AFB Dogs Dilemma: A Step Towards a Solution

Despite promising findings, research into the effectiveness of dogs at identifying American foulbrood (AFB) looks likely to stall (as detailed last month in Passing the Sniff Test). Among those who backed the Foulbrood Detection Project was the Southern North Island Beekeeping Group (SNIBG). They would desperately like to see it continued to the next stage and have a plan to try and make it happen. Life member Frank Lindsay explains the situation, and how you can help.

By Frank Lindsay

Heading into the Foulbrood Detection Project, we didn't know if AFB spores produced a scent, how much they produce or whether a dog could detect spores. Previously dogs have been trained on "AFB hives" in the South Island, but not isolated spores.

Frank Lindsay.

This was to be a one year long project, but getting approval to hold spores and then isolating the spores meant the steering group were well into the second year before they could commence the trial which proved conclusively (100% of the time) that dogs could identify spores in a sample jar. A paper on this trial is being written and will be presented for peer review shortly.

However, we ran out of time under this existing project to undertake the field trial work which will now need a new programme and financing.

The AFB Pest Management Plan (PMP) Board haven't shown much interest in this project and even though the results so far have been positive, they haven't been interested in funding it. This is perhaps understandable as it is only their role to see that beekeepers comply with the AFB regulations and destroy hives showing the disease. They are however looking into having the regulations modified to allow trained dogs to enter farm properties.

Winter time is perhaps the ideal time for a trainer to run a dog through an apiary, as the bees are not flying: flying, defensive bees may cause the dogs to become hive shy. Any hive that the dogs indicated on could be marked for inspection by the beekeeper in the spring.

The Southern North Island Beekeeping Group has a plan to progress some very promising AFB sniffer dog research, but they will need other beekeepers’ help.

Honey supers are also a major cause of transmission. It is so easy to miss a diseased cell when there is a rush to get the honey off and processed. Frames during the extraction process are mixed and end up in different supers so can cause the disease to be spread inadvertently. A dog could identify these so that the beekeeper could take proactive action.

While we in New Zealand have long relied on human inspections of hives, research1 has shown that inspecting hives is not totally effective. By just inspecting the apiary, there is a 3% chance of finding more diseased hives. By inspecting all hives within 3km, there is only a 48% chance of finding more diseased hives.

There has to be a better way to detect this disease before it shows clinically and there is:

· Beekeepers can now use honey testing to identify spores to a batch or an apiary.

· They can use DNA testing by using dnature’s Foster Method of swabbing the bottom board or front entrance of the hives to detect those with spores.

· An alternative may be to use a trained sniffer dog.

The ability of dogs to be of value in these operations must be scientifically determined. However, at the moment this project is incomplete and likely to stay that way. All we need is perhaps $100,000 of industry money from the beekeeping community, plus an equal contribution from Ministry for Primary Industries’ funds to complete the field trial.

The AFB PMP have stated that it cost a little over $6 to inspect a hive and their aim is to inspect two percent of hives each year. AFB can affect all beekeepers alike. If every beekeeper donated $5 a year for two years, we could have the industry funding contribution to support this trial within months.

There is a lack of industry research funding. The Minister has often reflected on this. So, to this end, the Southern North Island Beekeeping Group is prepared to use our SNIBG Education Trust for this purpose.

Shortly will be canvassing beekeepers and clubs for voluntary contributions to get the dog trial and other research funded.

The research into AFB sniffer dogs has proved very promising, we want it to continue to the next stage, for the benefit of all beekeepers, thus we will need your help.

Watch this space.

(1). rsif20130650 - Modelling the spread of AFB on Jersey 2010

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsif.2013.0650


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