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The proof of the pudding is in the eating

 Peter Armitage, 15 July 2022 

 “The arrival of Varroa was a disaster waiting to happen. We weren't properly prepared for it. Once it hit, it was very traumatic. It was like having a natural disaster happen.  Right now, in my current job, I work with the City of Vernon [B.C.] as an on-call response coordinator for Emergency Support Services.  We train for looking after people after a disaster. One of the big things we do is disaster planning.  You need to have a plan in place. You need to have mitigation and build resilience, you need to have a response plan, and then a recovery plan. We had none of that [in New Brunswick when Varroa arrived in 1989]. So, it was just brutal....It was quite troubling at the time.  I think that good planning can help avoid that…. But the biggest thing I think is communication. Keeping everyone informed, respecting privacy but keeping everyone informed with fast and accurate information” ― Heather Clay, former provincial apiarist of New Brunswick, former Executive Director, Canadian Honey Council, 10 December 2019

 “The success with which individual beekeepers meet the challenges ahead will depend on how well they are able to adapt to the changes required. Unfortunately, varroa is a problem that cannot be ignored. There is no doubt that beekeepers who learn from overseas experience with varroa…will cope with the mite and maintain profitable beekeeping. However, those who choose to ignore the mite, or hope it will go away, will also likely follow the path seen overseas, and will no longer remain part of the beekeeping industry in the years to come” – Mark Goodwin and Cliff Van Eaton, Control of Varroa: A Guide for New Zealand Beekeepers, 2001 [my underline]


I stand by what I said to CBC Radio’s Anthony Germain in my interview with him on July 5, 2022, namely, that neither the Government of NL nor provincial beekeepers are prepared for the invasion of the parasitic mite, Varroa destructor.   See Keeping our honey bees disease-free | On The Go with Anthony Germain | Live Radio | CBC Listen

 “The Province has no crisis management plan, has given very little consideration to how it would deal with the arrival of Varroa here in the province. In fact I see little evidence that the provincial government is capable of fulfilling its responsibilities under the Animal Health and Protection Act, despite any claims to the contrary....I think what the provincial government would do is completely unknown. Would the government embark on an eradication program by killing colonies to try to deal with the spread of it? Perhaps the provincial government would do absolutely nothing. These are very important questions that I think we need answers to, and it's better to get these answers now, rather than when we are in full crisis mode.”


 "Unfortunately, I guess we have to combine government inaction on this important file with an extremely high level of complacency among beekeepers themselves, who simply do not appreciate the threat that is posed by Varroa.  We have too many beekeepers here who lack the skill and knowledge of honey bee pests and pathogens. And we have too many people who distrust government, the association, and so forth.  So it's very hard to embark on any kind of collective action to deal with this particular biosecurity threat.”

Note, I did not say that that the provincial department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture (FFA) has done nothing to support the development of a Varroa Action Plan.  It has provided financial support for Varroa-related workshops, which the provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy, participated in.  Furthermore, former minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, the Honourable Gerry Byrne, and department staff met with Newfoundland and Labrador Beekeeping Association (NLBKA) representatives to discuss Varroa and other matters, and a joint working group was established.  However, progress with this work has not advanced adequately, and much work remains to be done if we are to stand any chance of preventing Varroa from infesting our entire honey bee stock.  The provincial government has an important role to play in this biosecurity fight, to which my CBC Radio comments are addressed.

Provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy’s, response to me on CBC Radio On the Go on July 12, 2022, is a deflection from the issue of concern, namely, her department’s level of preparedness to deal with a Varroa incursion. Read a transcript of the interview with my comments here. Of course, the existing Animal Health and Protection Act gives the provincial government some tools to deal with such an incursion, and new regulations (when finally they are made law) under the Act will provide better ones.  However, the key issue, not addressed by Kennedy, is whether her department ― Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture (FFA) ― has the resources (human and financial) and motivation to deploy these tools.  I see little evidence of it.

I will happily revise my assessment of FFA’s level of preparedness should we receive credible responses to the questions below.  Note that a number of these questions derive from the NLBKA’s draft Varroa Action Plan, Section 8.4, “A clear plan to deal with an incursion: the role of government.”

