JAVMA News logo

August 01, 2020

Veterinarians and beekeepers: An arranged marriage

Veterinarians work to build relationships with beekeepers after federal rule on antimicrobial use
Published on
information-circle This article is more than 3 years old

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
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.

Building relationships

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. Farone holds a new hive frame.
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.”

Buzzing education

Including bee health within veterinary colleges’ curriculums is on the rise now in the U.S. But veterinary education in France has included an entire rotation on beekeeping for decades.

“I’ve gauged veterinarian interest, developed and shared lectures on what veterinarians need to know,” Dr. Farone said. “Bees are our most important agricultural animals, in regards to the number of crops they pollinate and their economic contribution to the agricultural industry. Without bees, the whole thing falls apart, so why wouldn’t we have veterinarians for bees?”

Dr. Farone suggests veterinarians interested in expanding their practice into bee health take the time to learn about the beekeeping industry, consider getting involved in local bee clubs, and identify current clients who have backyard hives.

The wider world

Dr. Ryan Kane, who serves on the AVMA Committee for Environmental Issues, said the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on how the natural world needs to be taken care of.

“Veterinarians should be at the forefront of protecting the environment,” she said. “It’s one health.”

Like Dr. Farone, Dr. Ryan Kane noted that bees are a key crop pollinator.

“This is a global security issue. There is a veterinary public health obligation to protect our food resources, food safety, and food security,” Dr. Ryan Kane said. “We take insects for granted. We smash them, we’re afraid of them. We have shirked our duties by not studying them and not taking care of them. They make our systems work.”

Dr. Ryan Kane said veterinarians who have bee health experience are promoting the insects.

She recently co-edited the forthcoming book “Honey Bee Medicine for the Veterinary Practitioner” with Dr. Cynthia M. Faux, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine. The book is a collaboration among veterinarians, entomologists, toxicologists, and a pharmacologist. It is set to be released in 2021.

Dr. Ryan Kane doesn’t expect it will take long for veterinarians to be included in the beekeeping community.

“It won’t take many years to get us up to speed, to where the beekeeping community trusts our knowledge, but now we should learn from the beekeepers. There is so much information out there,” she said.


The magazine Bee Culture is offering a free three-month subscription to the first 100 people who sign up with the promo code “JAVMA.” Dr. Tracy Farone, a bee veterinarian, is writing an article series for the publication.

The AVMA has a resource for veterinarians on honeybees at "Honey bees 101 for veterinarians." AVMA Axon offers two, one-hour continuing education webinars on bee health: “Honeybees: Why they need a veterinarian” and “Honeybees and veterinarians.”