Bee Pathogen Programme

Bees are an important part of New Zealand's ecosystems and primary industries. Find out about the Bee Pathogen Programme, how it works to protect our apiculturists and how we're getting ready to respond to potential biosecurity threats.

Bees matter

Bees are not simply producers of honey. They pollinate all kinds of plants that affect our ecosystems.

Bees play a part in:

  • tree and crop farming
  • dairy farming
  • animal meat production
  • honey production
  • some forestry.

Without bees, our primary industries would suffer.

Preparing to respond

One of our country's best defenses is readiness – preparing for a biosecurity threat. Being ready can put us in a much better position to protect our primary industries should there be a problem.

The Bee Pathogen Programme will help secure our apiculture (beekeeping) sector and protect New Zealand’s increasing international trade in bee products.

About the programme

Sampling for the Bee Pathogen Programme ran from September 2016 to March 2019.

Our experts have started evaluating the huge amount of data that has been collected. This includes studying more than 130,000 honey bees from 300 samples taken throughout the country that are now archived in Biosecurity New Zealand's freezers.

Once the data has been evaluated, it will be available to the beekeeping industry and to researchers for further analysis.

Biosecurity New Zealand is aiming to release its conclusions from the programme in late 2019.


The programme aims to find out:

  • how common pests and pathogens are
  • how severely hives are affected by pests and pathogens
  • where pests and pathogens are located in New Zealand
  • how pests and pathogens are affecting our apiary industries – including how much honey hives are producing and how many bees are being lost from colonies.

What we're doing

Trained inspectors have done disease inspections on a variety of apiaries from around New Zealand. They looked for:

  • American foulbrood
  • European foulbrood
  • half-moon syndrome
  • sacbrood
  • chalkbrood
  • black shiny bees
  • deformed wing virus
  • signs of pests – including wax moth, Varroa mites, ants, wasps and small hive beetles.

Inspectors checked 8 hives at each apiary. They collected bee samples and recorded specific information for each – including how the hives were managed.

Bee samples were sent to both our Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) and our Plant Health and Environment Laboratory (PHEL) for analysis. The AHL checked bee samples for viruses – including foulbroods and syndromes. The PHEL used the sample bees to determine both Varroa and Nosema counts per bee for each hive.

In total, samples were taken from 60 apiaries every spring and autumn until the end of 2018. Inspectors used the same 60 apiaries for each round of inspections.

Who's involved

The study involves Biosecurity New Zealand staff, authorised apiary inspectors, and apiary owners who have agreed to be part of the programme.

The owners of each apiary in the programme received their own hive report after each 6-month analysis. The report told them:

  • their apiary pathogen load results from both molecular and microscopic testing
  • the average load per bee for their apiary
  • how their apiary compared to the national average for each pathogen or pest
  • how each measurement changed over the research period.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page, email


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