Honey Bee Biosecurity

Thursday 29 September 2022

As beekeepers, it is our responsibility to take care of the health of our honey bees. The practice of managing your beekeeping operation to reduce the introduction and spread of disease causing pests is referred to as biosecurity (CFIA 2022). Honey bees present a biosecurity situation unique from other livestock species because they have freedom to roam and can interact with other bees and apiaries. This means that the health of our honey bees as a region depends on every beekeeper, regardless of operation size. In the upcoming blogs, we will discuss biosecurity and how to incorporate it into your apiary management.

Honey Bee Biosecurity 

Honey bees are susceptible to a wide variety of pests, some of which come with the risk of disease. Biosecurity practices help us reduce the risk of introducing these pests into our colonies as well as contain the spread, should they be introduced. The introduction of pests can be thought of on a wide scale. For Canadian beekeepers, this could be as broad as pest spreading into Canada or as close as moving from one hive in our apiary to another. 

The Honey Bee Producer Guide to the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard is a document that has been produced to help beekeepers across Canada improve their biosecurity practices. It outlines a management standard which can be voluntarily practiced and is applicable to both large and small-scale beekeepers to help prevent and control pests. Introducing these practices into your management will support stronger colonies with a more vigorous capacity for pollination and honey production, reduce overwintering losses, save money on expensive treatments, slow the timeline of pest resistance to our important chemical treatments, and more. 

A critical step in keeping your apiary free of pests is by obtaining new bees and bee products from reliable sources with documented the health records. When buying bees from within your own province, make sure to ask the seller about the health of their colonies, recent treatments, and a record of a health check from a provincial inspector. Importing bees from outside of the province or outside of the country requires more action to ensure biosecurity. CAPA has produced a Guide for Beekeepers on Procedures to Move, Export, or Sell Honey Bees Across Canada, which contains up to date information for procedures and relevant contact information for all provinces. There are also importation protocols which are unique to each Atlantic province, listed below. In addition to reviewing these protocols, it is advised to communicate directly with your provincial apiarist before doing any honey bee importations. 

A honey bee afflicted with Deformed Wing Virus. This is an easily identifiable virus and should also alert beekeepers to test for Varroa mite levels. ATTTA© 2022

Biosecurity management practices apply within your apiary, as well. The first line of defense is to maintain strong colonies that are less susceptible to pests. For example, this includes ensuring your bees have adequate nutrition year-round and providing them with a hive that protects them from the elements. Another important aspect of biosecurity is being able to accurately identify pests and their symptoms in your bees. Beyond this, it is important to have a plan of what to do if a pest is then detected. For example, what treatments are appropriate and whether your provincial apiarist needs to be informed. To reduce spread, it is also recommended to minimize the contact between an impacted hive and the rest of your colonies. This includes direct bee to bee contact as well as indirect contact through actions like feeding and handling. 

For more detailed information on all of the actions you can take to improve biosecurity in your apiary, the Honey Bee Producer Guide to the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard offers very detailed and complete guidance. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs also offers relevant, more concise information on biosecurity practices which can be applied in Atlantic Canada. Next week, we will return to this topic and discuss specifically how biosecurity can be incorporated into your facilities management. 

Provincial Protocols for Honey Bee Importations

Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

Prince Edward Island


Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2022). Honey Bee Producer Guide to the National Bee Farm-level Biosecurity Standard. https://inspection.canada.ca/animal-health/terrestrial-animals/biosecurity/standards-and-principles/honey-bee-producer-guide/eng/1378390483360/1378390541968

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