The Chilling Impact of HB 1293 on Small Business

In 2015 I left my work in the oil field. While it was voluntary at the time, it may have become involuntary had I waited – it’s no secret the oil patch is seeing tough times. My small beekeeping operation is what allowed me to stay afloat during this period. I run a small honey production operation in the Coastal Bend of Texas.

If you keep more than a dozen or so colonies, you know that it’s hard work. Making a living selling honey by the bottle is tough, much tougher than I anticipated. That’s exactly why I oppose HB 1293.

From a small business point of view, this bill creates additional burdens on small and growing beekeeping enterprises. Registration will be come more rigorous and costly. My ability to expand into queen sales will be hindered by added government fees and intrusive inspections. The chief inspector will be given great power to declare common and ordinary pests “reportable pests” and is given the ability to order the destruction or treatment of affected colonies. To add insult to injury, TAIS will have the power to send me a bill for this.

TBA tells me to “use common sense” and that “he would never do that.” I’d like that in writing please. Fees will be reasonable. Pest declarations will be reasonable. Disease declaration will be reasonable. The law does not follow common sense. Only the plain language of the law matters, and this law comes with few, if any, restrictions on these critical declarations. Once declared, they are not subject to significant review.

The existing law requires very little from Texas Beekeepers. Registration is superficial at best, because it’s unnecessary. Cattle operations are not registered. Breeding heifers are not required to be inspected prior to sale. Inspections of set-down beekeeping operations, too, are sparse, and again, unnecessary. Indeed, all of the existing rules have been ineffective. Despite quarantines and moving permits, Africanized bees have spread across the greatest portion of Texas. Despite these measures, the small hive beetle spread to every corner of Texas. Varroa mites, of course spread everywhere unchecked. Nosema is common here. There has simply been no significant bee disease contained or stopped by registration and inspections of Texas beekeepers.

HB 1293 adds an odd twist to the purview of the chief inspector: that of “non-apis” species of bees. It is unfathomable that we would put an agriculture inspector in charge of hundreds of species of native bees with limited or no commercial value. Certainly the environmental advocates will not allow this when they catch wind of the inspectors power to declare these native, non-apis species “unwanted species of bees.”

TBA tells us that this “non-apis” language takes aim at the Cape Honeybee from South Africa. This is absurd in the extreme. A 7th grade biology student could explain that Apis mellifera capensis (the Cape Honeybee) is clearly not a “non-apis” species. It’s right in the name! This is a particularly puzzling part of the proposed law. When pressed, I’ve also been told it was for exotic species of bees like the Asian Honeybee (Apis Cerana, in case you wonder) or native stingless bees from South or Central America, bees that have lived there for millennia.

HB1293 is also a generous gift to the hobby beekeeper. The vast majority of all hobby beekeepers will be exempt from all but a few of the rules, as they should be, as we all should be. Ironically, hobby beekeepers suffer significantly higher levels of bee disease and loss than bigger operations. By some data sets, hobby beekeepers suffer losses approaching 80% annually. But the reality is that hobby beekeepers simply aren’t numerous enough to vector significant disease in the state. A big reason they can’t do so is not just their numbers, but the fact that they stay put and don’t transport bees (or disease and pests) over any significant distance, a big requirement to threaten the industry on a regional or state-wide basis.

HB 1293 adds a requirement for queen breeders to pay for and suffer annual inspections. This is also absurd. The idea that tiny numbers of bees (a queen and a few attendants) will vector disease across the industry is impossible. Queen breeding operations are necessarily among the cleanest in the entire world-wide industry. One simply can not breed saleable queens in anything less than top notch breeder colonies.

I will close with two points along the same lines. “Sideliner” operations, those with fewer than 400 hives, are similar to hobby keepers in that they seldom transport bees. These set-down, honey operations, are limited in size by the beekeeper’s serviceable area. These operations typically see fewer disease and pest problems for a variety of reasons. Foremost, those threats can be devastating to such a small operation, so they are closely monitored or the business will quickly fail. The ability of these beekeepers to closely monitor colony health is paramount to protecting these fragile businesses. This self-inspection is a regular routine when your livelihood depends on healthy colonies. Significantly, this entire class of beekeepers (25-400 hives) is completely ignored in the HB1293.

Set-down beekeepers also retain the ability to practice comprehensive IPM techniques that reduce the need for hive treatments. These IPM practices contribute to low disease, low pest, and low loss rates among these operations. Indeed, a few of these 400 or less operations have abandoned expensive chemical treatments entirely, and continue to maintain strong, healthy bee operations.

I ask hobby beekeepers to consider the burden this proposal adds to growing a small beekeeping business. Although you’re given a great exemption, others who depend on their bees will interrupt their business with inspections and suffer the financial set-back of added (and unspecified) fees. Before you support this proposal, think about how tough it would be to grow your own apiary to 50 hives, or 150. The work, the cost, the time. And then weigh that burden against the risk that is minimal.

HB1293 does not address any real problem in Texas. The rules it keeps are ineffective. The rules it adds are unnecessary. The power it gives to one official is too broad and without sufficient review. It does not reflect any real threats to beekeeping in Texas. Take a careful look at the proposal and consider the small businesses that are struggling to make it in a tough industry. TAIS should focus on commercial pollinators with potential to bring disease into Texas. The small set-down operators here are vulnerable to that risk, not the other way around. We pose little risk to “the industry.”

HB1293 is a costly expansion of a law that has proven itself ineffective. I oppose the bill because it will hurt my small business and yield no positive results. I encourage you to read the side-by-side version of the bill and see how similar the structure is: register-inspect-quarantine. It’s a system that has failed each time in Texas: SHB, Varroa, AHB. Let’s not add more cost to a failed system.

Thank you for taking the time to consider our positions here.

3 thoughts on “The Chilling Impact of HB 1293 on Small Business”

  1. Dennis: thank you for sharing your story and for shedding light on how this will affect us small business beekeepers.

    -Tara, Two Hives Honey

  2. Since the general public pays for 85% of the cost of the TAIS there is really very little cost associated with this program as far as the individual beekeeper is concerned. You might think from this number that the tax paying public would have more to say than just beekeepers???? As far as I know anyone selling queens is required to obtain a queen breeders license. Finally the lack of evidence is no real proof that a system of regulation is effective or ineffective…. that is because the existing system has no evidence of failures that did not occur does not necessarily mean the system itself is a failure. It is impossible to prove a negative.

    1. In fact we don’t know the ultimate cost of this bill because the additional fees have not been set and are not specified in the bill.

      You’re incorrect about queen sales. 131.023 clearly provides queen sellers the ability to self-certify: “a copy of an affidavit made by the beekeeper stating that: (A) to his knowledge, the bees are not diseased; …” We created the side-by-side comparison document so that you can study the law carefully and see what is changed by 1293.

      There is clear evidence that quarantines have been used in Texas beekeeping and have failed to control every major pest of the honey bee: SHB quarantines and hive destructions did not stop SHB, for example. Quarantines were used aggressively for African honey bees, which are now common in Texas. Dr. Ragsdale, the head entomologist at Texas A&M has said “…quarantines have not particularly been a useful tool to date….” Furthermore, quarantines have been destructive under the direction of a single person who was not restrained by meaningful review.

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