One of the few beneficial exotic species introduced to our country must be the honey bee, Apis mellifera. Our environment and economy would certainly be a lot poorer without it.
The future of this bee is now uncertain in most parts of the world, thanks to natural and man-made enemies.
Here in New Zealand, we are managing to keep the species reasonably safe by careful control of our borders to ensure the pests and diseases are kept out. A high degree of care and control by amateur and professional beekeepers, all operating to a high code of discipline and ethics, is also required to ensure the bees' survival.
We are now facing what we believe is a major threat to beekeeping - our own government wants to import foreign honey to satisfy a "free trade agreement".
The New Zealand Beekeepers' Association (NZBA) is desperately trying to stop the Ministry for Primary Industries from importing honey. We have spent more than $1 million dollars in lawyers' fees, fighting MPI in court, but they are determined to bring in Australian honey (Australia imports honey from all over the world).
Australian honey could contain many organisms that we don't have in New Zealand and once admitted would almost certainly find its way into our bees and honey.
Just one of these organisms that New Zealand beekeepers have staunchly kept out is anti-biotic, which is used overseas to treat bees for American Foul Brood (AFB).
We have AFB here; it is a dreaded bacterial disease that haunts every beekeeper. We agree as a body to kill the bees and burn all infected hives and parts rather than treat it with antibiotic as they do in other countries. Our NZBA spend millions of dollars trying to eradicate the disease from our shores.
Another serious disease that could be introduced by foreign honey is European Foul brood (EFB) which is also treated with antibiotics overseas.
Varroa mite is a serious bee predator that slipped past our border security a few years ago and has made bee-keeping so time consuming and expensive. It has seriously weakened the honey bee's chances of survival. This mite not only feeds on the bees and larvae but also carries bacteria that start diseases in the colony.
We use pesticides to fight it, but this causes problems in the hives. I find queen bees deteriorate and have to be replaced each year instead of lasting three or more years.
Despite all these problems, New Zealand is better off than many places, in America and Europe; bees have been wiped out in some states.
Our New Zealand bees and bee products are now internationally recognised and give us a competitive edge. We are selling bees and products all over the world (without help from any "free trade" agreement).
In many cases, international markets use standards developed here for measuring the quality of bee products. These advantages would disappear overnight if Australian honey is brought in here.
Rob Butcher is a conservationist, retired engineer and beekeeper