Preserving Our Ecosystem: Bees, Veterinarians, and the VFD

April 22, 2018
Greg Long

As a veterinarian, you may never have pictured yourself in a bee suit. But you can, in fact, play an important role in the health of bees.

Many people see bees as nothing but a nuisance, but these insects are tremendously important for our ecosystem. In fact, they are responsible for 1 of every 3 bites of food we consume.

In a productive hive, honey bees can produce and store roughly 2 lbs of honey in a single day. And more than one-third of all crop production in the United States—including over 90 types of fruit, vegetable, and nut crops—relies on pollination from bees.

Bee populations are decreasing, with potentially astronomic deleterious consequences for human life. We all need to do our part to stop and reverse the already diminished bee population. This is where veterinarians can help.

RELATED:

  • How Bees Choose Which Pollen to Collect
  • Honey Bees: World's Most Important Species of Pollinator

A veterinarian’s role in maintaining bee health focuses mainly on prophylaxis and managing colony health disorders. But the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which became law in January 2017, has given veterinarians an even bigger role in maintaining bee health.

How the VFD Works

Before the VFD, beekeepers could purchase antibiotics over the counter at either a farm store or beekeeping supply company to treat their colonies for infection. Now, they can only get antibiotics by working with a veterinarian. Guidance for Industry (GFI) #213 requires beekeepers to get a prescription or VFD from a licensed veterinarian to obtain antibiotics for all food-producing livestock, including honey bees—the only insect that is considered a food-producing animal.

A valid client-veterinarian relationship is based on individual state guidelines. For states without guidelines, the relationship is based on FDA guidelines, which state that the veterinarian:

  • Assumes responsibility for making medical judgments regarding the health of the colony and the need for medical treatment.
  • Has sufficient knowledge of the bees’ health to make a general or preliminary diagnosis.
  • Is readily available for follow-up in case of an adverse reaction or failure of the therapeutic regimen.

To issue a prescription, the veterinarian must follow the VFD guidelines, which may involve laboratory or field testing, or a site visit. The beekeeper must purchase the medication from a licensed pharmacy or through a licensed feed mill. Because many of these prescriptions are used only for honey bees, they are available in large quantities and may not be carried by small pharmacies or private veterinarians.

Interested in Preserving Bee Health?

Although there is no official certification that identifies veterinarians as experts in bee health, interested individuals should seek training on how to conduct apiary audits to pinpoint health concerns in a colony.

We must all do our part to protect the bees—veterinarians included—no matter how difficult it may seem.

Greg Long has nearly completed his 3-year journey to becoming a master beekeeper. He is currently enrolled in master beekeeping apprentice classes through the Oregon State Master Beekeepers’ Program. With the help of his mentor, Greg has honed his beekeeping skills and raised a hive of healthy, happy bees.