Thursday 30 August 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I remember that incident vividly. It is interesting that it has been recalled now, and the pain would still be there.

If you talk to anyone around the world seriously interested in honey and you mention Tasmania, the word 'leatherwood' will immediately enter the conversation. Leatherwood honey is unique to Tasmania, and it is world renowned. It comprises 90 per cent of all Tasmanian honey and it relies on a forest resource that has often been threatened. Tasmania's biggest honey producer and the biggest exporter of leatherwood honey lives in my electorate.

Ms Rattray - Lindsay Bourke.

Mr FINCH - Lindsay Bourke - at Riverside. He started in 1966 with 200 hives, as if he was not busy enough. Now the company he co-owns called 'Australian Honey Products' manages 3 000 hives and produces 250 tonnes of honey a year. A large proportion of it is organic.

Lindsay Bourke does not do things by halves. Not content with only producing great honey he has developed numerous other products based on honey and they have won some of the six gold medals at the Hobart Fine Food Awards earlier this month. He won Best Tasmanian Exhibit, Best Exhibit in Show and Champion Honey for his honey nectar concentrate. He also won awards for his mead, apricot and honey port, and his double ginger creamed leatherwood, manuka and cider honeys.

You are unlikely to find his mead in your local pub, in case you are looking, but it is an ancient drink that is still well known in Europe, especially Holland. Lindsay Bourke makes his mead from prickly box honey and it won an award for the best mead in the world at the World Honey Show a few years ago.

Madam President, Lindsay Bourke is deeply involved in the politics of the honey industry and particularly in biosecurity. He is the Tasmanian and national chair of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council. Ten years ago he supported a group of concerned apiarists who established B-QUAL, a national independently audited food safety accreditation system for the honey industry. There are stringent requirements for annual assessment and certification by B-QUAL.

Beekeepers have to keep records to identify where honey is collected and the history of the bees that produced it. Ninety per cent of Australia's honey is now extracted under the strict food hygiene conditions of B-QUAL.

The manager of biosecurity planning and implementation at Animal Health Australia, Duncan Rowland, says B-QUAL covers biosecurity best practice for tracing, training and hygiene and naming, which has allowed Australian honey products - Tasmanian honey - to go all over the world. It has established markets for Tasmanian honey in Germany, China, South Korea and the United Kingdom, and others.

Three things that threaten Tasmania's honey industry, according to Lindsay Bourke, are, firstly, genetically modified crops. He says people do not want it in their honey and being GM-free is a distinct advantage when marketing overseas.

The second potential problem is neonicotinoids, which are used as a seed dressing to protect seeds and separate them. They affect bees adversely, seemingly stunting their growth. This is a threat to agriculture because strong bees are needed to transfer pollen on farms. Bees are essential to pollinate a whole range of foodstuffs. As Albert Einstein once said, four or five years after the last bee dies so will the last of mankind.

The third and biggest threat to the Australian honey industry is the Asian honeybee. It can carry a mite called Varroa destructor. It is a tiny parasite that feeds off honeybee larvae. Asian honeybees are already established in north Queensland. Australia is the last country in the world that does not have the Varroa destructor mite. Lindsay Bourke says that no country that has become infected with Varroa destructor has been able to stops its spread.

He is pressing for the extension of a number of quarantine and surveillance programs to try to stop the spread of the Asian honeybee and keep Varroa destructor out of Australia. Tasmania's honey industry is right behind him, because he is most of the honey industry.

Bee populations are declining around the world for various reasons. The United States honey industry has been decimated. In the United Kingdom the bee population is estimated to have halved between 1985 and 2005. Economists advise Tasmania to concentrate on what we can do better than elsewhere. Not only can we produce the purest honey in the world, but we can also produce leatherwood honey where no-one else can.

We must preserve and promote our honey industry and be ever vigilant in keeping out anything that might threaten it.