My name is Ryan Giesecke. I am a Texas Beekeepers Association member, active in my local associations, and a participant in the Texas Master Beekeeper Program. I run around 50 hives in the Dallas area, do a lot of educational work pertaining to bees and beekeeping, and perform live bee removals as well.
I strongly oppose HB1293 for the following reasons, addressed in greater detail below:
-it sets a pest threshold of zero (mites, hive beetles, etc) for hives to pass TAIS inspections
-it places Texas native bee species under TAIS jurisdiction and subject to destruction
-it mandates fee-based annual registration of beekeepers
-it mandates fee-based annual inspections of apiaries for queen-rearers
-it allows for any manner of state-wide mandated pest treatments
-it extends TAIS regulatory power from applying to a single bee species to encompassing thousands
1) Healthy hives will be unable to reliably pass inspections. Section 131.025 defines “reportable pests” as being based on a listing by the chief apiary inspector, but “pests” are defined in Section 131.001 Subdivision 12-B as “an insect, mite, or organism that causes damage or abnormality to bees and that is considered deleterious by the chief apiary inspector.” Section 131.044 on inspections refers to “pests” rather than “reportable pests”. Since Section 131.044 requires that “no disease, pest, or unwanted species of bee” be found in the bees in order to pass an inspection, this sets an acceptable mite threshold of zero. A modern IPM approach to mite control works off of an “economic threshold” acceptable mite count. This approach to mite control, recommended by TAIS, TBA, and the A&M Honey Bee Lab, would prevent a hive from passing inspection if HB 1293 is approved and enforced as written.
2) Section 131.001 Subdivision 17 allows for the listing of “Unwanted species of bees” by species. The desired target stated by the committee responsible for this bill (via the TBA Facebook) was Apis mellifera capensis, a subspecies of Apis mellifera. To add A. m. capensis to the unwanted species list by species the chief apiary inspector would need to list “Apis mellifera”. Subdivision 17 does not allow for the listing of subspecies, which would prevent the listing of the targeted A. m. capensis as unwanted. It does, however, specifically allow the listing of non-Apis species, which theoretically allows the chief apiary inspector to list hundreds of Texas native bee species as apiculturally undesirable, suddenly putting them under TAIS jurisdiction and subject to eradication (Section 131.021). One could point to diseases in our native bee population which could conceivably cross into our honey bee population as a reason for such actions; theoretically any bee that competes with Apis mellifera for nectar and pollen resources could be defensibly deemed deleterious to apiculture. Common sense would imply that no chief apiary inspector would take such a stance, but none-the-less the bill as written allows for it. All it would take is one government official leaving common sense behind; I’m not sure that never happens. Mark will not always be the chief apiary inspector, and this bill should be written to protect against the possibility of someone unreasonable as his successor. Legal regulation should be written in a way that deals with situations where common sense has failed; it should not depend on common sense in order to be functional.
3) Registration is mandatory for a 25+ hive beekeeper (Section 131.045). I have registered, but am opposed to mandatory registration for a stationary operation at any scale. To the best of my knowledge no other form of agricultural animal husbandry other than fish farming in the state of Texas mandates registration with the state. I don’t know why this should start now. What problem is resolved by mandated registration over 25 hives?
4) Inspections are mandatory for someone selling 25+ queens (Section 131.023). TBA says this in the name of preventing spread of pests and diseases. Yet it seems there are no pest and disease problems which are primarily transmitted via queen cages; I have asked TAIS about documented instances of queen cages as a problematic vector for pests or disease without receiving any such documented examples. I have asked people on the TBA committee who told me that they are not aware of issues transmitted by queen cages, that these regulations are to address as-yet-unknown issues that may conceivably arise some day in the future. It is regulation justified by the need to solve a non-existent problem. Under the current Section 131 inspections are not a requirement for selling queens. Furthermore, an entire package (complete with queen cage) coming in across state lines doesn’t need a certificate of inspection, but I need one to sell more than 25 queens to my neighbors. This is regulation against the spread of disease that is applied against transactions within a county, but is not applied to transactions which cross state lines.
