Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 13:50 UK

Australia warns of threat to bees

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Bee hive (generic)
The varroa mite has devastated bee populations elsewhere

A parliamentary report has called for Australia's honey bees to be given more protection against a potentially lethal foreign pest.

There are fears the deadly bug known as the varroa destructor could decimate the bee population if it arrives from Papua New Guinea or New Zealand.

The report suggests that it is only a matter of time before the pest arrives.

Australia has cashed in on its so-far pristine reputation by supplying queen and hive bees around the world.

However, the consequences of the varroa destructor's arrival could be catastrophic, according to the parliamentary committee in Canberra.

The report warns that the "food security and the economic welfare of the entire community depend to a considerable degree on the humble honey bee".

Beekeepers have said that about a third of what Australians eat relies on the transfer of pollen which is essential for the reproduction of plants.

Border controls

The varroa mite has hit hives around the world and has devastated pollination industries.

It has been linked to the mystery colony collapse disorder (CCD) across North America.

The bug has been found in bees in two of Australia's nearest neighbours - Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

Parliamentarians in Canberra have urged the government to tighten border and quarantine controls.

One suggestion is for more traps to be set up around ports to attract bees arriving by ship and to stop them from joining domestic hives.

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