UWA buzzing

A NEW honey bee research centre led by UWA will bring together industry and academic experts to help secure the insects’ future.

It’s in the interests of bee product sellers and humanity at large to keep honey bees safe; their products — honey, beeswax, royal jelly and venom (used to treat ailments like arthritis) — is a $125-million industry in Australia.

UWA’s Liz Barbour says bees are also vital for crop production: “what is often overlooked is that 44 of our food crops wholly, or in part, rely on honey bee pollination which adds an additional farm gate value of $6.5b.”

Globally bees are in decline, with diseases, parasites and chemicals ravaging European populations.

• Fuzzy folk work hard and they’re proud of it. Photo courtesy UWA

In parts of China, the bee population is so low that some apple crops must be painstakingly (and expensively) pollinated by hand.

But here they’re still doing okay.

Dr Barbour says; “The low price of most honey bee products from Australia doesn’t reflect their unique and pure qualities. Australia, especially WA, has one of the healthiest bee populations in the world so no antibiotics or chemicals from bee husbandry contaminate the products…through our quarantine efforts the worse [bee diseases like the mite Varroa] have not yet reached our shores.”

If bee disease reaches here it’ll be a disaster, potentially cutting our agricultural production by a quarter.

“Claims have been made that Australia’s honey bee population has little resistance to foreign diseases,” Dr Barbour says.

“If true, any disease invasion would be catastrophic.”

by DAVID BELL

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