manuka honey theft, thefts, beekeepers

As has been reported often, beekeepers tend to be victims of beehive theft, some losing dozens or even hundreds of hives every year. While it is certainly a problem in the US, down in New Zealand there has been a long line of beehive thefts, with many believing heavily that the cause has everything to do with the success of the Manuka honey industry. Given their efficiency, many beekeepers and local police across New Zealand have different ideas for combating and even preventing these thefts from taking place. Some, however, don’t believe the plan to be feasible.

Apiculture New Zealand and local police forces have created a joint initiative, with Daniel Paul, Apiculture NZ’s CEO, saying “We are discussing ways in which we can, with the assistance of police, mount a planned, managed, and sustained program to combat this problem…This will involve working together to gather better intelligence about thefts and how stolen hives are processed and to monitor hive movements more proactively.”

On the other hand, Stephen Black, co-owner of Bees-R-Us, remains skeptical about whether the move would impact theft. “Sometimes organizations put these things out, but they really haven’t got the means or resources to do anything about it.” After 20 of his hives were stolen in Uruti, Black has suspected the thefts were being driven by corrupt operators trying to cash in on the Manuka honey “gold rush”, which earns $200 million per year for New Zealand with prices 10 to 20 times higher than other honeys. The theft of Black’s hives has never been solved, with him finding police reluctant to act—in a recent case, Black said, it was left up to the beekeepers to track down their stolen hives.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) has been cracking down on the Manuka honey industry due to international suspicion that there was more product coming out of the country than it produced, and Black agrees that if the MPI introduced regulations as to the products sold as Manuka honey, it could help stop the thieves. “While there is a gold rush seen to be going on, the thefts are going to continue. It’s all about getting that Manuka bubble under control.”

The thefts are likely not being carried out by opportunists, Black says. “When you talk about the numbers getting stolen, it has got to be someone in the industry.” He compared stealing 200 hives to stealing 200 head of cattle. “You can’t just turn that into money by going and selling it down at the farmer’s market.” In response to such critiques, Apiculture NZ CEO Paul said the partnership also wants to establish a database to ensure information about the thefts and the offenders was shared more efficiently—such coordination could improve intel and prevent more beekeepers from becoming victims.

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