Catch up on the buzz surrounding VFD regulations

Bees and veterinarians could be saying hello to beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Starting January 1, 2017, all animals that fall under the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) have to be prescribed VFD antibiotics through a veterinarian. Bees are food-producing animals, which means they fall under these regulations, whether it is a hobby hive or large commercial operation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s purpose in implementing these regulations is to ensure antibiotics are used more judiciously. Emi Knafo, DVM, DACZM, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, said these regulations are crucial to reducing antimicrobial resistance and residues in food products.

This change means veterinarians will need to become proficient in bee diseases and hive inspections. As Chris Cripps, DVM, co-owner of Betterbee, the Northeast Center for Beekeeping, noted, “The veterinarian needs to conduct an exam to ensure they are familiar with the keeping of the bees and that there is a need for antibiotics.”

Bee antibiotics are commonly mixed with sugar and sprayed inside the hive or offered in a feeder, although other applications can be used depending on the medication. Hive inspections can also include looking for abnormalities and sending samples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Laboratory for diagnostics. Knafo noted that “antibiotics are not always indicated. It may be recommended to supplement feed or support hive health in some other way, in which case the disease may be self-limiting and the bees can rally to clean it up on their own.” However, only proper diagnostics can determine the treatment needed.

So how does a veterinarian become qualified to treat bees? There’s no current certification process, but to begin with, Cripps says, “a veterinarian should know a lot about the keeping of bees and their biology.” He added that organizations like AVMA and Cornell University are putting together educational programs. Knafo said Massachusetts is creating continuing education programs, and the Cummings School at Tufts is working to include honey bee medicine and practical beekeeping in the curriculum. In addition to these programs, Cripps started the website  where veterinarians can sign up to indicate they are interested in working with bees.

Even if a backyard beekeeper does not use antibiotics, developing a relationship with a veterinarian is not a bad idea. “The benefits of having veterinarians involved in the bee sector is that veterinarians can act as stewards of bee health, food safety, conduct bee research, perform or facilitate laboratory diagnostics, and help to preserve biodiversity and our environment in general,” said Knafo.

This VFD regulation might not mean you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and start making house calls right away, but it looks like it could be a good idea to keep your ear toward the hive.

For more information:

Photo credit: © iStock/bo1982

NEWStat Legislation & regulation