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Legal responsibility of beekeepers

Notify the National Bee Unit of bee pests or diseases

 It is a legal requirement to notify the National Bee Unit (NBU) if you know or suspect your colonies of honey bees to have a notifiable disease or pest. 
Notifiable diseases are:
  • American foulbrood (AFB) (Paenibacillus larvae)
  • European foulbrood (EFB) (Melissococcus plutonius
Notifiable pests are:
  • Small hive beetle (SHB) (Aethina tumida)
  • Any species of the Tropilaelaps mite 
A notifiable disease or pest can be reported here
This is required by

Comply with standstill, treatment, destruction and movement notices

It is a legal requirement to comply with a standstill notice when it is issued. 
If a notifiable disease or pest is found, a standstill notice will be issued. Colonies and equipment must not be moved until the standstill notice is officially lifted. Standstill notices can also be issued if:
  • a beekeeper refuses an inspector access to inspect the colonies
  • the use of illegal veterinary medicines is suspected or proven
Depending on the notifiable disease or pest that has been found, a treatment or destruction notice will be issued, specifying what will happen to infected/infested colonies. In exceptional circumstances licences can be issued by the NBU to remove honey from EFB infected colonies and/or to move infected colonies. It is a legal requirement to comply with the conditions of these licences if they are issued. 
This is required by:

Comply with treatments for disease and pest outbreaks

It is a legal requirement to comply with the destruction or treatments specified in a notice. 
This is required by

Reportable Pests

It is a legal requirement that you report the presence of Varroa destructor in your hives. 
Presence of Varroa mite can be reported via BeeBase. Check your records to ensure they are accurate.  Registering with BeeBase is not a legal requirement. Unregistered beekeepers can record Varroa here
This is required by

Import Obligations

If you intend to import honey bees, it is a legal requirement: 
  • To register the import on the Import of Products, Animals, Food and Feed System (IPAFFS).
  • To comply with the import requirements
    • The bees must come from an approved country
    • The bees must be accompanied by an export health certificate confirming that they have been inspected before dispatch and come from disease free areas
    • Unless exported from New Zealand, only queen bees may be imported (packages and colonies are not permitted)
  • Transfer the imported queen bees into new cages prior to putting into the intended hives.
  • Send the cages in which the queen bees were transported and the attendant bees to the NBU laboratory: RM 02G06 Fera Science Ltd York Biotech Campus, Sand Hutton, York YO41 1LZ
This is required by 

Export Obligations

There are likely to be legal obligations in the country of destination, please ensure that you comply with these. Failure to comply may result in your consignment of bees being destroyed. More information can be found on our page on imports and exports

Use of authorised Veterinary Medicines 

You must only use veterinary medicines that are authorised for use with honey bees in the UK. You must use these medicines according to the instructions on the label.
You can check whether a product is authorised by using the filter ‘Honey Bees’ in the ‘Species’ section in the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) product database.  Alternatively, you can use the ‘Predefined Searches’ function and select “Products for use in Honey Bees”. The use of unauthorised substances (non-UK medicines or other substances, unless prescribed by a vet) to treat or prevent disease in bees, is an offence under the Veterinary Medicines Regulations (VMR).
You may be subject to enforcement action if unauthorised veterinary medicines or high concentrations of authorised veterinary medicines are detected in honey sampled from your hives. Further information is available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/bee-medicines-availability-in-the-uk  
You can report suspected illegal activity regarding veterinary medicines to the VMD, including the use of unauthorised medicines, using the following website:

Record of Veterinary Medicines 

You must keep records of all veterinary medicines administered to colonies for at least five years, irrespective if the colony concerned is no longer in your possession or has died during that period.
The 'veterinary medicine administration record’, is a useful template for you to use to meet these requirements.
Your medicines records can be requested at any time by the relevant authority and/or bee inspector. Failing to keep records of veterinary medicines applied to honey bee colonies, as set out in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations (VMR) 2013, is an offence.

Controls on Residues in Honey

If you are intending to sell honey for human consumption you must be aware of requirements on the control of residues of prohibited substances, veterinary medicines and contaminants. These are outlined in The Animals and Animal Products (Examination for Residues and Maximum Residue Limits) (England and Scotland) Regulations of 2015.

Article 10(2) of the Regulation is explicit that no person may sell for human consumption any animal product which contains an unauthorised substance, or an authorised substance at a concentration which exceeds the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) – and it is an offence to do so.

General Food Law

If you are producing honey for sale you must comply with food safety legislation. The Food Standards Agency web page contains an overview which covers the main Great Britain (GB) and retained EU legislation on the following areas:
  • food imports and exports
  • hygiene
  • safety
  • traceability
  • labelling and product withdrawals and recalls
  • registration of food businesses
Food hygiene legislation sets out rules for all food businesses, applying effective and proportionate controls throughout the food chain, from primary production to sale or supply to the food consumer. 
In general, food safety, labelling and marketing Regulations in both England and Wales mirror each other.

Honey composition and labelling 

To sell honey, you must not include any other ingredient or additive in honey, remove anything from honey or treat food in any way which means it would be damaging to the health of people eating it.  
This is required by The Honey Regulations (England) 2015 and the Honey Regulations (Wales) 2015.

Other guidance 

When you start a new food business or take over an existing business, you must register your food business with the local authority.
If you sell honey online, you should refer to the Food Standards Agency guidance on registering your business. 
In Wales, Food Innovation Wales can provide advice to micro business with aspects regarding product development, and the Cywain project can assist small start-up food businesses.