Georgia Bees: Rx and VFDs for Honeybee Owners

Georgia Bees: Rx and VFDs for Honeybee Owners

By: Lee Jones, MS, DVM

From the Summer 2018 edition of the GVMA quarter magazine, “The GA Vet.”

Examining a bee brood. GDA bee inspectors regularly inspect hives for evidence of disease or parasitism.

Effective January 1, 2017, new, stricter rules went into effect regarding the use of antimicrobials
(AM) in feed or water (FDA 21 CFR Part 558) for food producing animals. These included many
products farmers had been use to purchasing over the counter without any veterinary oversight.
Any animal that produced food was included in the new regulations and that included bees. To
my knowledge, the only thing we were taught about insects in vet school was that most caused
problems for our furry friends and needed to be controlled for the health and welfare of our veterinary patients and clients but nothing about treating honeybees.

Honeybee owners manage their bees in hives and a collection of bee hives is called an apiary.Honeybees managed commercially are mostly used for pollinating crops like almond trees in California or watermelons in South Georgia. It’s been estimated that as much as one third of ourfood comes from plants pollinated by honeybees. Bees may be shipped from GA to pollinate the orchards in CA or overwintered in GA to protect the bees from extremely cold temperatures in states in the northern US.

Bees travel up to a 3 mile radius from their hive foraging pollen and nectar from flowering plants.
They also may steal honey from other hives. So, they will cross paths with a lot of bees from
other hives and farms and are therefore exposed to bacteria, viruses or mites that cause diseases
in bees. Also, bees shipped across the country are exposed to bees from other regions. This
exposure puts the apiaries at risk of acquiring diseases which could have a serious impact on the
health and production of their hives.

A UGA student, Dr. Jee Jones, and David Williams doing field work on honey bees in central Georgia.

Two diseases that are often treated with medically important AM are American Foulbrood(AFB) and European Foulbrood (EFB). AFB is caused by a spore forming bacteria, Paenibacillus larvae and EFB is caused by Melissococcus pluton. Both are commonly controlled by oxytetracycline, tylosin or lincomycin. In the past, bee owners just purchased the medications OTC and followed the label directions for treating their hives. Now owners must get a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) or prescription (Rx) to treat their hives.

Georgia Department of Agriculture bee inspectors regularly inspect hives of commercial
apiaries for evidence of disease or parasitism. If the inspector finds problems with the bees the
inspector gives the owner a report. If the inspector finds AFB or EFB then there is a need for the
owner to obtain a VFD or Rx to purchase AM to treat his hives.

The process is straightforward: the owner brings the report to a licensed veterinarian.
The veterinarian can contact the inspector to obtain more information and arrange a
site visit. A site visit is required for the veterinary client patient relationship (VCPR)
required by the FDA to legally issue an Rx or VFD. The DVM can then go to VETGRAM and click on the bees tab. This will take the DVM to a
table of approved drugs that can be used to control FB in bees. The DVM can click on each drugand the following honeybee tab to find out how each drug is to be used to treat FB. Another tab takes the DVM to the bluebird label of each drug which gives specific instructions in mixing and using each drug. Using the information available for each drug, the DVM can write an Rx or VFD with specific instruction on how the drug is to be mixed and applied to control FB. The Rx
option gives the DVM some flexibility but the VFD does not allow for any extralabel use of the medication. So all instructions on the VFD must comply with the label instructions.

Honey production is not allowed during treatment and for 6 weeks following treatment.
However, once the withdrawal period is over honey production can be resumed.
Additional resources for writing Rx or VFDs for bee owners can be found at