The approach to AFB inspections through the years...

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I have been writing an article about the things a beekeeper does - the activities that can happen freely, things that must be done, things that can't be done, activities that aren't really acceptable (but still legal), things that are considered "good practice" and things that can be done, but only if you have some sort of special permission.

I wrote about the following:
  • Things that are allowed - Beekeepers can decide to do certain activities and don’t need to ask. A beekeeper is allowed, for instance, to inspect a colony for AFB once a week.
  • Things that are expected and encouraged - Some of the activities that a beekeeper might be allowed to do take on more significance in the light of the feelings of other beekeepers. A beekeeper would be expected to inspect a hive in a thorough manner for AFB, and not just take a cursory look in order to be able to sign a certificate.
  • Things that require a permit to happen - Some activities that a beekeeper might like to perform need some sort of specific ‘authority’ before they can be undertaken. A beekeeper can receive permission from the Management Agency, for instance, to remove a hive found with AFB to a central location for destruction. In many cases, these permissions are found in a beekeeper’s Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA), activities such as being able to use a paraffin wax dipper for sterilisation of some infected equipment.
  • Things that are required - There are some things that just have to be done to be a beekeeper. An apiary must be registered. A beekeeper must report the finding of AFB to the Management Agency, and the hive must be destroyed. These activities are not optional, voluntary or avoidable…
  • Things that are discouraged and are rejected as ‘not acceptable’ - Some activities, even if they are not fully prohibited, may still be discouraged and rejected by the wider beekeeper community. Using second-hand equipment if the AFB history is not available to the buyer is certainly something that is discouraged. Discouraging can be seen as the other side of the coin from expecting. It is an activity that is considered ‘bad’, but not so bad that it needs to be (or even could be) immediately outlawed.
  • Things that are prohibited and simply cannot occur - There are some things that a beekeeper cannot do. There are probably fewer absolute prohibitions than many beekeepers realise, with some things thought of as prohibited being, in fact, permissible activities. Wanting to keep a frame of AFB to take to a field day to show other beekeepers? Many beekeepers would see that as something that would probably be prohibited. Rather, the beekeeper could do that - but only if the Management Agency has given permission to do so. Feeding antibiotics to treat AFB? No, that is prohibited - a beekeeper can’t do that.

I'm going to pick the year 1965 as a 'watershed' year for the more 'modern' control of AFB in NZ...

From the original Apiaries Act 1906 there was a requirement that anytime AFB was found in a hive, it needed to be reported to the Dept Ag. The guiding principle was "Beekeepers need to deal to their AFB". But I'm only really realising that prior to 1965, there was no real obligation on a beekeeper to actually conduct an inspection for AFB! If it was found (or admitted) it had to be reported, and it had to be dealt with in a manner acceptable to the Dept Ag.

It wasn't until 1965 that the principle of "Every hive needs to be inspected every year" came into being. That was done through the introduction of an annual statement of inspection for every beekeeper. Prior to that, it was only the cases of AFB that a beekeeper reported, or that an inspector had found, that were dealt with.

This annual statement allowed (allows!) for a much better picture of where AFB is being successfully eliminated, by operation or district, and where the trouble spots still are.

It wasn't until the 1990's that the developing Pest Management Strategy (PMS, now PMP) extended the principle that drives the legislation. That principle now is "Every hive needs to be inspected every year, by someone capable of identifying AFB". That was done through the introduction of Disease Elimination Conformity Agreements (DECAs). If a beekeeper decides not to enter into a DECA with the Management Agency, a Certificate of Inspection (COI) must be provided. That requires someone else, who does have a DECA, to inspect the colonies. (If you hold a DECA, you are not required to submit the COI.)

The beekeepers who developed the PMS agreed that attendance at a short course in AFB identification and destruction - followed by a short test - was a necessary component of entering into a DECA, and this provided an increased confidence that AFB, if (or when) encountered, would be recognised and destroyed properly.

The various requirements on beekeepers relating to AFB have not really changed dramatically over the years. Beekeeper (and Dept Ag/Min of Ag and Fish/Management Agency) attitudes to particular practices have changed, and the sterilisation practices that were both legal and acceptable in the past (scorching infected boxes, for instance) have changed and developed.

But for the most part, being a beekeeper is not much different as it relates to AFB control. Changes in available technology has and will change things. Testing bees and honey for AFB has provided a "new" method of ensuring AFB is identified. And the newly published "Foster Method" from dnature is even more exciting.

Remember - we're still trying to go about AFB elimination in much the same way as it was done 60 years ago. While many/most beekeepers are AFB free, there are still others remaining that seemingly need more guidance and education to achieve the same goal.