Disease Survey of Honey Bees in Vanuatu - PHAMA Technical Report 34

Disease Survey of Honey Bees in Vanuatu – PHAMA Technical Report 34

An AusAID initiative is to increase exports of high value primary products from Pacific Island Countries (PICs). The Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA) is designed to address constraints to market access for primary production products, including honey and other bee products. PHAMA funded the current bee disease survey to support the growth of the beekeeping industry in Vanuatu by establishing the disease status of the local honey bees and using this information as a basis for quarantine regulations and market access negotiations.

The bee disease survey was carried out by Byron Taylor and Tony Roper, AsureQuality Limited, New Zealand, from 17–27 October 2012. The last bee disease survey conducted in Vanuatu was done by Bettesworth and Grueber in 2000.

Gilbert Gibson has the largest hive holding in Vanuatu, currently managing approximately 250 colonies. A second beekeeper, Ian Shaw, operates around 70 colonies, and a number of individuals operate less than 6 hives.

Apiary Industry in Vanuatu

It is estimated that there are around 400 managed colonies in Vanuatu, with 90% or more on Efate. The annual honey crop is approximately 5 tonnes per year, all of which is consumed within Vanuatu. The estimated consumption is around 10 tonnes, with the shortfall being made up with imports of honey from Australia and France (Gilbert Gibson, pers. comm.).

Gilbert Gibson has been beekeeping in Vanuatu for many years but has recently moved to full-time beekeeping. It is his hope to increase his current hive numbers to increase production for local consumption in the short term, with the potential to move into export markets in the long term.

In addition to European bees, the Asian Honey Bee (Apis cerana) has recently been discovered on Efate. It is unsure how long Apis cerana has been in Vanuatu but, judging by its distribution and comments from Gilbert Gibson, anywhere from 2 to 4 years is realistic.

A component of the current survey was to assess the spread of Apis cerana and, in particular, whether it is present on the islands of Espiritu Santo, Malekula and Tanna.

Currently, honey and other bee products entering New Zealand from a number of PICs must be accompanied by a zoosanitary certificate issued by the veterinary authority of the exporting country which certifies that:

  • The honey originates from that country; and
  • The country is free from European foulbrood (EFB) caused by Melissococcus pluton. 1

Vanuatu is not included on the list of PICs covered by this import health standard (IHS), so access to New Zealand would need to be separately negotiated.

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), formerly the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, revised the IHS for Specified Processed Bee Products in June 2009. However, this standard is on hold while issues with a similar IHS for bee products from Australia are resolved.

European foulbrood (EFB)

EFB is a bacterial disease that affects the developing brood and is controlled in many countries by feeding antibiotics to beehives. EFB-causing bacteria can be transmitted in bee products, especially honey and pollen.

EFB disease has never been detected in Vanuatu or New Zealand but regular surveys by competent personnel, and reporting to international authorities, are required to confirm this status. EFB is present in Australia.

In addition, honey exported to the European Union must come from apiaries of known disease history. This usually means an apiary database is being maintained annual bee disease surveys are being carried out, and beekeepers are reporting on the presence of
listed bee diseases.

The survey team inspected 193 beehives

The survey team inspected 193 beehives for bee diseases and pests, in particular EFB and its associated secondary bacterium Paenibacillus alvei.

Samples were also taken from 34 hives for testing for Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and four known strains of Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), the microsporidian Nosema ceranae, the internal or tracheal mite Acarapis woodi and the external mites Varroa sp and Tropilaelaps.

All these diseases, except DWV, A. woodi and the external mites, were raised as pathogens of concern by the beekeeping industry in New Zealand following the risk analysis done by MPI to allow heat-treated honey from Australia into New Zealand. DWV was found in New Zealand in 2007, and A. woodi and the external mites Varroa sp and Tropilaelaps are not transmitted in honey.

Varroa destructor is endemic in New Zealand. Since the IHS was reviewed, MPI has confirmed the presence of P. alvei and Nosema ceranae in New Zealand. A nationwide survey, plus ongoing annual sampling and testing, has not detected the presence of IAPV in New Zealand, and it remains a bee disease of concern with New Zealand beekeepers (McFadden, Tham et al 2012).

Bees were tested for DWV, Nosema ceranae, the tracheal mite and Varroa spp and Tropilaelaps, in case Vanuatu is in a position to export live bees, queen cells or drone semen in the future. However, the presence of Apis cerana and Varroa jacobsoni could limit the export potential of this material.

No cases of EFB or American foulbrood (AFB) were detected, despite a case of AFB being discovered in the previous survey in 2000 and an additional case being discovered earlier this year by Mr Gilbert Gibson and Mr Nambo Moses. The recent find was in the same area as the original discovery in 2000.

American foulbrood (AFB)

AFB is one of the most widespread and serious honey bee diseases in the world. This disease is endemic in New Zealand and is controlled by inspection and total destruction of infected material.

