Beekeepers have joined the campaign against the proposed importation of New Zealand apples, because of fears that the fire blight disease could devastate the honey industry.

Mark Salter, president of the Tasmanian Apple and Pear Growers’ Association, agreed that fire blight could well have a serious impact on beekeepers if the 80-year-old import ban is lifted. The disease is widespread in New Zealand’s orchards but there have been no major outbreaks in Australia.

Australian orchardists do not believe that the proposals put forward by the quarantine authority Biosecurity Australia to allow safe imports will go far enough to protect domestic industries.

The Big Crunch Day rally, held across Australia on 14 March, saw beekeepers warned that if the highly contagious disease entered a state, all the bees in it would be quarantined. While they do not contract the disease, bees can easily spread it among apples and pears because they are routinely used by farmers to pollinate trees.