New veterinary feed directive rules apply to bees too

Gloria Hafemeister
Dan Ziehli, a state bee inspector for the southern half of Wisconsin, visited the Malterer farm at Iron Ridge recently to inspect the bee hives on the farm and talk with members of the Dodge-Jefferson County beekeepers about beekeeping since the new VFD has been in effect.  Ziehli says even beekeepers need a prescription from a veterinarian if they require antibiotics to treat hives that carry foulbrood disease.

IRON RIDGE-  Beekeepers across the state are struggling to learn more about the new requirements of the Veterinary Feed Directive Rule that require that even beekeepers need a prescription from a veterinarian if they need to use antibiotics to treat hives.

Members of the Dodge-Jefferson Beekeepers club gathered at the Malterer farm near Iron Ridge last week to learn more about the issue and observe the inspection of the hives at the farm.

Tracy Malterer, president of the local bee club, says while beekeepers often choose to destroy an infected hive rather than use antibiotics, it has been an option that has helped prevent the spread of foulbrood disease. Now with the new rules that apply across the board in livestock production, including bees, beekeepers are struggling to find veterinarians with working knowledge of bees.

So far, a small number of veterinarians have stepped forward and put their names on the site and those are the veterinarians who should be contacted first.

Liz Meils, State Apiarist at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, says, “One of the primary issues with this new oversight is that beekeeping is not taught in veterinary medical school, so now it’s up to everyone involved to educate veterinarians and to build working relationships with beekeepers.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association has put together some references on beekeeping and the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association is also working with their members to provide outreach and education, including a webinar with Dr. Chris Cripps, the unofficial Bee Vet expert on the subject of VFD.

Hive inspections

The hive inspectors with DATCP have encouraged veterinarians to accompany them when performing bee inspections as they did at the Malterer farm last week.

Dan Ziehli, the inspector for Southern Wisconsin, said mites are worse this year because of the wet weather.  He said mites are a common problem and are hard to avoid.  Viruses are an issue, however, because they can spread from one hive to another.

At the Malterer farm where Tracy Malterer and her mother Jeanne have been raising bees for many years, the state inspector found that all the hives were clean and healthy except for one hive.

Tracy said, “The hive was found to be queenless and the bees were sick with nosema (a virus).  Since it was queenless and we are entering mid-to-late summer, I did not see any return for my investment with this particular hive nor would medication help this hive survive into next year. I chose to destroy the hive to prevent further disease from spreading to other hives in the apiary.” 

Cost has been a concern to the beekeepers and this new requirement has added more to the cost of production.

Veterinarians need to charge for their services and this is an unavoidable aspect of the new relationship. Veterinarians didn’t ask for this change, and neither did the beekeepers.

Rule for livestock

This change is part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration multipronged strategy designed to limit or reverse resistance arising from the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, while continuing to ensure the availability of safe and effective antibiotics for use in animals and humans.

The requirement came about as consumers voice concerns about antibiotics in the foods they buy. The new VFD rule applies to all livestock producers, including dairy.  While there are many checkpoints to make sure there are no antibiotics in milk and meat consumers don’t always know.

In the meantime beekeepers are advised to take the time to re-educate themselves on the signs and symptoms of the foulbrood diseases and inspect for them regularly. 

Bee clubs like the Dodge-Jefferson Beekeepers share information and conduct workshops to help members learn the best way protect their bees.

The DATCP has been assisting beekeepers with finding information and through workshops at the time of apiary inspections.

Meils said destroying the hive, as Malterer did, when a disease is found is the best way to prevent the spread of disease.

She says when the decision is made to use an antibiotic to treat remaining hives, beekeepers should be able to obtain a VFD from a veterinarian.

On the preventive side she notes, “Never leave diseased equipment where other bees can rob from it.  Requeening with a queen bred for hygienic behavior is a good practice to defend against many pathogens including the foulbrood diseases as well as regularly replacing old combs.”