Taking the sting out of honey bee medicine: Training and tools for veterinarians to increase access to care for beekeepers.

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $114,625.21
Projected End Date: 10/31/2024
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Meghan Milbrath
Michigan State University


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal abstract:

Our project “Taking the sting out of honey bee medicine: Training and tools for veterinarians to increase access to care for beekeepers” will create several positive outcomes for beekeepers and veterinarians. The main goals of this project are to improve honey bee health and to improve how antibiotics are used in beekeeping. Beekeepers will learn disease identification, alternative treatments and prevention, when antibiotics should and should not be used, and how to minimize risk of resistance and honey contamination. Veterinarians will learn honey bee biology and husbandry, diagnostics of honey bee diseases, and will receive hands-on training on honey bee health inspections. 

Honey bee bacterial diseases continue to be a major problem for beekeepers, resulting in significant colony death, loss of honey crop, and destruction of contaminated equipment. In 2017 new federal regulations required that beekeepers work with a veterinarian to obtain antibiotics. Unfortunately, veterinarians lack training for honey bees, and are therefore unwilling or unable to provide this service. In response, beekeepers have been using antibiotics with little to no oversight or guidance, including stockpiling old antibiotics and purchasing antibiotics labeled for other livestock. 

Our approach is a multi-tiered educational campaign targeting two key states in the North Central region and two states in the south where our beekeepers overwinter their colonies. First, we will assess the needs, obstacles, and interests of veterinarians. We will work with a cohort of veterinarians each year, providing them with beekeeping diagnostic kits, hands-on training, and ongoing support, so each state will have a few, regionally distributed veterinarians able to work with beekeepers. We will develop two online training courses based on our collective existing materials and new materials created to meet identified needs. One course will target veterinarians and veterinary medicine students and the other will target beekeepers. Finally, we will develop an externship program for veterinary medicine students.

The outcomes of this program will directly support beekeepers– they will have trained experts that they can work with to address disease issues in their hives. This will lead to improved antibiotic use, reducing the risk of honey contamination and resistance. More knowledgable beekeepers and veterinarians will also lead to better colony health, with increased control of bacterial diseases. Healthier bees will improve the sustainability of the honey bee colonies in the North Central region as well as the fruit and vegetable growers that depend on their services for pollination.

Project objectives from proposal:

Learning outcomes for veterinarians include, hive handling, diagnostics, disease management / treatment recommendations, honey bee biology, how to work with beekeepers, and integrated pest management.

Beekeepers will learn requirements for a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), how to find trained veterinarians, diagnostics, appropriate antibiotic use, disease prevention, and alternative treatments. 

The most important action item for veterinarians is an increased number who are willing to work with beekeepers. Veterinary students and veterinarians will complete our online course and students will complete externships. Beekeepers will establish more VCPRs, and will improve their antibiotic use. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.