What is the Code of Practice?

In 2015, the honey bee industry, including all of the state-based beekeeping associations worked in consultation with beekeepers and governments to develop the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice (the Code). The Code was given a vote of support in each state and was nationally endorsed in July 2016.

The Code is a set of best practice biosecurity guidelines written by beekeepers for beekeepers with the aim of improving the standard of beekeeping across Australia.

Areas covered by the Code include:

  • pest and disease inspections and management
  • weak hive management
  • neglected hives
  • training and record keeping.

By following the simple biosecurity practices described in the Code beekeepers will minimise the impact of pests and diseases in their own hives and those of other beekeepers, keeping all honey bees in Australia healthy.

In July 2016, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council endorsed the Code and its adoption across Australia. Since then it has been gradually phased in all over Australia. In April 2017, we contacted every registered beekeeper in Victoria to make them aware of the Code and the biosecurity practices they should be following.

The honey bee industry has asked us to further support them and the adoption of the Code through changes to Victoria's legislation. Parts of the Code are already covered under our current legislation, but to achieve national consistency further changes are required.

The Code was developed to ensure beekeepers have the awareness and knowledge to manage endemic pests and diseases like Chalkbrood and American foulbrood, which are causing significant economic and social harm to our bee industry. It will also help beekeepers detect exotic ones like varroa mite early.

The biosecurity measures described in the Code will help :

  • increase the productivity of our honey bee industry by improving the general level of pest and disease control by beekeepers
  • assist beekeepers to recognise exotic pests and diseases of bees and prepare for an exotic or emerging pest or disease outbreak
  • ensure beekeepers conduct regular surveillance for the presence of notifiable exotic and endemic pests and diseases
  • assist in the management of significant endemic diseases of bees, particularly American foulbrood.

In Victoria, honey production contributes in excess of $17.5 million to the economy, while the value of pollination services has been estimated to contribute in excess of $8 billion to the Australian economy.

If all beekeepers are following these best practice guidelines we can work together to keep our bees healthy. Adopting these changes to our Victorian legislation will help to ensure the future viability and sustainability of our honey bee and pollination industries.

To support the honey bee industry’s adoption of the Code and improve biosecurity management, some amendments to the Livestock Disease Control Regulations 2017 are needed.

The most significant changes for beekeepers are:

  • Checking your hives for pests and diseases at least twice per year (requirement 3 of the Code).
  • Any pest or disease detected in your hive must be controlled to prevent weakening of the hive and to prevent the transfer of that pest or disease to another hive (requirement 4.1).
  • A dead hive from your apiary must be immediately removed and render it and any honey that leaks from the hive inaccessible to robber bees (requirement 4.3).
  • A hive or fittings confirmed to be infected with American foulbrood disease must be sterilised or destroyed before sale or reuse of the hive (requirement 4.6).
  • Frames, combs, hive mats and plastic parts that have been infected with American foulbrood disease must be treated by destruction, burning or irradiation as appropriate (requirement 4.8).
  • An antibiotic must not be used to control the presence of American foulbrood disease in hives (requirement 4.12).
  • A hive must be constructed and maintained to have intact external walls with only one bee access point per colony specifically designed and manufactured for that purpose (requirement 6.1).
  • A swarm catch box must only contain foundation and must not contain frames with already drawn comb, existing honey, brood or pollen (requirement 6.3).
  • A hive under your control cannot be permitted to become infected with a pest or a disease or attract robber bees (requirement 7.2b).
  • Any unwanted bees, hives, part of a hive, frames, combs, honey or beeswax must be disposed of or destroyed (requirement 7.2c).
  • Sufficient water must be provided to sustain bees under your care (requirement 7.3).

Some parts of the Code will apply to all beekeepers; others will apply only to beekeepers with 50 or more hives because of the increased biosecurity risks they must manage. Commercial beekeepers with 50 or more hives will also need to:

  • Successfully complete an approved pests and diseases management course within 12 months of registering as a beekeeper or, if already registered as a beekeeper, within 12 months of commencement of the new regulations (requirement 9.2).
  • Test hives for the presence of American foulbrood disease at least once in every 12 consecutive months (requirement 10.2).
  • Keep records of biosecurity related actions and observations (Appendix 1).

Many of these changes might seem obvious or are a regular part of your beekeeping responsibilities, but they are required to be made mandatory to incorporate fundamental biosecurity principles into the practices of all Victorian beekeepers.

Due to a number of very similar queries we have received during the consultation period we have provided answers to frequently asked questions below.

  • Are you making changes to the Australian Honey Bee Industry Code of Practice (the Code)?

No, we have not amended the Code in any way.

  • Is this a Government code?

No, this is an Industry produced code, which was endorsed by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council in July 2016. This is not a government code.

  • Is complying with the Code a new requirement?

No, the Code was made a condition of your registration as a Victorian beekeeper in 2017. Every beekeeper in Victoria was contacted by the Department in April 2017, to notify them of the need to adhere to the Code. You are already meant to be complying with the standards in the Code to ensure you are demonstrating best practice beekeeping.

  • Do these changes to the Livestock Disease Control Regulations 2017 ( LDC Regulations) mean the Code will be changed?

No, the above changes take key components of the Code and include them in the LDC Regulations for clarity and to support an industry initiative.

  • Will these changes impose new requirements that aren’t already in the Code on beekeepers?

No, many parts of the Code are already regulated by the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994 and the LDC Regulations, but further changes are required to achieve national consistency and to incorporate fundamental biosecurity principles into the practices of all Victorian beekeepers. The changes we are making to the LDC Regulations will not impose any new requirements that are not already covered in the Code.

  • Will I be forced to bury, burn or sterilise a dead hive or queenless hive?

No, the Code requires that a dead hive (which contains no live bees) must be removed from an apiary and the hive and any honey that may leak from the hive must be made bee proof. How you make the hive bee proof is up to you. It is recommended as good biosecurity practice to sterilise beekeeping fittings between use to prevent the spread of pests and disease. However, if the fittings are in good condition with no evidence of pests or disease, and absolutely no evidence of American foulbrood (AFB), these fittings can be re-used and do not need to be burnt, buried or sterilised.

If however, you suspect or know there is evidence of AFB being present in your hive or fittings at any time, then an Apiary Officer must be notified within 12 hours. Once confirmed, the requirements relating to AFB infested hives and fittings will apply.

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