CANBERRA (Reuters) – The Australian government said it will stop trying to eradicate the Varroa mite, a parasite that kills honey bees, and will instead try to manage its spread, which is likely to make pollination of crops such as almonds more costly.
The decision ends an A$132 million ($85.3 million)eradication plan that has destroyed more than 14,000 hives in southeastern Australia since the mite was discovered there in June 2022.
The federal government said the decision was taken on Tuesday by the National Management Group (NMG), which is driving the Varroa programme nationwide.
In a statement on Wednesday, the New South Wales government, speaking on behalf of the NMG, said non-compliant and illegal movement of hives had spread the parasite further and made it impossible to contain.
Commercial crops including almonds, apples and avocados are dependent on pollination by European honey bees, with huge numbers of hives moved during spring flowering to bring bees to plants.
The Australian government has said a widespread mite infestation could destroy most wild European honey bee nests and managed hives not adapted to Varroa, reducing pollination and causing losses of over A$70 million a year.
“The recent spike in new detections have made it clear that the Varroa mite infestation is more widespread and has also been present for longer than first thought,” the New South Wales government said in a statement.
“The potential to eradicate is no longer possible … We now need to work collaboratively to manage and minimise the impact of Varroa.”
Varroa is a reddish-brown mite around 1 mm in diameter that attaches itself to European and Asian honey bees and feeds on them, weakening them and killing colonies.
The mite also carries viruses and has caused the collapse of honey bee populations around the world.
Varroa does not target native Australian honey bees.
($1 = 1.5485 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Peter Hobson; editing by Miral Fahmy)