• Frank Lindsay

Keep the AFB Dogs Research Alive – Your Help is Needed

APIARIST’S OPINION: FRANK LINDSAY

By Frank Lindsay

As I tipped back in March, the Southern North Island Beekeeping Group (SNIBG) is moving towards establishing a Trust to provide funding of two trained American foulbrood (AFB) sniffer dogs and to maintain the purified AFB spores held at Massey University (each one is dependant on the other). It needs beekeepers’ support and it needs it now.

(Editor’s note: Apiarist’s Advocate covered this research in Passing the Sniff Test the February 2022 issue.)

Frank Lindsay.

A Brief Background…

In 2019 Down Under Honey put a proposal to the Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF), supported by the Honey Industry Trust, Massey University and the SNIBG, to test whether dogs could to detect purified AFB spores. There were a number of unknowns: did AFB spores alone produce an odour, could the dogs detect these and, if so, to what level could they detect the spores in a trial situation and in the field?

Pete Gifford form K9 Search Detection Dogs was commissioned to train two dogs, Plant and Food Research were commissioned to purify AFB spores, and a committee set up to oversee the project.

We were very happy at the 100% level of detection these dogs provided and a paper is being prepared by Massey University for peer review and publication as this is a world first.

Progress so far

Unfortunately delays in getting the AFB samples means that the funding for this project ran out before we could undertake field trials. In the meantime, Pete has been feeding the dogs and providing ongoing training at his own expense, something he can no longer continue to do.

One of Pete Gifford’s AFB sniffer dogs during a trial last year.

Without further funding from the industry and perhaps another grant from the SFF, this project will collapse and the dogs will be assigned to be trained on other things.

The AFB PMP Board will not support this endeavour financially until the paper has been published, however they have put forward a proposal to amend the regulations so that in the future dogs can be used in the detection of AFB.

So, what will sniffer dogs provide the industry?

At present most beekeepers rely on visual inspections and in the meantime, AFB may take up to three years to show clinically. By this time, if a quarantine system hadn't been used, spores will have spread within the apiary and as far away as one kilometre either by drifting bees, robbing or the interchange of equipment by the beekeeper.

A sniffer dog can inspect 20 hives in about 15 seconds. This method of detection is very advantageous especially when hives are concentrated together as they are before going into pollination. Dogs can also be used to identify AFB in used equipment if laid out on the ground.

What’s Needed

The SNIBG would like to maintain the trained dogs (which comes at a cost of $36,000 per year), complete the field trial, and hand the dogs over to a handler who will have them available for beekeepers to use.

We need industry funding before we can approach other funding sources. While we know the beekeeping industry is struggling at present, we are appealing for a small amount of funding from a large amount of beekeepers to solve the dilemma.

We are approaching all beekeepers, including the hobby sector and bee clubs, for funding and suggesting that individuals contribute $5 - $10 each for three years.

What do hobbyist get out of funding the dog project when AFB is mainly a commercial sector problem? Unfortunately, AFB does not discriminate between hobbyist and commercial hives.

Apiaries used to be 2.5km apart and this separation helped control the spread of the disease. Now, with apiaries as close as the next paddock, drifting bees and robbing assists in spreading AFB and you could be next. For a commercial beekeeper killing a hive is part of the business, but for a hobbyist it’s like killing your pet.

There is also a possibility that AFB levels could increase over the next three years due to commercial beekeepers abandoning hives as industry economics worsen. Beekeeping will be so much better without AFB. Finding it early is the key.

AFB sniffer dogs can help with that, so I implore you to support SNIBG’s fundraising drive.

SNIBG has lodged an application to form a Trust with the IRD and we expect this to be registered in the next month, at which stage a bank account will be opened and all funds already received in donation will be transferred to the Trust.

While we await this process, donations can be made to the Southern North Island Beekeeping Group, using the code “Dogs”. All funds will be receipted.

Acct number. 15-3977-0067333-00

For more information contact Frank Lindsay, email: lindsays.apiaries@gmail.com


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