Using extender patties is a criminal act
At least, it should be. For those of you who don’t know what an extender patty is, it is a grease patty that is laced with either Terramycin or Tylosin. Both of these antibiotics are designed to control outbreaks of a deadly bacterial bee disease called American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae). AFB is a disease which rots the developing brood. There is no cure. Hives with AFB must be burned or treated with radiation. It is a serious and disgusting disease.
People (I cannot refer to them as beekeepers—they are bee annihilaters) routinely mix these antibiotics with grease patties in the mistaken belief they will get long-term protection against American foulbrood. Instead, the bees get doses of the antibiotic that are below the lethal dose necessary to kill all of the disease organisms. As a result, bacteria which show some natural resistance to the disease thrive and reproduce. Before long (estimates run about 5-7 years) the drugs become useless against the disease.
This is the same principal that has produced drug-resistant disease organisms in humans, such as MRSA. Antibiotic abuse, over-use, and lower-than-lethal-dosage use will always produce resistant strains of organisms. In addition, residues of the drug become part of the “chemical soup” that today’s bees are forced to live in.
Terramycin is already ineffective in many parts of the United States, and its quick demise is blamed on the use of extender patties. Back in 2002, Thomas Deeby of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center put it like this:
There has been recent evidence in this country for bacterial resistance to Terramycin. One of the suspected causes for this development is the sharp increase in use by beekeepers of the medicated vegetable oil extender patty. Bees do not always consume the patties rapidly which leads to a situation in which antibiotic lingers in the hive for weeks or even months. Resistance was not a problem in this country prior to the widespread use of extender patties in the 1990s.
Tylosin was developed to substitute for Terramycin, but it is being abused as well. For the moment, there is no antibiotic available to replace Tylosin. The solution to the problem is simple—if you have evidence of American foulbrood in your apiary, follow the manufacturer’s directions which are clearly printed on the label. Otherwise, you should have nothing to do with these products.
So far, everything I’ve said is nothing more than common sense. But go to any of the online bee forums and you will find “beekeepers” who freely admit to using extender patties as a matter of course. In fact, you can find “beekeepers” admitting to all kinds of off-label use of all types of regulated medications and pesticides. These people seem to think they know more about these products than the companies that produce them or the agencies that regulate them.
And we wonder why honey bees are in trouble?