Protection of Managed Pollinators (Honey Bees)

Issued Date
January 19, 2023
Agriculture and Markets, Department of


To determine whether the Department of Agriculture and Markets (Department) is adequately monitoring the health of honey bee pollinators to prevent and mitigate harmful effects to their populations. This audit covered the period January 2017 through August 2022.

About the Program

Wild and managed pollinators are critically important to the health of New York State’s environment and agricultural economy. The State has more than 7 million acres of agricultural production, and many of the State’s leading crops – such as apples, cabbage, and berries – rely heavily on pollination by insects. These crops’ plants use pollen to produce a fruit or seed and cannot reproduce without pollen carried to them by foraging pollinators. However, the pollinator population has declined drastically during the last three decades due to, among other issues, invasive pests and diseases (including American foulbrood – a highly contagious and very destructive bacterial disease), exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, and changing climate. In 2016, the State developed the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan (Plan) to address the high loss of pollinators in the State. The Plan is a multiagency effort, with the Department primarily responsible for managed pollinators, typically honey bees. Honey bees are essential to the agricultural industry for the pollination services they provide. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honey bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops in the United States each year. About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including more than 130 types of apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, and almonds, to name just a few. Therefore, honey bees are the United States’ primary commercial pollinator.

Beekeepers are generally private individuals or companies that raise and care for colonies of honey bees. In 2007, under sections of the State’s Agriculture and Markets Law, beekeepers were required to register their apiaries for the purpose of assessing the size and condition of the State’s honey bee population. This requirement was eliminated in 2010 but then reinstated in 2021. In December 2021, Article 15 of the Agriculture and Markets Law (Law) was amended to include the Cooperative Honey Bee Health Improvement Program (Program), which, among other actions, reinstated the apiary registration requirements. One goal of the Program is to document the health of the State’s managed pollinator population, including the presence of parasites, diseases, and environmental threats. To this end, the Department may, at its discretion, perform general inspections of apiaries for the presence of infections, contagious or communicable diseases, insects and parasitic organisms adversely affecting bees, and species or subspecies of bees that are harmful to the State’s managed bee population, crops, or other plants. The Department also conducts apiary inspections to certify nucleus colonies (nucs) and queens for sale or transport. Where honey bees are being shipped into the State, the Law also requires a permit from the Department or a certificate from the state of origin attesting that the honey bees are disease-free. These documents should certify that a proper inspection was made no sooner than 60 days preceding the date of shipment.

Key Findings

  • The Department has established sufficient processes to meet its responsibility to certify nucs and queens for sale and to meet the needs of beekeepers requiring certificates to ship honey bees out of State. It was able to conduct all the required inspections requested for the sale of nucs and queens as well as all those requested for transport for the 5-year period ending December 2021. Further, the Department has procedures in place for addressing the discovery of American foulbrood during inspections – a disease for which the Law allows no tolerance.
  • The Department does not have support or reasonable assurance that it has identified the full population of active apiaries in the State, which is necessary for thorough monitoring and inspection purposes.
  • The Department could strengthen actions to combat disease and parasitic organisms within colonies by including additional tests for certain diseases, and could improve its efforts to ensure honey bees entering the State are healthy and free from disease.

Key Recommendations

  • Improve registration and apiary inspection efforts, which may include but not be limited to:
    • Increasing efforts to identify and register active apiaries;
    • Incorporating identification of additional diseases, insects, and parasites that may be contributing to colony losses in the State;
    • Officially establishing and publishing tolerance levels for diseases or parasitic organisms and following up on treatment recommendations;
    • Considering the use of alternative testing methods that will help preserve honey bee populations; and
    • Expanding risk assessment criteria for targeting inspection activities.
  • Develop additional procedures to ensure honey bee shipments into the State are certified disease- and parasite-free and, if warranted, consider reinspection upon entering the State.

Nadine Morrell

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director
: Nadine Morrell
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236