As of Jan. 1st, 2017, anyone that uses antibiotics on bees needs a prescriptions from a vet in order to get the antibiotics. The FDA considers bees a food producing animal and classifies them as a large animal livestock. If you don't use antibiotics in your hives, then you can stop reading now and rest assured you have nothing to worry about. If you do use antibiotics or think you might, then read on.
The kinds of antibiotics most commonly given to bees for American Foulbrood, European Foulbrood, Nosema and Tracheal Mites is Tylosin or Tylan©, Terramycin© and in some cases Lincomycin or Lincomix©.
In a nut shell, the FDA is changing the way we use antibiotics to help slow the resistance build up in animals and one way is removing the ability to feed antibiotics to animals as a prevention instead of a treatment. Now, antibiotics, under the supervision of veterinarians, are administered for control and treatment of disease.Bees aren't the only ones affected by this change; this applies to all animals in the U.S.
So what does this mean for you? When you need antibiotics for your hives, you will need to contact a veterinarian and begin a legally defined relationship called a Veterinary Client Patient Relationship or VCPR. The veterinarian, after an inspection of your bees/hive, can then write a prescription or a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) order. If the vet writes a prescription, you obtain this directly from the veterinarian. If they write a VFD, you will need to go to a feed mill where the product is already pre-mixed. No matter which method is used, the beekeeper agrees to follow the veterinarians orders and the vet then takes responsibility for the treatment. The veterinarian does NOT have to actually administer the antibiotics for the beekeeper, but in most cases will need to make a visit to your hives.. The veterinarian will determine if you need a prescription or a VDF.
There is one distinct difference between a VFD and a prescription. Prescriptions can be used in ways that may be different that the product label actually reads. VFD's must use the medication as directed and for the proper uses as set forth by the FDA and how it reads on the label.
You may also hear about Extra Label Drug Use. You will notice that all drugs used for honey bees says "For the control of...". Control is specific, in this use, as it refers to FDA's new directive of Prevention, Control and Treatment. In Prevention, there is nothing to diagnose, yet a threat may still exists that warrants the use of antibiotics. In Control, the disease is at a low level, but does exists and could become an issues, therefore, needs to be controlled. In Treatment, the disease is present and in large amounts and needs to be treated in order to regain animal health.
As far as we can tell, veterinarian inspections and visits to your hives have no reciprocity to any other states, meaning, if you move your hives from state to state, you will need another visits by a veterinarian in the other states. Coincidentally, Fumagilin, although it IS an antibiotic, it is not listed on the veterinarian required list and can still be purchased over the counter.
The number of veterinarians that are willing and able to work with honey bees, especially in Michigan, are few and far between. We only know of about three in the entire state, as of the writing of this article. Hopefully more will step forward and will be located near you, otherwise this will prove to be a VERY costly regulation for beekeepers. Until then, this subject remains a struggle for most beekeepers and really begs the question, how and why did this happen? How did we get this far and are now just finding out how few veterinarians there are to help beekeepers. Isn't the FDA trying to help the bees? This certainly puts a lot of beekeepers at risk due to lack of access to antibiotics they may need to keep their bees alive.
Several phone calls were made to State and Federal Agencies with very little feedback. An FDA representative never replied to our inquires. The Michigan State Apiarist, Mike Hansen, was the most helpful, but even then, had little light to shine on the subject. ” At this point, there are still a lot of questions at our end." is how his correspondence with us ends.
We have provided a link here where you can find out more about this subject and a (tiny) list of veterinarians that can work with beekeepers. As we find out more information, we will post updates to help keep everyone in the loop as best we can.
You may also look for articles where we discuss the natural alternatives to treating your hives with antibiotics for prevention.