Science more complex with bureaucracy?

First we have the complexities and uncertainties of science and then we introduce a bureaucratic process that can be inefficient and sometimes, incompetent.

I give you a prime example in the case of the Asian honey bee eradication program. Full story continues……


Bureaucratic bungling and arguments about funding could possibly put us behind the eight ball in the eradication program for the Asian honey bee.

An interim report from the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport reference committee called Science underpinning the inability to eradicate the Asian Bee has made recommendations that could ensure an eradication program is

The matter of eradication of the Asian honey bee was referred to the senate to determine the scientific assumption that: Apis cerana could not be eradicated in Australia; that it would not spread, and, its impact on biodiversity, pollination and the European honey bee and the cost benefit of eradication.

The senate enquiry’s main concern was how, based on scientific involvement, a decision was reached to stop the honey bee eradication process, at the end of January 11. (Hansard 24 March p9)

There was a split between the advice coming from the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) on behalf of New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT, Tasmania, Western Australia and, the Australian government, who were saying that it was not eradicable. And the view of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, and of the industry sector, AHBIC, who were saying that further work, if it were done, might allow them to make that call with more certainty.

This further work was not done and subsequently the people on the ground involved in the eradication program were made redundant. The senate committee has asked for a reconvening of the CCEPP.

The Hon Senator Heffernan, chair of the senate committee said, “This is a foreign invasion and it happens to be a bee.
“If it happened to be soldiers and tanks you would not be sitting around and having the argument you have had with the bees; you would get in and do something about it.

“You would say ‘Maybe we’re not going to be able to beat them,’ but at least you would have a bloody good go at trying.

He made an analogy to a fire in the Brindabella Ranges that raged out of control because of “bureaucratic garbage.” “This is the same sort of stuff.”

” ….[it] this has taken 18 months of prancing around.”

He also asked the committee to provide documentation about the physical events over the past 18 months when, “you were trying to eradicate this thing.'”

Of concern to the senate was the dropping of Dr Denis Anderson’s email address for inclusion at meetings of the committee. Dr Anderson is the most recognised Asian honey bee authority and his exclusion has meant that his input was not taken into consideration at the meeting in January where it was deemed that the bee was not eradicable even though Dr Anderson believed that that was yet to be determined and further data would enable a conclusion to that hypothesis.

That sentiment was also echoed by Dr Evan Sergeant, who recommended—and put in his report—that eradication be continued for another six months to collect data.

It is not quite clear from the senate hearing how a final consensus was reached for shutting down the eradication program when their was a call for collecting more data.

Senator Heffernan pointed out his concern that this collecting of data had not occurred and raised the question as to why.
“It appears to be a matter of money,” said chair Senator Heffernan

“For God’s sake—$5 million, is it, Senator Colbeck?

“They spend that on bloody fireworks on New Year’s Eve, for God’s sake.

“This is about the future of the plant world and the food supply in Australia.

“It is a disgrace – a bureaucratic blubber.”

This view was supported by Dr Whitten, Chairman of The Wheen Foundation, a not-for-profit Company which supports research and development to improve profitability of beekeepers and pollination-dependent industries, who commented that:

“…the European honey bee has probably been the most valuable insect ever imported to Australia, and by contrast the Asian bee I would regard as perhaps the worst exotic insect ever to establish in Australia…I believe no stone should be left unturned in our effort to eradicate it.”

The Asian honey bee incursion at Cairns has had, and will continue to have if not eradicated, serious consequences for Australia.

He went on further to say that the presence of the bee at Cairns has already led to the suspension of trade in live bees between the US and Australia, valued at some $5 million annually. Canada is currently reviewing its trade in live bees with Australia and has indicated that it will be urging Australia to continue the eradication effort otherwise it too will suspend trade in live bees.

Other countries are also likely to follow suit. If the bee is not eradicated it is likely that it will spread to most parts of the country that the European honey bee has inhabited. The subsequent wide spread of Asian honey bees is likely to have a number of impacts on Australia, such as, in order of the most to least importance: the environment and biodiversity, the beekeeping industry, human health and society, pollination and trade.

Dr Colin Grant, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry who was at the hearing said, “Let me make it very clear: we approached all the industry sectors that are dependent on pollination, and not one of them was prepared to provide assistive funding to this exercise—not one.”

Professor Bob Williamson secretary for science policy at the Australian Academy of Science, said that the report was welcoming particularly the view that further information be obtained to determine whether the Asian honey bee is eradicable. He reiterated that evidence-based policy is important for policy development.

He has asked for the appointment of an independent senior scientific advisor to all major government departments, which would, ….”remove the need to have these sorts of matters referred to Parliament.”

Professor Ben Oldroyd who is a professor of behavioural genetics in the social insects lab at the University of Sydney, welcomed the delay.

“There has not been enough time to be confident about the direction of trends that is, we do not know with confidence if the number of new finds is increasing or decreasing per unit effort,” he said.

He also said there are technologies which might prove superior to ‘bee lining’ for locating or destroying nests, which is the method used to date. For example, it’s possible to attach a transponder to a worker. The flying worker can then be followed by radar, leading the eradication team to the nest. Pheromone lures can be used to attract and catch drones.”

An odour-detecting dog in Cairns has now been validated as another way of detecting the Asian bee.

(some material courtesy of AusSMC)

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About Susan Kirk

Susan Kirk is a freelance science journalist, with a degree in journalism and qualifications in horticulture. She has written for many different publications but lately writes extensively for Fairfax media. She wrote a number of the Taste booklets (Global Food and Wine) which showcased Australian produce and producers and even did a stint as a restaurant critique. She loves growing, cooking and consuming food so over the years the interest in ornamental plants turned into an interest in food plants, especially herbs. She is a member of the Media Alliance, and is a member of and the Queensland web editor for the Australian Science Communicators.

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