Veterinarians and Beekeepers: An Arranged Marriage
Veterinarians work to build relationships with beekeepers after federal rule on antimicrobial use
By: Kaitlyn Mattson
Veterinarians are still working to gain the trust of beekeepers in the wake of a federal rule that went into effect in 2017 bringing veterinarians and beekeepers together.
Dr. Terry Ryan Kane, a bee veterinarian in Michigan and secretary for the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium, said the bee community did not anticipate the rule, which restricts beekeepers from using certain antimicrobials in honeybees without a veterinary feed directive or prescription from a veterinarian.
Honeybees congregate at the research apiary at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania. (Photos by Deidra Ressler)
“Most livestock producers have a relationship with a veterinarian,” Dr. Ryan Kane said. “That was not true for the beekeeping community. We are establishing relationships now. … Someday it will be routine for veterinarians to be involved in the bee industry, but we are not there yet.”
Historically in the U.S., beekeepers and veterinarians have had very little interaction, and beekeepers were able to administer over-the-counter antimicrobials themselves.
Dr. Ryan Kane compared the current situation with how veterinarians became involved with fisheries nearly 40 years ago. She said, “Back in the ’80s, we went through this with fisheries, when aquaculture was starting to grab hold in the U.S.”
Dr. Ryan Kane, a backyard beekeeper herself, knows some veterinarians who just happen to also be beekeepers for fun.
Beekeepers are broken into three categories: backyarders, who keep only a few hives; sideliners, who have between 50 and 100 hives; and commercial beekeepers, who operate with over 300 hives. Commercial beekeepers make up a small portion of the overall industry but control the largest portion of bee colonies in the U.S.
There were 2.67 million bee colonies in January 2019, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The beekeeping industry is worth about $17 billion a year, according to the National Honey Board.
Dr. Tracy Farone, a veterinarian who is a professor of biology at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium, said veterinarians were brought into the beekeeping world because of the diseases bees face and the potential for antimicrobial resistance.
Dr. Tracy Farone, a veterinarian who is a professor of biology at Grove City College and a board member of the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium, holds a new hive frame.
“I understand why beekeepers want to do what they’ve always been doing, but they’re facing more and more bee health problems. It would be good to get veterinarians on board.” Dr. Farone said. “We can contribute here. We can provide so much more than a prescription or VFD to the industry. If we can blend veterinary medical expertise within the beekeeping industry, it’s not just an arranged marriage, but a marriage where we can help each other.”
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