1.  When will revisions to existing regulations under the Animal Health and Protection Act such as mandatory registration be passed into law either by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council or ministerial fiat?  This is a question for the current FFA minister, the Honourable Derrick Bragg.  Note that requests by provincial beekeepers to revise the Act and associated regulations date to 2016 (see Chronology below).

2. Will proposed revisions to the regulations be subject to public consultation?  When?

3. Will mandatory registration be linked to FFA’s Premises Identification Program which provides a way of linking livestock and poultry to specific parcels of land for better management of animal disease and emergency response situations? See Premises Identification Program - Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture (

4. Do the provincial apiarist and supporting staff have the financial, technical, and labour-power capacity to respond effectively to a Varroa incursion? Time is of the essence with respect to inspections that must be done as part of a Varroa-spread delimitation survey.

5. Are supporting staff knowledgeable about honey bees and trained in methods of testing for Varroa as well as euthanizing colonies?

6. How long can supporting staff be absent from their normal FFA duties in order to undertake a Varroa delimitation survey and eradication program (2 weeks, 4 weeks, all summer)?

7. Will vacations and other work absences during the beekeeping season limit the capacity of the provincial apiarist and supporting staff to undertake a Varroa delimitation survey and eradication program?

8.  Does FFA have a budget for a Varroa delimitation survey and eradication program? How much is the department prepared to spend in order to prevent the spread of Varroa in the province?

9. Does FFA have a public relations plan in place to ensure that an eradication program, if feasible, is conducted sensitively and in consultation with provincial beekeepers?  Good communication among the provincial apiarist, beekeepers, the news media, and the public at large is absolutely crucial!

10. No jurisdiction is able to achieve 100% registration of its beekeepers even when such registration is mandatory.  How will FFA identify the apiaries of non-registered beekeepers as part of a delimitation survey?

11. Given that alcohol wash is not a sensitive method of detecting low numbers of Varroa in honey bee colonies, what testing method does FFA propose to use as part of a delimitation survey?

12. As part of an ongoing and concerted effort to eradicate Varroa, the Government of New South Wales, Australia, has implemented a 25 km surveillance zone in the state, “where officials are monitoring and inspecting managed and feral honeybees to limit the extent of these incursions.” See Varroa mite emergency response ( In contrast, FFA’s delimitation (surveillance) strategy, if that’s what it is, lacks coherence.  What science of Varroa reproductive biology and epidemiology informs this strategy?  Based on what the provincial apiarist said in her CBC Radio, it seems that all colonies within a 6 km radius of a Varroa-infested one would be inspected.  However, it is not clear what FFA would do should an infested colony be found outside this radius, or how this more distant infestation would be found – by a FFA delimitation survey, or by some other means? The provincial apiarist said they would quarantine the more distant colony as well, and “re-assess.” What does “re-assess” mean in this context?  Furthermore, given that the Northeast Avalon is “one giant apiary,” where the flight zones of numerous honey bee colonies overlap substantially, is FFA prepared to quarantine the entire region and conduct inspections throughout?  How long would it take to inspect the hundreds of colonies in this region in relation to FFA’s human and financial resources?

13. Will FFA conduct a comprehensive delimitation survey and consult with provincial beekeepers BEFORE embarking on a Varroa eradication program, which by necessity would involve euthanizing honey bee colonies and possibly destroying woodenware and comb?

14. What method of euthanizing colonies will be adopted as part of an eradication program?  The method should be chosen carefully so as not to alienate beekeepers, and dis-incentivize them from identifying their apiaries and otherwise participating in a Varroa Action Plan.

15. Has FFA considered alternatives to gasoline and burning colonies, woodenware and comb in order to euthanize colonies and eradicate Varroa?

16. Will FFA deploy fipronil bait traps to kill feral colonies in areas where managed colonies are infested with Varroa?  Has fipronil been approved for such use in NL?  Are FFA staff trained in the safe use of this broad spectrum insecticide as far as feral honey bee colonies are concerned?  Does FFA have a public relations strategy in place to respond to public concerns about the use of this insecticide? 

17. If fipronil is not registered for use in Canada (and NL), does FFA have an alternative strategy for killing feral honey bee colonies?

18. Is regulatory approval required for any chemicals required for monitoring and treating Varroa in NL (e.g., Amitraz, oxalic acid, formic acid, etc.)?  If yes, has FFA initiated relevant approval mechanisms for them?  

