So today was the AGM of the local association of beekeepers. We thought we would go along because they were showing a video on 'EKM' and Janne (our beekeeping equipment supplier from Kirkkonummi) was giving a presentation on what to do about it.
So what's EKM? That's a Finnish abbreviation for Esikotelomätä. And that's AFB to you and me: American foulbrood. The wikipedia article makes for grim reading. Foulbrood is cause by a bacteria called paenibacillus larvae which is virtually indestructible. Gazillions of them can live in one hive. And they have a half life of hundreds of years (slight exaggeration) so it's impossible, almost, to get rid of them.
Anyway, Janne was doing a great job in stirring up paranoia amongst the apiarists of southern Finland - it was all doom and gloom (and coffee of course) at the AGM today. We are all getting free sample jars so we can send honey off to Evira (Finnish DEFRA) and get it tested for EKM. If the samples test positive, we're in for some pretty heavy spring cleaning and maybe even a decent bonfire. Fingers crossed.
Apparently paenibacillus has no effect on the honey and probably most hives contain some of it. The problem is that some colonies seem unable to control the levels of the bacillus and then, when things go from bad to worse, there is little that can be done other than destroy the hive and everything in it before the bacteria spreads to other hives. When a hive is abandoned, robber bees will come and raid the hive for its honey and unwittingly take the bacillus into their own hive.
On the other hand, whereas Evira is happy to test thousands of honey samples for AFB at the taxpayers expense, in many countries there are no funds to do this so most beekeepers don't know if they have AFB or not. My Finnish ain't great so I really didn't follow the whole discussion but I got the general impression that not everyone agrees on how to deal with EKM either in Finland or elsewhere.
One way beekeepers can help is by burning old hives and frames. A lot of people who have given up beekeeping store old equipment in barns and outhouses where robber bees can locate them and steal any residues of honey and propolis. Paenibacillus can survive in disused hives for several decades, so it is easily spread by robber bees who take stolen honey back to their own hives.