot be relocated and there is no appeal process for affected beekeepers against the measure.

What is a varroa mite?

The Varroa mite is a dangerous pest that targets commercial honeybees and is rare in Australia, DPI estimates that if their presence is detected, their damage could cause a loss of $70 million a year.

If left untreated, they can cause hive deaths, deformed bees, parasites, and the death and growth of eggs, larvae, and pupae.

The V. destructive species was discovered in NSW in June and there were 99 infected hive sites in August, it is unclear how the mite first appeared in the state.

There are alternative, safer methods of removing mites from affected hives, including hand cleaning the bees and using safe acids to wash the mites without harming the bees.

None of these treatments have been approved by DPI or offered as an option to beekeepers – in a move described as putting down a dog with fleas or closing borders without vaccination.

A Labor of Love

For Mika Benes, beekeeping runs in their family for generations. Their father, Dolfi, has been producing natural honey full-time for about ten years, but has kept bees all his life, a practice that has been passed down from his father’s side.

The Benesh themselves have been helping their father since high school and feel a deep connection to their family’s livelihood.

“My dad’s side are Holocaust survivors, so there’s a lot that’s lost, but beekeeping is really special to us and it’s very culturally and spiritually important to our family,” Benesh told Junkee.

“He has a funny relationship with his bees, you know, he’ll talk to them, spend a lot of time with them. “He can tell which bee belongs to a hive group just by looking at them.”

A few months ago, Dolphy was notified that his hives would be destroyed under a Biosecurity Emergency Order – despite the fact that his bees were not infected, a fact confirmed by DPI during an inspection.

At a meeting for affected beekeepers in August, the DPI said they were confident of their eradication strategies due to “extensive modelling”, but when asked to make their findings public, they never provided evidence.

“We are really concerned about the lack of transparency, because on what basis are these decisions made and why are they not shared with the people? How can we understand something that is not clear to us? No effort has been made by DPI to justify this position,” said Benesh.

Friday is doomsday for Dolphy and his cronies, with the DPI confirming they will kill all his bees without his consent, even threatening police involvement to get their cooperation.

“My dad’s reaction was just confusion and frustration because he has a lot of experience with varroa treatment overseas,” Benesh said. “We’ve gone through the stages of anticipatory grief and at the same time we’re in crisis and we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Tribe of Beekeepers

The DPI has promised a compensation scheme for affected beekeepers: an $18 million support package that will pay $500 for each recreational hive destroyed. But Benesh said the compensation doesn’t affect the actual recovery time.

“This is based on the assumption that a beekeeper can rebuild their hives and restore their previous level of production in about three months – a process that takes several years,” they said.

In addition, the search for a queen bee is more difficult than ever due to movement restrictions, and beekeepers in the eradication zone will not be able to keep their new hives in the same place for at least three years.

“So we would not only be faced with the challenge of finding a new place to house all our bees, but also getting them working again; We will feel the financial effects for a long time,” said Benesh.

At the crossroads

“Our government is supposed to be concerned about small business issues, but I don’t see much concern…”

Benesh told Junkee that despite the weight of their family’s current situation, they still hold on to hope.

“Even, God forbid, they will kill my family’s bees tomorrow, it won’t be too late, because we are not the only ones affected,” they said. “It’s an emergency for us, but it’s a long-term problem for people and it’s not going to go away.”

“Small business issues are supposed to be a concern of our government, but I don’t see a lot of concern for small business here — there’s definitely a hypocrisy here,” continued Benesh, who sees saving bees and saving livelihoods as an easy win.

They said the overwhelming support online has helped their parents know they’re not alone and that they have a great community behind them as they try to bounce back from setbacks.

“What is the end point of this destruction? It seems to be expanding and expanding to kill more and more bees,” they said. “If eradication doesn’t nip it in the bud – it hasn’t worked.”

“As soon as you kill healthy animals, you have to question the whole project.”

Junkee has reached out to the Department for Primary Industries’ varroa response team for comment.

You can sign the petition here.

Australian honey bees fill the cells with different colored pollen. Photo Credit: Nick Pitsas/CSIRO

Photo Credit: Meggyn Pomerleau/Unsplash

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