Bee regulation bill has legislature abuzz

Jan 23, 2012

Florida lawmakers are considering what some might call a sweet new bill—literally.  A measure aimed at unifying bee-keeping rules is making its way through the legislature. Regan McCarthy fills us in on what the buzz is all about.

Honey production contributes as much as $15 million to Florida’s economy every year. In fact, honey, pollination and bees are a big industry in the state. And it’s pretty heavily regulated by the state. But Senator Alan Hays, who is sponsoring Senate bill 1132 says individual communities are starting to pass their own ordinances—and some of those local laws really sting.

“They’re adding their own regulations and red tape to an industry that’s trying to survive and that’s vital to the food chain of our country.”

Hays, a Republican from Umatilla says the ordinances don’t generally stem from instances where someone has been stung or bee attacks.

“These have been enacted as a knee jerk reaction to some neighbor’s complaint about hives in their area.”

Hays says his bill will create uniform bee-keeping rules by giving the sole rights to overseeing bee-keeping and hive locations to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Nancy Gentry is with the Florida Honey Bee Technical Council. Gentry says banning bees from specific areas can cause some sticky situations.

“If you start banning bees in these urban residential areas, what’s going to happen is you’re creating an environmental void. In other words, you’re giving the Africanized bee the opportunity to go into these areas without any competition at all. And we clearly state in the department that the first line of offense against the Africanized bee is the European honey bee—which is what a bee keeper actually manages.”

Gentry says European Honey bees are actually relatively laid back. She says a person could make a bee mad by knocking on its hive, but even then it would only behave aggressively toward that person until he or she leaves the bee’s territory—which is about 20-feet. That’s compared with the Africanized bee.

“The Africanized bee is still a defensive bee. However, their aggressive zone is still much larger, which is essentially about the size, the width of a football field. You get into that zone they’ll send out a hundred bees and within seconds they’re sending out thousands.”

Gentry says Africanized bees are making their way North from South Florida.

Those Africanized bees are out there, you cannot stop them, they’re not going to go away. They are migrating northward, line in the sand probably about South of Atlanta, so really it’s Florida’s responsibility to do as much as we can to…slow it down is what I’m trying to say.”

Senator Larcinia Bullard, a Democrat from Miami, bill raised concerns about forcing local governments to allow hives in their communities.

“We should have something in place, a guideline, an oversight, but I definitely think we need to be cautious about placing language in statute that is a mandate rather than permissive language.”

Hays says the bill is not a “mandate,” it just makes it a rule that the department of agriculture will be the only agency that can make rules about bee-keeping and where beehives are or aren’t allowed.                                             

Hays and Gentry provided a few samples to sweeten the bill just a little more.

“Enjoy the honey. I think if you get that little sugar rush  you have no choice but to go unanimous on this bill.”

Several senators took a taste and the agriculture committee did pass the bill with a unanimous vote. The proposal now moves to the Senate budget committee. A similar measure is making its way through the House.