Beekeepers to protest over bee colonies importation

There are concerns that imported hives could be infected with the small hive beetle, which can decimate honey, pollen and hives

Photo: Edward Duca
Photo: Edward Duca

Beekeepers are set to protest over a recent importation of bees to Gozo that they believe could lead to the destruction of apiculture here. 

Earlier this month, renowned Italian apiculturist Ermanno De Chino imported 445 nucleus bee colonies to Gozo, for use by his new company Melita Bees Limited to produce queen bees for export. 

“The interbreeding of Maltese bees with French and Italian ones could result in aggressive hybrids,” Malta Beekeepers Association president Stephen Galea told MaltaToday. “Studies have proved that the Maltese honey bee has evolved over time into a completely endemic species, a very hard-working bee that can thrive in Malta’s hot summers. 

“Italian and French bees, on the other hand, are used to kinder, sunflower-filled environments.” 

When contacted by MaltaToday, De Chino dismissed such inter-breeding fears.

“Maltese apiculturists have already imported Italian bees so there are already hybrids in Malta,” the Italian businessman said.

However, Galea has argued that the sheer scale of De Chino’s importation could result in inter-breeding at a level that will change the local bees’ DNA and therefore their suitability to Malta’s conditions. 

The hives have reportedly been placed in two separate locations, in Xewkija and Marsalforn. Galea has claimed that there aren’t enough flowers in those regions for both the local bees and De Chino’s bees to extract nectar from. 

“Since De Chino’s bees are intended for breeding and exportation, this could threaten the local honey business,” Galea said. “I’m a Maltese beekeeper so this isn’t about competition for me, as [Agriculture Parliamentary Secretary] Roderick Galdes has claimed. Maltese and Gozitan beekeepers are all in this together.”

Galea will fly to Brussels in two weeks’ time to warn the EU Directorate for Agriculture of the impending threat to the Maltese bee’s identity. 

“It can’t be that nobody cares what we’re facing,” he said.

‘High risk of hive’s deadly infection’

Beekeepers have also voiced concern that De Chino’s hives could be infected with the deadly small hive beetle, a well-known beekeeping pest whose larvae feed on honey, pollen and bee broods. The beetle’s rapid breeding rate means that it can quickly wipe out a colony and spread to other hives. 

Speaking in Parliament last week, Galdes insisted that the veterinary authorities had inspected de Chino’s hives box by box and declared them free from pests. Although certificates show that De Chino’s bees originated in the north of France, beekeepers have claimed that they actually originated in Sicily, which has been ravaged by the small hive beetle since spreading to the island from Reggio in November. The European Commission has since ordered Italy to ban the exportation of bees and beekeeping equipment from the affected regions to other EU member states. 

They have argued that the trucks carrying the bees boarded off a Pozzallo catamaran and that Ispica – where De Chino’s Sicilian bee-breeding company is based – is only a 15-minute drive to Pozzallo. They have also claimed that the hives look identical to those used in similar operations in Ispica and that the trucks used to carry them looked far too old and run-down to be able to travel from the north to the south of France.