First some background information. American foulbrood and European foulbrood are bacterial diseases that can, if left untreated, kill the host colony and infect other colonies in the apiary. American foulbrood is so contagious that a single infected colony can infect and kill every colony in a county. European foulbrood is more common, slightly less dangerous and very contagious. For this reason, every state has a bee inspection program that regulates the sale and movement of honeybee colonies within and between states.
American foulbrood and European foulbrood spores are found in all hives. All established hives are infected but not yet sick. In years prior to 2017, the common practice was to treat all hives with Terramycin at least sixty-six days before the beginning of the nectar flow to suppress the foulbrood. This allows the beekeepers to prevent an outbreak in time to put honey supers on their hives and prevent any chance of contamination of the honey.
The new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulation that came into force on January 1, 2017 changed procedures. Terramycin could only be obtained with a VFD. A VFD would only be written if a hive tested positive for one of the forms of foulbrood. The prophylactic treatment of hives became illegal.
While this may seem on its face to be a reasonable regulation, the effect on the business of beekeeping can be catastrophic. It is a matter of the timing of the inspections. The state inspectors will come to inspect sometime in late March and in April. It is too cold to inspect earlier. If the inspectors on April 1 discover a colony in your apiary that tests positive for foulbrood you cannot get a heath certificate until the apiary is disease free. This means you cannot sell your queens or bees. You must treat your hives or they will die. It will take about a week to get the VFD and receive the Terramycin. It takes fifteen days to give each hive multiple treatments. The beekeeper must then wait 45 days after treatment for the bees to clear the hive of Terramycin before the honey supers can be put on the hives. This is a total of 67 days of no honey production. If a hive tests positive on April 1st the best case for getting the honey supers on the hives is June 5th. The nectar flow in most areas ends the first week in June. There will be no honey for the year, which means no income for the year.
For queen breeders the problem is worse. To make up the starter/finisher hives and mating nucleus hives donor hives are robbed of bees and brood. The weakened donor hives and weak mating nucleus hives are susceptible to AFB and EFB. Without prophylactic treatment one of fifty donor hives or 120 mating nucleus hives is going to test positive for foulbrood. Queen breeders sell bees. To sell queens or bees, the breeder must have a certificate of health. If a queen breeder’s hives test positive for foulbrood they must treat the hives and wait for re-inspection. During this time queen production stops and can only start again after the re-inspection. The demand for queens is in the spring. If a queen breeder cannot sell queens and bees in the spring there will be no income for the year. Because of the timing there can be no honey production either.
I do not know what others are experiencing but this new regulation has put me out of business for the year. I do not own the bees I own their home. The bees must pay their rent, if not, they are just a very expensive hobby.