Dr. Eric Mussen, in his latest newsletter, From the UC Apiaries, provides a discussion of changes in the offing for the honey bee importation law, originally passed in 1922. The current act, according to Dr. Mussen, is basically a prohibition to import anything involving live bees and reproductive products into the United States. USDA researchers and their cooperators were the only possible exceptions.
However, international trade agreements like GATT are forcing changes in these kinds of laws, Dr. Mussen says, because they require open trade unless there is a demonstrable health threat. New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and European countries, for example, have been knocking on the United States’ door for years, to allow their stocks to come into the country. Any agreement with those countries that do not have tracheal or Varroa mites, of course, cannot be reciprocal, because of demonstrated health risks to the bee populations there.
The new look at the 1922 bee law (under the Federal Advisory Committee Act) will involve formulation of a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) that would decide who is allowed to import what from where. This still would allow “research” imports, Dr. Mussen says, but exotic queen and/or semen importations would have to arrive through an approved quarantine facility, be reared under close scrutiny, then released following review of data by the TAG.
Importations, Dr. Mussen says, would have to be done in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires acceptable environmental assessment and environmental impact statements. Violators would receive more than a slap on the hand; a $10,000-per-queen fine is being discussed. Commercial stock importations from the previously mentioned countries, plus Canada and Mexico, would be allowed through a permitting system. Using the FAO guidelines (Risk Assessment Process), if no health threat is perceived, and the importer adequately justifies the need for importation, the permit would be issued. Unfortunately, none of this took place and the law remains basically unchanged.
So far, the most recent successful importation of honey bee genetic material into the U.S. is a breeding program at Washington State University. Perhaps the most significant importation was that of Russian honey bees by the Baton Rouge Bee Laboratory in the 1990s. This stock has been transformed and incorporated into a successful breeding program, and shows that it is possible to import stock relatively safely under controlled conditions.