Bee inspection services have been public whipping boys ever since discovery of tracheal mites in 1984 when colonies were first “depopulated” in a futile effort to control the infestation. Early on, Florida, under pressure from migratory beekeepers, declared itself infested with tracheal mites, effectively killing the package bee and queen business in the state. Since then, regulations concerning tracheal mites have not been implemented uniformly around the United States, causing further dislocations in an industry heavily dependent on interstate movement.
Introduction of Varroa in 1987 paralleled the tracheal mite experience in many respects, and the Africanized honey bee, another regulatory nightmare, has finally entered the country. Meanwhile, the old beekeeping problems, particularly American foulbrood, have not disappeared. All this puts regulators in a bind; there appears to be much more to regulate and in many cases, diminishing resources with which to carry out needed inspections. This also frustrates beekeepers who have seen their profits suffer due to increased costs in many cases caused by regulations. For example, an innovative South Carolina beekeeper had to close down operations in Florida because of the disparity between regulations in the two states.
The results of inconsistent rules have caused many in the beekeeping industry to re-examine the role of regulators. Some are calling for total deregulation of the industry. Indeed, this has been accomplished in the western states to a great degree. California still has laws on the books, but enforcement no longer exists, according to Dr. Eric Mussen at the University of California, Davis. The western states’ agreement on mites and movement, analogous to the eastern states’ agreement to which Florida is a signatory, no longer exists. The ripple effect from this is that inspection programs in Oregon and Idaho, dependent on user fees for inspection prior to moving to the California almond orchards, have also fallen by the wayside.
Dr. Richard Taylor, long-time writer for Gleanings in Bee Culture, has also entered the fray. He recently asked the question, “Have inspection programs outlived their usefulness?” (July, 1991). He ends his piece by stating, “My own view is, and has for some time been, that mandatory inspection of apiaries is something whose time has long since come, and gone. American foulbrood is a manageable problem that can be left in the hands of beekeepers themselves. This is not going to eliminate American foulbrood, to be sure, but neither is anything else. It is not a proper area for government.”
Dr. Taylor’s comments concerning the historical reason for bee inspection (American foulbrood control), why it is no longer needed and the fact that such bureaucracies tend to have a life of their own are valid. Most professionals in the research and education establishment would agree with much of what he said.
I have been opposed to regulations concerning Varroa for some of the same reasons as Dr. Taylor is about American foulbrood. We simply don’t know enough about the mite’s life cycle to be able to effectively regulate the parasite. This has caused a crisis in confidence within the industry that sees such regulations as nothing more than meddling. And there can be no effective regulatory activity on an industry that does not support such efforts.
Fortunately, there is a technology in place that beekeepers can use to reduce Varroa populations [Apistan (R)], analogous to employing Terramycin (R) for American foulbrood control. The same is true for tracheal mites. Thus, I have advocated deregulating both tracheal and Varroa mites in Florida. Common sense and the realities of the world, however, dictate that the state must have an inspection system in place so bees can move out of Florida in cooperation with inspection services in other states. In addition, without formal regulation of pests, chemical companies have much less incentive to develop and evaluate products for control.
Although technologies to control AFB, Varroa and tracheal mites are in place, I do not believe this warrants the dismantling of inspection services around the nation. The old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” holds. Although in some cases inspection agencies are viewed as abusive and having a life of their own, as stated by Dr. Taylor, this does not mean they cannot adapt their programs to aid the industry being regulated instead of damaging it. Inspection services like most political entities are not necessarily immune to pressure from the group being regulated. And there are many benefits that inspection services perform for the industry that are not often fully appreciated.
As an extension worker, I have always thought of bee inspectors as my agents in the field, providing needed information to beekeepers, running the gamut from the one-colony beehaver to a seasoned migratory operator. I don’t know how many times I’ve referred persons to inspectors for a wide range of services beyond simply inspecting colonies for potential problems. These have included collecting pesticide killed bees for analysis, investigating stinging incidents and nuisance colonies, and participating in local beekeeper meetings. Without these helpers in the field, I would not have access to information on beekeeping around the state or statistics about the industry. A recent survey by Gleanings in Bee Culture would not have been possible without state inspection services.
Research into bee problems also is promoted by inspection services and sometimes they are active participants in the process. The current menthol application technology was championed by the Nebraska inspection service. The Florida inspection service is a strong supporter of current Varroa mite and Africanized bee research at the University of Florida by providing colonies and labor in these efforts. In Florida, too, the program of post treatment inspection of bees is designed to be able to detect resistance of Varroa to chemicals early, and in the process, save the industry long-run grief. As agriculture continues to lose clout in legislatures across the land, the inspection service is a vital bureaucracy left to hammer at the doors of an increasingly urban officialdom about the problems the beekeeping industry faces.
Before doing away with inspection services, therefore, some thought needs to be given to alternatives. Many of the traditional inspection services are knowledgeable about and sympathetic to the plight of beekeepers. However, if disbanded there is no assurance that another crop of regulators who are less involved with beekeepers might not arise in the face of future perceived “crises.” This is particularly likely to happen in the face of invasion of Africanized bees associated with sensationalized press coverage. A state inspection service can also intervene to prevent and/or blunt potentially harmful regulations being promulgated at the federal level.
Finally, it is far easier to get rid of a bureaucracy than to try to re-establish one. It is not a given that some of the same concerns prompting establishment of bee inspection services in the first place, and well supported by the beekeeping industry in the past, will not reappear in the future. The Michigan experience may be instructive with reference to the above scenarios. Inspection in that state was done away with for a time, but the industry demanded it be reinstated. However, when it was reestablished, the inspection bureaucracy was not particularly knowledgeable nor sympathetic with industry concerns. As a result, Michigan beekeepers are again reexamining their bee law.
Whether the user fee for regulatory activity will find support within the beekeeping community remains questionable. As Dr. Taylor said, “Still, the state bee inspection programs…have been somewhat curtailed here and there, but this has resulted less from the perception that they are not needed than from a shortage of funds to pay the salaries (and pensions) of the inspectors.” Reportedly one of the major reasons the California Department of Agriculture disbanded its inspection service was because beekeepers were not paying their fair share. One of the major trends reported in the newest version of the best selling book Megatrends 2000 was that our society was moving away from governmental help to self help. Perhaps only when beekeepers agree to finance the brunt of bee inspection, will the worth of the services provided become apparent.
As part of this discussion, some time should be given to analyzing the role of bee inspection in the current beekeeping environment. Is it simply to find and destroy colonies with AFB or to provide other services to the beekeeping community? Is leaving commercial beekeepers alone (except for spot inspections) and concentrating on part- timers and side liners a good strategy? These questions deserve answers as bee inspection continues to reinvent itself becoming more relevant to the modern beekeeping environment.