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In late April 2006, the Australian Hydroponic and Greenhouse Association (AHGA) took their second step in applying to import European bumble bees to the Australian mainland. They were asking the Federal Government to add the exotic bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, to Australia's list of species 'suitable for live import'. They wished to import bumblebees for the pollination of greenhouse tomatoes.
The AHGA wrote a draft report (see below) which was displayed for a period of public comment.
After a two year delay, the AHGA finally completed their application in 2008 and it was considered by Environment Minister, Peter Garrett. He decided to reject the application because it posed a serious risk to the Australian environment, native bee populations and native bird species. Minister Garrett said:
-- "The scientific evidence and advice I have received suggests that the environmental and economic risks of a large earth bumblebee population spreading throughout mainland Australia are significant."
-- "No matter how hard we try to contain them to greenhouses the risks of their escape into the environment are too great."
-- "They have the potential to contribute to the rapid spread of weeds, including exotic species that have not yet become established."
-- "Large earth bumblebees can upset pollination and damage flowers when taking nectar, potentially robbing native birds of food - many of these are already under threat because of habitat loss and destruction."
Why Aussie Bee Says the Proposed Bumble Bee Importation Would Have Been a Disaster
Importantly, a native bee alternative pollinator is available (read a 2012 update on this project). This native bee could be an effective and practical solution for the tomato growers. Researchers at the University of Adelaide have shown that the Australian blue banded bee:
Can be bred year-round in large numbers;
Actively forages on greenhouse tomato crops throughout the temperature range used in Australian commercial greenhouses;
And produces tomatoes 15-20% heavier than those that are currently produced by growers using their conventional vibration wand pollination system.
To support their application in 2006, the Australian Hydroponic and Greenhouse Association (AHGA) wrote a 105 page report. This report contained dozens of factual errors, misleading statements and half truths. Yet the Minister for the Environment was supposed to base his decision on this report.
It greatly understated the likely spread of feral bumble bees should they escape from the tomato greenhouses.
It presented out of date and misleading information about the research into a native bee alternative for the industry.
It failed to present important facts about key environmental issues such as the spread of invasive weeds.
It ignored or falsely described many papers published in respected scientific journals. Instead it relied heavily on personal communications and articles pubished in a magazine edited by the AHGA's vice president.
Take a look at Aussie Bee's analysis of the AHGA report including evidence from leading researchers in the field. (This file make take a few moments to load. Please be patient -- there is much that needs to be said.)
Further Information and Links about the Proposed Bumblebee Importation
The Victorian State Government brochure has published a brochure called Keep Victoria Bumblebee Free.
This Queensland State Government brochure asks the public to report any bumblebee sightings.