HC Deb 04 June 1998 vol 313 cc496-7
11. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

What steps are being taken to prevent the spread of the Varroa Jacobsoni mite into British bee colonies. [42732]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

A statutory infected area was declared in 1992 to control the spread of varroosis. Movements in and out of the affected area are possible only under licence and imports of bees from third countries are restricted.

Mr. Beard

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he also recognise that the licensing of only one treatment for varroa—Bayverol—is likely to lead to immunity gathering in the mites that spread it? If that happens, the bee population of Britain could decline sharply, with serious repercussions for food growing and agriculture. Will he consider licensing at least two treatments so that they can be used alternately, therefore avoiding immunity gathering and reducing the threat of a serious plague in the bee population of the British isles?

Mr. Rooker

My hon. Friend refers to the bee population. I can inform the House that I had no idea about its size. Every hon. Member has beekeepers in their constituency, I think, to judge from the amount of representation that has been made on the matter. The population is actually 10 billion, and it produces some 4,000 tonnes of honey. My hon. Friend raises an important point. In many ways, we are governed by our membership of the European Union. Authorising veterinary products simply cannot be done on the nod by one state alone. I am well aware that some beekeepers use other preparations. By and large, as long as they do not end up as residues in the food, they are acceptable. Nevertheless, we are seeking information about some of them.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The Minister came close to admitting that the reason for one product being used is some Eurocrat's recent definition of bees as food-producing animals. Will he now admit that that is unfair European interference in the traditional British way of life and will he make representations to the European Union to turn round that definition and, by that means, allow British beekeepers to return to using tar and icing sugar, which are perfectly good ways to deal with Varroa Jacobsoni?

Mr. Rooker

The Department spends a considerable amount of money to ensure that we have a viable United Kingdom honey programme.