Viruses spreading among Taiwan bees threatens agriculture: researchers

 Viruses spreading among Taiwan bees threatens agriculture: researchers

More than half of Taiwan's bees carry viruses that can make them sick or kill them, researchers have found.

Bee monitoring data collected over the past four years show that there are six kinds of viruses commonly found among Taiwan's bees, researchers from the Council of Agriculture (COA) said.

One of the viruses will result in bees having deformed wings and losing the capability of flying, said the researchers from a COA experimental farm in Miaoli.

Sometimes the virus can lead to massive deaths, they said, adding that a bee farm in Pingtung once reported that half of its bees died in three days and others could not fly.

Lu Mei-chun, a chief researcher at the Miaoli facility, said bee viruses, like what flu viruses do to human beings, are likely to hit the insects during autumn and winter.

Lu said bees serve as the chief medium for plant pollination, and their deaths will result in reduced agricultural production and poor crop quality.

The researcher stressed that over NT$50 billion (S$2.2 billion) worth of agricultural produce in Taiwan depends on pollination by bees.

The global bee population has been reducing, but scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact cause. But Lu said viruses-induced sickness is one of the more likely causes.

Reduced bee population also means less honey produced and higher prices.

Wu Chao-sheng, president of Taiwan's association of beekeepers, said honey prices have been rising 10 to 20 per cent annually in recent years.

In Taiwan, wholesale honey prices average NT$200 (S$8.40) per kilogram this year, compared to NT$180 (S$7.60) in 2012 and NT$160 (S$6.70) in 2011, Wu said.

The United Evening News said Taiwan's honey products amount to an annual production value of NT$1 billion (S$4.2 million).

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