Bees are one of the most vital players in the Central Valley and a buzzing industry here in Kern County.
Bryan Caster, owner of Bryan's Bees, has been a beekeeper in Southern California for five years. Up until January of this yer, he was proactive in keeping his bees healthy.
However, federal regulations have changed that.
“They came out with the Veterinarian Feed Directive ," Castro said. “It basically makes it so you have to have a veterinarian if you want to use antibiotics on any livestock. For bees it’s a big deal because no veterinarians know how to help the bees.”
So what happens if one of the bees gets infected? Castro said if one gets infected it becomes really contagious.
One of the most common infections is American Foulbrood -- which can linger in hives for up to 70 years.
Now, bee owners have to go through veterinarians to get antibiotics. <>
“We just found one veterinarian here in Bakersfield," Castro said.
That vet is Jennifer McDougle -- located in Bakersfield. She's been a vet for over a decade.
“I think the FDA’s point in having this regulation in place is to prevent antimicrobial resistance," McDougle said. “I think the industry is still processing the change. There are beekeepers that are obtaining fee directives to get antibiotics.”
McDougle understands the concern beekeepers have -- but know the industry will adjust once beekeepers build a relationship with a vet.
“They put the cart before the horse here, the regulation came out and no one was ready to actually deal with the situation," Castro said.
Because of the small amount of available veterinarians, Bryan is still concerned about inaccessibility of antibiotics.
“If one colony has it during almond season, that’s gonna spread to almost all the bees in the country and that’s a really big problem," he said.
Almond season is a time when bees from across America are brought to the Central Valley to help with pollination. The industry brings in over a billion dollars a year to the county, and is Kern's second largest cash crop.
“Around 80 to 90 percent of all of the country’s bees will be here in February," he said. “We’re one good epidemic away from not having enough bees for almonds.”
For now, beekeepers are hoping for the best, without direct access to antibiotics.
“At this point I’m just going without," he said.