Will the next animal you sit next to at East Side Animal Hospital be buzzing? New FDA law mandates that only veterinarians can prescribe antibiotics for honeybees in NYC.
Honeybee Considered a ‘Food Animal’
A 2017 law now classifies the honeybee as a ‘food animal’ and limits the prescribing of any antibiotic used to treat the insect to licensed veterinarians. The effort is a broad and bold attempt by the FDA to limit a rising antibiotic resistance in bacteria that threatens the health of all humans and animals.
Why All The Fuss? Antibiotic Resistance Is A Big Deal
Antibiotic resistance occurs in two ways. The first is when human and animal care providers administer sub therapeutic levels of antibiotics to patients. You probably remember East Side Animal Hospital veterinarians insisting that you give your pet all the antibiotics that we prescribe even though your pet is feeling and acting wholly cured. The reason is that the bacteria that the antibiotics target are not killed off at once, but in stages, throughout the course of the administration of the antibiotic. The bacteria most sensitive to the antibiotic die off first, followed by the bacteria that are more resistant, followed by even more resistant bacteria, and so forth until the entire population is killed off. When humans or animal care providers fail to administer the entire course of antibiotics, a level proven to be sufficient to kill off even the most resistant of bacteria, you leave a pool of the most resistant bacteria alive in the patient. This population may regrow, making the patient sick again, but be more resistant to treatment. Furthermore, if this person or animal should infect anyone at this stage, they too would be infected by a bacterium more resistant to treatment. Overtime, sloppy antibiotic treatment practices lead to pools of bacteria in the animal and human population that are increasingly resistant to standard treatment.
The second method of resistance is creepier. Bacteria have an ability to exchange genetic material with other bacteria without reproduction. The process is called conjugation. During conjugation, bacteria that have superior genetic traits, like antibiotic resistance, are able to link to other bacteria of the same species in the environment and inject them with the genes they need to also be superior.
Enter the honeybee
You may have heard of colony collapse disorder, right? Even after years of research, no one is quite sure why 35% of all honeybee hives worldwide die off every year. Experts suspect varoa mites, other invasive viruses and bacteria, increased use of pesticides, monoculture farming practices, or all of the above. To combat CCD, beekeepers have been administering increasingly higher doses of antibiotics to hives, in some cases to treat existing disease, but most often to treat the hive prophylactically…in other words to prevent the hive from becoming sick in the first place. Therein lies the problem.
As we mentioned above, antibiotics given at non-therapeutic doses kill off the weakest bacteria and leave the strongest alive to reproduce and re-infect, but in the case of honeybees the problem is exacerbated by this business of conjugation. Bees infected with resistant bacteria can visit hundreds of flowers, trees, water sources, and other hives within a three-mile radius of their home. Every point of contact is another opportunity for the resistant bacteria on the bee to come in contact with nonresistant bacteria in the environment and through the process of conjugation, pass of the traits of antibiotic resistance. In this case, the bee isn’t just pollinating flowers; it’s pollinating the world with antibiotic resistance.
Veterinary Oversight Protects Everyone
The FDA believes that antibiotic prescription and administration is best left to licensed doctors of veterinary medicine. From now on, throughout the country, veterinarians must have a Client Patient Relationship with beekeepers in need of antibiotics to treat their hives. Whatever illness is at hand must be diagnosed and treated according to standard treatment plan. Veterinary colleges across the U.S., especially NY State’s Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, are stepping up their efforts to equip veterinarians with the education that they need to work with bees, inspect hives, diagnose illness, and come up with ways to deliver care to beekeepers that is helpful and affordable.
Beekeeping in NYC
Were you aware that there are more than 300 active healthy hives living throughout NYC? It’s true. Beekeepers have hives on buildings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx… all sorts of places. Mostly they are installed on the rooftops of building. In fact, it is believed that the hive on the 76th floor of the Residence Inn near Central Park is the highest hive in the world. NYC gov even has a section of their website dedicated to people who want to keep bee hives in the city. You can use this link to take a look at the information that they have there and even review a beehive permit!
Favorite At Farmer’s Market in Union Square
If you’ve been to the farmers market at Union Square, you may have passed one stand that sells honey exclusively made by NYC honeybees. You can even buy it by the neighborhood. Unlike the types of honey you see marketed in other regions of the country that are labeled with the flower nectar that predominantly went into the honey’s production, the NYC honey is labeled by neighborhood like East Village, Tribeca, even LIC.
More than 20 restaurants, including the prestigious Union Square Café, only use locally produced NYC in their recipes like honey sorbet and so forth.
Just Another Beautiful Addition of Diversity To Our City!
Beekeeping in NYC is part of larger trend of everyone paying closer attention to the other animals and insects that share the world with us. As a species we’re learning to be better stewards of the environment and better roommates in a world filled with other fantastic people and creatures. In one brief summer, a single hive can produce more than 100 lbs. of honey for human consumption and produce an additional 30 pounds or so to sustain it through 6 months of cold NYC weather. Forging closer relationships with the other plants, insects and animals in the world is a pathway to abundance and more enriched existence.