19. Does FFA have a comprehensive stock replacement program to replace honey bee colonies destroyed as a result of an eradication program, and will it be available to hobby, small-scale and commercial beekeepers alike?

20. What compensation will be provided per colony/hive destroyed as part of an eradication program?   

21. When will the joint NLBKA-FFA working group, established in 2019, reconvene to continue the work described in its Terms of Reference (see Chronology below)?

Answers to the above questions may demonstrate whether FFA has a Varroa crisis management plan or not.  Is the department really prepared to deal with a Varroa biosecurity crisis? 


February 2016 – NLBKA representative, Peter Armitage, discusses (telephone) the association’s request for changes to the Animal Health and Protection Act and associated regulations (to provide better legal protection for honey bee health) with Dave Jennings (Director, Production and Market Development Division, Department of Natural Resources) and provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy.  Jennings said at the time that he expected to submit a paper to cabinet after March that year to get permission to revise the Act and regulations. The timeline would be about one year to get everything through cabinet. 

April 2018 – NLBKA representatives discuss the need for revisions to the Act and regulations with David Jennings again, at a meeting at the FFA’s office on Brookfield Road, St. John’s.  Jennings  said he expected to have draft changes to the Act and regulations worked out during the summer of 2018, and that the association would be consulted.  

November 2018 – NLBKA member, Peter Armitage, gives a Power Point presentation about the Varroa threat and the need for some kind of Varroa action plan to NLBKA members at the association’s annual conference.  Provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy, is present.  A resolution is passed at the NLBKA’s AGM supporting the development of a Varroa Action Plan.

August 2019 – With financial support from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership – NL, NLBKA holds facilitated Varroa workshops in St. John’s and Deer Lake, lead by Cornell University parasitologist and Varroa expert, Dr. David Peck.  Provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy, is present.

October 2019 – NLBKA representatives meet in St. John’s with the Honourable Gerry Byrne, minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, to discuss apicultural priorities for the province including revisions to the Act and associated regulations, a Varroa Action Plan, and other matters.

November 2019 – The Honourable Gerry Byrne attends the NLBKA’s annual conference in Corner Brook. Changes to the Act and associated regulations are discussed again with the minister.

December 2019 – A draft Varroa Action Plan (subject to expert peer review) is completed by the NLBKA and shared with the provincial government. See Varroa Action Plan | NL Beekeeping Association

January 2020 – The NLBKA-Department of Fisheries and Land Resources joint working group meets in Bishop’s Falls.  In addition to NLBKA representatives, Heather Randell (Manager of Agricultural Services, Department of Fisheries and Land Resources) and provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy, are present.  Terms of Reference for the working group are reviewed.  They include changes to the Act and associated regulations, a Varroa Action Plan, other measures to protect honey bee health, strategies to develop the apicultural industry in NL, and possible development of an apicultural research program at the department’s Wooddale facility.   In preparation for this meeting, NLBKA prepares a detailed review and comparison of honey bee-related legislation in every province across Canada, as well as a document itemizing requested changes to the Animal Health Regulations, Animal Reportable Diseases Regulations, and Animal Health and Protection Ticket Offences Regulations, under the Animal Health and Protection Act.

June 2020 – Minister Byrne introduces legislation on 16 June 2020 to “enable mandatory registration and inspection of all beekeeping operations to help ensure Newfoundland and Labrador’s world-class honey bee population remains parasite-free” (see Stay Sweet NL: Minister Byrne Introducing Legislation to Protect Honey Bees - News Releases (

October 2020 – With financial support from FFA, NLBKA holds workshops regarding Varroa monitoring methods with New Brunswick bee inspectors, Fletcher and Mary Colpitts, in St. John’s, Port Blandford, Bishop’s Falls, and Cormack.  Provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy, is present at one of the workshops.  Approximately 50% of the province’s beekeepers participate in these workshops.

May 2022 – A Varroa Action Plan is discussed again at the NLBKA’s “Growing Together Workshop.” Provincial apiarist, Karen Kennedy, and Sabrina Ellsworth, Manager of Agricultural Research Initiative for FFA, are present for the discussion.

June 2022 – Varroa is discovered near the Port of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. As of 14 July 2022, Varroa has been found in 39 apiaries. Infested colonies are being euthanized, and delimitation surveys continue.  Prognosis?