KZN’s beekeepers not too worried about disease

2009-05-05 00:00

William Urquhart of the KwaZulu-Natal Bee Farmers’ Association says local beekeeppers are not worried about American Foulbrood (AFB) spreading to KwaZulu-Natal from the Western Cape.

In the Western Cape millions of bees have been infected by the disease, which was caused by the spore-forming bacterium Paenibacillus and is the most serious infectious disease of honey bees (see box). The disease, which was last seen in this country 150 years ago, is thought to have been brought to this country through illegally imported honey infected with the spores.

Urquhart says there is a danger of the disease coming to KZN if people import honey or other bee products from the Western Cape. “If the spores in the honey are ingested by people that’s not a problem, but if honey is left outside where other bees might taste it then they will spread the disease.”

AFB spores remain viable for up to 50 years, says Urquhart. “You can only destroy them by exposure to temperatures above 150 Centrigrade, so using boiling water doesn’t work.”

Hives where spores are present must be burnt; another method is to dip them in molten paraffin wax, which traps the spores. “Some advocate using antibiotics,” says Urquhart, “but this is not recommended as it then gets into the food chain.”

Though bees have a great ability to recover from disease, an epidemic such as the one in the Cape needs to be contained quickly, says Urquhart. “In the Cape the onset of pollination is coming in September, October, and you cannot move bees in infected areas.”

Urquhart says the Agriculture Department must issue a directive. “The elections have held things up but we need a definite instruction.”

Roland Kennard of Peel’s Honey says that though AFB is not in KZN, there is always the possibility it might spread from the Cape. “It is a problem if honey is brought from an affected area and pots are left out for the bees to lick.”

Kennard produces most of his honey on the Peel’s farm and does not import any honey from the Western Cape.

“The disease is not the end of the bees,” says Kennard. “There are ways of controlling it, it doesn’t wipe out the bees, but it is hard to contain. It’s found in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand and they have developed strategies to manage it.”

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