The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

- March 1, 2024 -

Glutamate-stimulating Drugs Not Approved for Apicultural Use

I enjoyed reading “Honey Bee Genetics Affect Foraging Behaviors” by Lori Thomas and Rodney Ewing [December 2023]. It is an excellent synopsis of research on scout bees conducted in my laboratory led by former graduate student Z. Sophia Liang, now a research scientist at Harvard University.

I was, however, surprised by a statement in their article that said, “Beekeepers can stimulate foraging behaviors by safely administering glutamate-stimulating drugs to colonies …” This was not a conclusion that we drew from our research. There are no drugs of this type approved for apicultural use, and beekeepers always must be careful not to taint their honey crops with chemical residues of any type.

Someday, after more research, safety-testing, and legal consideration, glutamate-stimulating drugs might be new tools for stimulating foraging. For now, as Thomas and Ewing write, beekeepers can stimulate their colonies to forage by exposing them to new food sources — this is a proven and much safer idea.

Gene E. Robinson
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois


 More on Purple Honey

I read Ruth Makofske’s January letter with interest and want to offer her a bit of data to support her hypothesis. This past season I helped a young man get a hive started on the property of a friend of his family. One day while inspecting the hive, we noticed what looked like purple nectar. Having never seen anything like it, I wondered if the bees might be collecting a purple pollen that was getting mixed in with the nectar.

As we finished up and walked back to the friend’s house he came out to chat about the bees. Having never hosted a hive before he had been a bit nervous about mowing anywhere near the hive. I noticed that the grass nearby was nicely cut, and I asked him if the bees had given him any trouble. “No,” he answered “but they sure do love the grape jelly I have been putting out for the orioles!” Purple “nectar” was explained!!!

Becky Green
Dexter, Michigan


 EPA’s recent advisory

In the January issue of ABJ I announced that the EPA had verbally agreed that they did not have authority to regulate beekeeper use of generic substances such as oxalic acid and thymol for pesticidal purposes, since such use would pose no “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.”

Then in early January the Agency released a very wordy “Advisory on the Applicability FIFRA and FFDCA for Substances used to Control Varroa Mites in Beehives.” One needs to read the document carefully to tease out their agreement with our interpretation of the law. In the Advisory, they state:

“EPA considers any application of an unregistered pesticide for other than personal use (e.g., application of an unregistered pesticide to another person’s property) to be distribution of an unregistered pesticide and a violation of FIFRA.” This is a roundabout way of stating that they do not have authority to restrict personal use.

But they then go further and make up a term not found in FIFRA — “own personal use” — to wit:

“An individual raising bees as a hobby and consuming themselves whatever honey is harvested might be considered ‘own personal use.’ But as described above, an individual beekeeper cannot sell or distribute (which includes transportation) any unregistered pesticide and cannot sell or distribute any adulterated honey or other edible beehive products.”

FIFRA only speaks of use, and does not differentiate as to whether one is a hobbyist or engaged in pollination.

The Agency is reasonably concerned about beekeepers contaminating honey with additional excipients other than pure thymol or the organic acids. So I am in the process of submitting another letter, asking them to clarify that they would not consider honey to be “adulterated” if the beekeeper used only excipients already on the Minimal Risk Inerts list, such as water, isopropyl alcohol, glycerin, vegetable oils, mineral oil, cellulose, cotton, cardboard, paper, coffee grounds, or sawdust.

Randy OIiver
Grass Valley, California


 Before the Revolution

Randy Oliver’s well researched piece on “Agriculture 4.0” [“Welcome to the 4th Agricultural Revolution,” February] reminded me of this story: As Tzu Kung was traveling through the regions north of the river Han, he saw an old man making a ditch to connect his vegetable garden with a well. He had a gourd in his hand, with which he was bringing up water and pouring it into the ditch — great labour with very little result. “If you had a machine here,” yelled Tzu Kung, “in a day you could irrigate a hundred times your present area. The labour required is nothing compared to