Some approved beekeepers can recover infected equipment by dipping in paraffin wax heated to 1600C for at least 10 minutes. AFB is subject to a Pest Management Strategy in New Zealand. It is recommended that for Vanuatu, AFB is included in an annual surveillance program and that any infected material found is destroyed.

Varroa jacobsoni

Varroa jacobsoni was identified in European honey bee colonies during the survey. Samples of these mites were taken for morphological and molecular analysis, which confirmed the identification.

The survey in Vanuatu achieved a hive inspection rate of 48% and a hive sampling rate of 8.5%, from a population of approximately 400 hives. New Zealand has a target inspection rate of 1.4% of hives under its exotic honey bee disease surveillance program. However, all hives in New Zealand must be inspected for AFB disease each year by an approved beekeeper, which increases the possibility of
beekeepers finding a notifiable exotic bee disease or pest.

The survey team inspected 46 apiaries and 21 feral colony locations. While there is no official apiary register, it is estimated that we inspected around 80% of managed apiaries, compared to New Zealand’s target surveillance rate of 2.6%.

Apis cerana (Asian Honey Bee)

Apis cerana was confirmed on Efate and the two nearby islands of Pele and Emao, which lie north of Efate. Four samples were collected (three from Efate and one from Emao) and submitted to the laboratory for testing. These colonies were subjected to a brood inspection where possible.

Apis cerana was not detected on Santo, Malekula or Tanna. Eradication of the Asian bees (Apis cerana) from Efate, Pele and Emao is not feasible; however, awareness raising measures such as posters at ports and pamphlets for commercial and recreational sailors could help to reduce the chance of the Asian bees spreading between islands.

Laboratory analysis of bee samples did not detect any cases of DWV and IAPV, the tracheal mite Acarapis woodi, or the external mites Varroa destructor and Tropilaelaps. The external mites Acarapis externus and Acarapis dorsalis were detected on many bees. These mites are common in New Zealand and are not known to cause any damage to honey bees.

Nosema ceranae

The microsporidian Nosema ceranae was detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 13 of the 24 apiaries tested (54%). Previous surveys did not test for the presence of Nosema ceranae, so it is unclear how long it has been present in Vanuatu. Nosema ceranae has only recently been confirmed in New Zealand using PCR technology. It is not known what effect, if any, this species of nosema is having on honey bees either in New Zealand or in Vanuatu.

EFB disease has never been reported in Vanuatu and no evidence of this disease was found during this survey or during past surveys.
No cases of tracheal mites or the Small Hive Beetle were found. There was no evidence of the African honey bee (Apis mellifera scutellata) or the Cape honey bee (Apis mellifera capensis). These diseases or pests are not transmitted through honey.

Other minor diseases were reconfirmed as being present, such as both the greater and lesser wax moths (which exist in New Zealand). Various species of ants, cockroaches, centipedes and lizards living in or around hives were also found, but these are not transmitted live in honey.

The risk pathways into Vanuatu

The risk pathways into Vanuatu for an exotic honey bee disease or pest are considerable, with ongoing importation of honey from France and Australia, regular shipping and air flights from a number of countries, plus visiting cruise ships and yachts, which could have honey on board.

The number of tourists representing a risk visiting Vanuatu has dropped slightly in recent years but has grown considerably since the last survey was completed.

As an indication, the number of accommodation rooms available almost doubled from 800 to more than 1500 between 2005 and 2011 (http://www.tms.com.vu/statisitics1.html).

Importation of honey into Vanuatu

Importation of honey into Vanuatu is managed under the “Animal Importation and Quarantine Act, 1988” and the “Animal Importation and Quarantine Regulations, 1994”. These documents require that honey imports are accompanied by an import permit which states:

Permission for import is granted under the following conditions:

  • Contain no substances harmful to human health;
  • Have been processed, prepared, packaged, and transported according to the required public health legislation in the country of origin;
  • Have been heat treated or pasteurised;
  • No raw honey or combs are permitted entry.”

In order to retain stability in the local market as honey production increases, it will be necessary to investigate export opportunities. Export to New Zealand is currently allowed from some PICs; however, Vanuatu is not included in this IHS.

If Vanuatu were to negotiate its own conditions, New Zealand would likely require similar conditions to those currently imposed on other PICs.

This includes attesting to the country of origin of the product and certifying that Vanuatu is free of EFB. A surveillance program to address this issue is recommended and discussed in more detail in the report.

This surveillance program could also support the negotiation of export protocols to other export markets.

Disease Survey of Honey Bees in Vanuatu - PHAMA Technical Report 34
Disease Survey of Honey Bees in Vanuatu – PHAMA Technical Report 34

Download Disease Survey of Honey Bees in Vanuatu – PHAMA Technical Report 34

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