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'To get food security, we need bee security'

Matua Valley Wines founder Maureen Maxwell is on a mission to foster stronger links between New Zealand's bee and honey industry and the rest of the world.

Matua Valley Wines founder Maureen Maxwell is on a mission to foster stronger links between New Zealand's bee and honey industry and the rest of the world.

Maureen MaxwellMaxwell has been appointed to the newly-created role of regional president for the Oceania Commission of Apimondia, the Rome-based international federation of beekeeping associations – and is the first New Zealander to be part of the group.

A chef and sommelier, she has been an executive of the National Beekeepers’ Association for five years and a member of the Sustainable Business Network and the NZ Guild of Food Writers, developing an award-winning range of organic honeys and honey products.

"While other board members come from a science and technical background, I think I can bring a real difference from an entrepreneurial and marketing perspective,” she said.

"It's a real honour to be a part of this group and it's even more special being the first Kiwi to do it."

While she says the role will inevitably evolve, she intends to keep beekeeping on the national and global radar. Reporting to the international president, Gilles Ratia, Maxwell will facilitate events where beekeepers, scientists, honey-traders, technicians and legislators meet to listen, discuss and learn.

"We are highly regarded as a nation when it comes to beekeeping and punch well above our weight. It's my intention to be the voice of the Oceania region and specifically create more awareness about beekeeping because it has the potential to be New Zealand's next industry darling."

She said tapping into the expertise and research of international colleagues would be extremely valuable.

"Beekeeping plays a crucial role in primary production in New Zealand – not just in the production of honey and propolis, but in pollination of our horticultural crops. Bees are under the global threat of rapidly declining numbers through Varroa, pesticides, disease, loss of habitat, forage and fodder,” she said.

"The reality is now bees cannot survive in New Zealand without the help of man. And the bottom line is we can't survive without bees because we need them for pollination ... People think they're just a bit of a nuisance, but without them the world as we know it wouldn't exist. To get food security we need bee security."

According to Maxwell, that requires much stronger cooperation with biosecurity and border control.

"We are vehemently against honey imports, not as a trade barrier ... but we do not want more bacterial diseases that could affect our industry," she said.

"We're a fantastic example of what can be achieved with organic and antibiotic-free bee management systems and we are hanging on very tenuously to our antibiotic-free status which is a major point of difference globally."

Part of that point of difference is the promotion of New Zealand honey as a premium product, where she said the industry would get the "greatest value".

She said it was crucial to take the very best quality product to market, and add value through the likes of high-end medicinal products, because New Zealand is ultimately a small player on the world stage.

Maxwell will also push for the introduction of certified country of origin labelling.

"[Consumers] want to know if they are paying good dollars they are buying genuine New Zealand honey. It's a good marketing tool for us to push and as a consumer I think that should be our right to know."