The Fate of Bee Inspection in the U.S.
Bee Culture (2003) Vol. 131 (7):  19-21


Malcolm T. Sanford


Bee inspection services have been public whipping boys in the United States ever since discovery of tracheal mites in 1984 when colonies were first "depopulated" in a futile effort to control the infestation.  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.

The results of inconsistent rules have caused many in the beekeeping industry to re-examine the role of regulators.  Dr. Richard Taylor, long-time writer for Bee Culture, 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.

Although technologies to control American foulbrood, Varroa and tracheal mites are in place, however, this does not necessarily warrant eliminating inspection services around the nation. The old saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water," applies. 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 a former 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 and educational events. Without these helpers in the field, I would not have access to information on beekeeping around the state or statistics about the industry.  Inspection services have also been involved in working with mosquito control agencies, power companies and property owners concerning honey bee issues.

A survey by Bee Culture (May 1991) 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.1  The Florida Apiary Inspection Service has been a strong supporter of current Varroa mite and Africanized bee research at the University of Florida by providing colonies and labor in these efforts.  It keeps a detailed web page showing everything from a map of local inspectors to Florida beekeeping laws and downloadable forms for certification.2  According to the website, “Florida apiary inspectors certify honeybees for movement intrastate, interstate, and internationally. Regulated pests and diseases include American foulbrood disease, Varroa mite, and unwanted races of honeybees. Inspectors collect and submit samples to the food lab for certification as Tupelo honey and certify honey for foreign export. There are more than 200,000 honeybee colonies in Florida apiaries.”

In Florida, a program of post treatment inspection of bees is also designed to be able to detect resistance of Varroa to chemicals early, and in the process, save the industry long-run grief.  This service also has given leadership to Section 18 labeling of coumaphos (CheckMite+®) and is now helping to provide similar assistance for a product containing the essential oil thymol.

There is an Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) association through which inspectors around the country are able to communicate.  Blane White, Minnesota’s chief inspector maintains a web page for the association.3  He lists most of the state contacts and also the provincial inspectors in Canada.  This association meets regularly, sometimes in conjunction with other beekeeping groups, and is a resource for both constituents and regulators in general.

For a more recent example of the kinds of service inspection programs provide, consider the following from Jimmy Dunkley, Program Coordinator, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) Nursery & Apiary Programs:4

“For approximately 3 years we have had an established SHB presence in the greater New Orleans area (reported in 4 locations/1 parish/fall 2000).  New Orleans area beekeepers are surveyed annually and the latest survey shows natural and man assisted movement (10 to 15 locations/4 parishes/fall 2002). 


“In January 2003, one beetle was collected by a beekeeper in south central Louisiana.  The area has yet to be surveyed but that will start this month.  The beekeepers in the area will be checked at their honey houses and colonies will be checked in the late summer and fall.  (Latest information is that the find is positive for SHB, and a survey and detection effort will start immediately).


Louisiana has an Africanized honey bee (AHB) bait hive survey program.  It has produced only one SHB infestation in the greater New Orleans area (38 traps in the four parish area).  It was collected in early summer 2002 near positive domestic colony detections (1/2 to 1 mile distance).  None have been collected in AHB traps in other sites in Louisiana (La/Tx border, North to South 140 traps; south central La 16 traps; Mississippi river North of New Orleans 40 traps). 


“LDAF inspectors have checked 10 queen and/or package honey bee producers for SHB the last six years with no detections.  Several migratory operations are also inspected annually.  Inspectors have been asked to check 25% more colonies this spring.  No detections have been made to date.


“On March 10th I was notified by USDA-ARS personnel about an introduction of SHB at the Baton Rouge honey bee laboratory.  Brood combs and bees were brought to the Baton Rouge research facility for tracheal mite research purposes by a beekeeper from Texas on March 4th.  Lab personnel discovered SHB on brood combs from the colony on March 5th and immediately froze all bees and combs in the equipment.


“Upon notification the LDAF placed a ‘Stop Order’ prohibiting any movement of bees and beekeeping equipment from the main laboratory site and a site directly across from the lab, off Nicholson Drive.  All colonies at the sites stop ordered were inspected by March 18th and no SHB were found.


“Partial releases of bees and equipment have taken place since LDAF involvement but only after inspection and risk assessment (queens and attendants, used supers with new foundation after inspection, used honey supers after being frozen, etc.).  Additional inspections were made on May 14 - 15, 2003 and no additional SHB detections have been found.  The USDA Bee Lab was released from ‘Stop Order’ on May 15th.” 

Here is some further information on that particular situation from Dr. Thomas Rinderer, Research Leader at the Baton Rouge, Louisiana Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit.5

“Bees on comb came in.  Beetles came also.  We had a short period when beetles might have gotten into lab hives.  We discovered the beetles and killed the colony.  The state instituted a quarantine on the apiary site.  They inspected twice, this week being the last.  The quarantine is now lifted based on no detection.  We operated under inspection and certification of material that had to leave the site. LDAF officials went out of their way to make sure we could still do what we needed to do and I am grateful for their efforts.  


“Having a regulatory action that ends with a full clearance of ‘no hive beetle’ makes moving bees possible. The inspections were thorough and complete, removing any cloud of doubt about whether or not we are infesting other beekeepers.  Also, since we do not want to be the source of other beekeepers’ SHB we would have rather restructured what we do if we had been found to be generally infested. But now, we can move to states that would not otherwise accept us and may be able to do so for a long time to come.  Indeed, the places we go may get SHB before we



“This is another example of good regulation serving the needs of the beekeeping industry.   If there is anything to think about here, it is that good apiary regulation is very important to all of us over the long term.  The pay offs of moving bees and queens without spreading problems is well worth the price of the short-term inconveniences of being regulated.”

The inspection service is a vital bureaucracy, which can be used to hammer at the doors of an increasingly urban officialdom about the problems the beekeeping industry faces.  And 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. It is far easier to get rid of a bureaucracy than to try to re-establish one; beekeepers who support the dismantling of bee inspection services do so at the peril of losing a strong ally in their efforts to survive in a society less and less in touch with its agricultural roots.


  1. Nebraska Apiary Law, World Wide Web site, accessed May 21, 2003 <>.
  2. Florida Bureau of Plant Inspection, Apiary, World Wide Web site, accessed May 21, 2003<>.
  3. Apiary Inspectors of America, World Wide Web site, accessed May 21, 2003 <>.
  4. Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, World Wide Web site, accessed May 21, 2003<>.
  5. Louisiana Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Research Unit, Agricultural Research Service, World Wide Web site, accessed May 21, 2003 <>.