Since introduction of tracheal and Varroa mites in the 1980s, there has been much discussion about importing resistant bee stock. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others are in the process of continuing evaluating germ plasm of Apis mellifera carnica, which some believe are more tolerant to mites. The reason is to provide a stock of bees that will be a basis for the development of a U.S. honey bee resistant to Varroa. Stock from England has also been brought in to test for resistance to tracheal mite.
Many voices have added to the importation controversy. Dr. Elbert Jaycox has said we must have honey bee stock resistant to both tracheal and Varroa mites in order to free ourselves of the very real damage that pesticide residues in honey might cause.1 He suggests looking at many sources, including Africanized hybrids now found in Mexico.
Steve Taber, retired from the USDA Tucson bee laboratory has written: “The so called “killer bee” (AHB) is resistant to Varroa, it tolerates it in the hive.2 “According to what I have read from studies in Brazil it reduces honey production perhaps 5% and no treatment against the mite is ever used. We need these bees here and now, he said, to begin a breeding program using the AHB as a basis for the fight against Varroa.”
Although the intentions are good, the specifics for proposed importations are not always clear. Surely we need resistant stock, but is importation the only solution? Under what conditions will it be beneficial or harmful to the industry? Do we really want to import bees with the public relations image of the African strain? Many suggest we cannot wait and advocate bringing in stock no matter the future cost; others say this would be a great disservice to the beekeeping industry.
Unfortunately, all this creates confusion when clear thinking is absolutely necessary. The result is that some beekeepers have hinted at taking action themselves by illegally importing bees from Europe, Latin America and Africa.
Dr. Glenn Hall, honey bee geneticist at the University of Florida, takes exception to importation as a solution: “The original introduction of African bees in Brazil was by a competent geneticist, and yet the African bee unpredictably got out of hand. African bees…could establish a feral population very competitive with managed bees.”3
Dr. Orley Taylor at the University of Kansas has also written: “Throughout the country beekeepers are beating the drum to develop good will with the public with the intent of minimizing the regulatory response that is likely to follow the natural invasion by Africanized bees…Beekeepers and scientists alike are arguing that beekeepers must become part of the solution to the Africanized bee problem. An intentional introduction of Africanized bees by selfishly motivated beekeepers, who are ignoring a potential public health problem, would undermine the relationships beekeepers are trying to establish with lawmakers and the public.”4
Now that the Africanized bee has finally found its way to the U.S., some of the above reasoning will change. Nevertheless, the controversy over whether or not to purposefully import honey bees will continue. Whether or not to import bees in certain situations will no doubt be decided only after a good amount of debate and critical thinking. No one, however, believes that random introduction of stock without some safeguards is anything but a prescription for disaster.
A final consideration is the effect of so-called “free trade” on honey bee movement. Proposed changes in the 1922 Honey Bee Law, which it was thought were important have not been instituted, although limited importation of genetic material has been approved.
1 The Newsletter on Beekeeping, December, 1987.
2 The Honey Bee Genetics Newsletter, February 27, 1989.
3 H.G. Hall, Letter to Laurence Cutts, Florida Division of Plant Industry, February 8, 1989.
4 O. Taylor, Letter to Laurence Cutts, Florida Division of Plant Industry, February 17, 1989.