Honeybees are to be fed icing sugar laced with antibiotics in an attempt to halt the spread of a deadly disease sweeping through Scottish hives. The programme is being run on a voluntary basis.
European Foul Brood (EFB) was discovered in Scottish bees in June and could severely affect the £2.25 million honey industry if left unchecked. EFB is a bacterial gut infection of honeybees larvae and a notifiable disease under the Bee Diseases and Pest Control (Scotland) Order 2007.
The Scottish Government's sugary solution aims to protect mildly infected hives and ensure healthy populations for the next honey-collecting season.
The programme will be funded entirely by the Scottish Government and is to be undertaken by bee farmers on a voluntary basis. As it is voluntary the costs are unknown but could be tens of thousands of pounds.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Richard Lochhead, said: "Honey bees play a vital role in keeping our natural environment healthy. As well as being food producers in their own right they also pollinate a number of other fruits and plants and help maintain nature's balance.
"We are taking action to ensure the survival of this key species and to maintain the quality and quantity of our honey production. This scheme offers a sweet future for our bees, our bee keepers and farmers and a vital part of Scotland's food industry."
EFB infection can spread from hive to hive during normal colony management by transfer of combs, brood or contaminated tools. Bees themselves can also transmit EFB by robbing (when a bee from one hive steals honey from another) or swarming. EFB is preventable through minimising the movement of infected material between colonies, continuing good practice, vigilance and reporting of disease.
Treatment involves administering small quantities of antibiotic powder mixed in icing sugar to hives. Bees using the sugar to feed their larvae will clear the gut infection allowing the young to develop into healthy adult bees.
A training day was held by Scottish Government officials and Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) staff to show bee farmers and their staff how to administer the antibiotics.
Use of the treatment powder in September will minimise the possibility of antibiotic residues in honey produced next year. The SAC will make up and dispense the antibiotic treatment to beefarmers.
American Foul Brood (AFB) is also considered a problem however this disease can only be controlled by complete destruction of hives and equipment. The current situation in Scotland is 2466 hives (in 235 apiaries) have been inspected since July, 232 hives have been found with EFB, and 110 with AFB.
Sugar image ©iStockphoto.com/phoebepheby