Of course inspections have to be done before you start selling, so as a small-scale sideliner you may spend money on inspections to sell queens and end up selling less than 25. As a newcomer to queen rearing you may just be paying for the privilege of trying. This is another obstacle to a small-scale beekeeper wanting to get into queen-rearing which serves no practical purpose aside from being that obstacle. These are regulations that widen the gap between small-scale and commercial beekeeping in a way that handicaps newcomers and small-scale sideliners considerably.
5) Allows for mandated state-wide pest and disease treatments. Section 131.021, “may adopt rules and act as necessary to control, eradicate, or prevent the introduction, spread, or dissemination of diseases, pests, or unwanted species of bees”. With so much evidence in favor of genetic resistance resulting from selective breeding and non-treatment I am thoroughly opposed to any path towards mandated treatments. This is an out-dated remnant of the days of legislation to control the spread of American Foulbrood. This is the sort of relic this bill should have been limiting rather than expanding upon.
6) Even if Section 131.001 Subdivision 17 did allow for defining a subspecies (ex. A. m. capensis) as an unwanted bee I am uncomfortable with the idea that checking for it is part of an inspection by TAIS (Section 131.044 c). This would involve genetic testing if done properly, and I see no reason why I should be required to pay for genetic testing to this effect as part of the cost of a routine inspection (which would significant exacerbate the cost issues detailed above). Aside from the cost-prohibitive nature of genetic testing, my understanding is that A&M Honey Bee Lab is the only testing facility in the state for subspecies genetics, and that they currently require a sacrificial queen in order to perform testing for A. m. scutellata genetics. I do not believe they offer testing for A. m. capensis at all. Is a sacrificial queen intended to become part of a standard TAIS inspection? Is the Honey Bee Lab going to start providing testing for A.m. capensis genetics? If unwanted subspecies are the target of the Subdivision on unwanted bee species this legislation needs to reflect that, and it needs to take enforcement into account. Unenforced and unenforceable aspects of 131 are the primary reason it is in need of an update to begin with, and we are better off with an outdated bill in need of revision than a freshly updated Section 131 that is equally in need of revision.
7) The extension of the Texas Apiary Inspection Service’s authority to encompass non-Apis species (Section 131.001 Subdivision 17) is a huge over-step. TAIS is by definition responsible for the regulation of “apiaries” and “apiculture” (places where honey bees are kept and the keeping of honey bees), and I see no benefit, and many potential drawbacks, to having them theoretically responsible for any of thousands of species of bees that are not honey bees. HB 1293 gives the TAIS the authority to declare unwanted, and in turn to destroy, non-Apis bee species. TAIS was not established for this purpose, has never existed for this purpose, and should not be given the authority to theoretically eradicate (Section 131.021) native bee species for being detrimental to apiculture. All that aside, this is a three-person office responsible for enforcement throughout the state… TAIS can’t realistically hope to enforce most of the current regulation, and this bill expands their duties considerably.
8) If unwanted subspecies are the goal of the “Unwanted species of bee” addition, and the concerns in all previously listed objections are resolved such that subspecies can be listed, then my concern becomes Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) and other subspecies genetics that are potentially constructive in breeding programs but may be viewed as undesirable by some. Certainly Apis mellifera scutellata genetics are in many strong, survivor-stock hives throughout the state. I just heard Dr. Rangel give a talk which addressed that this is to some degree true, and even specifically addressed “gentle Africanized Honey Bees” in management. Yet in the eyes of most of the public, and the eyes of many beekeepers, this is a subspecies that is viewed as “deleterious”. It is not at all unreasonable to foresee a future where the chief apiary inspector could suddenly find him or herself under tremendous pressure to list A. m. scutellata as undesirable. I am uncomfortable with the idea of selective open-mated breeding programs for survivor stock being unable to pass routine inspections, or even being subject to being eradicated (Section 131.021), if A. m. scutellata were to be listed as an “undesirable subspecies of bee”. Providing for the listing of subspecies as undesirable could potentially in a very short period undo decades of selective breeding for good survivor stock in Texas. African subspecies aside, this could also theoretically be used to mandate queen purchases from a certain breeding operation by listing other subspecies. All these scenarios may seem unlikely, but they are allowable and defensible under the wording of HB1293, if subspecies are allowed to be listed as unwanted.