Heard the buzz? You may be asked to treat bees.

Published on April 04, 2017
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Hone Bees 101: Veterinarians may be asked to treat beesVeterinary school teaches veterinarians how to diagnose and treat almost every animal species. But most of us probably have little education – or experience – to guide us in treating honey bees.

The federal government's Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rule gives veterinarians good reason to learn about apiculture (beekeeping) and honey bee medicine. That’s because honey bees are considered a food animal species under federal law, and veterinary oversight is now required in order to administer medically important antimicrobials to bee colonies via feed or water.

If you’re an AVMA member, we have resources you can use to educate yourself about beekeeping and honey bee medicine, as well as the VFD rule.

Honey Bees 101

The National Honey Board estimates there are about 125,000 beekeepers in the United States, most of whom are hobbyists with fewer than 25 hives, according to a 2016 article in JAVMA. With the regulatory changes that took effect at the start of 2017, these beekeepers are now required to consult a veterinarian if they believe they need to use medically important antibiotics (outlined in FDA guidance 152 appendix A) to treat a diseased colony.

Honey Bees 101 for Veterinarians brings together a range of resources to help you become more familiar with beekeeping and honey bee medicine, and start preparing yourself to treat bee colonies if asked to do so by clients. These tools are available exclusively for the use of AVMA member veterinarians:

  • Webinars: Honey Bees, Antimicrobials and the Role of the Veterinarian offers three webinars that introduce veterinarians to various aspects of beekeeping and honey bee medicine. Ranging in length from 17 minutes to 45 minutes, they provide an introduction to beekeeping, diagnosis and treatment of colonies, the need for veterinary involvement in treating honey bees, and how to comply with regulatory requirements related to the Veterinary Feed Directive.
  • Honey Bees: A Guide for Veterinarians (PDF) provides basic knowledge to allow you to better communicate with beekeepers and serve the needs of these unique patients. The guide includes sections on basic bee and beekeeping terminology and equipment; beehive inspection procedures (including indicators of honey bee health and disease); and relevant honey bee diseases and conditions.

Issuing VFDs or Prescriptions for Honey Bees

Honey bees are classified as livestock/food-producing animals by the federal government because products from apiculture – including honey, propolis, pollen and royal jelly – enter the human food chain. The requirements for completing a VFD order or prescription for honey bees are the same as for any other food-producing animal, and they apply equally to hobbyists and commercial beekeeping enterprises.

The AVMA offers a suite of resources – Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) Basics – that make it easy for veterinarians to understand the federal regulations, determine whether a VFD or prescription is needed in any specific instance, and fill out a proper VFD order if one is required. These include a fillable VFD form and step-by-step instructions to fill it out correctly, along with links to liability information from AVMA PLIT and other useful tools.

Honey Bee CE at AVMA Convention

Honey bee medicine and the VFD rule will also be covered in an array of CE offerings at AVMA Convention 2017 this July. Topics include Bee Health and Diseases, Beekeeping Basics, Hive Inspection, the Veterinarians’ Role in Honey Bee Medicine, VFDs and Prescriptions for Honey Bees, and more.  Courses range from one-hour sessions to a four-hour workshop, so you can customize your convention schedule to match individual interests and learning needs. If honey bee medicine interests you, we strongly encourage you to look at the AVMA Convention 2017 CE schedule and attend this year’s conference. Register by May 31 to take advantage of lowest prices.


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