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Kiwi study hopes to use dogs to save bees, honey industry from deadly disease

American foulbrood is a deadly bee disease that costs New Zealand’s honey industry $10 million dollars every year.

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American Foulbrood costs NZ’s honey industry $10 million every year. Source: 1 NEWS

But now a Manawatū study is investigating whether dogs can accurately detect the infectious bacteria with hope it could be a world-first solution.

K9 Search Medical Detection’s Pete Gifford told 1 NEWS in the past, dogs were trained using infected beehives but the smell of other diseases present made learning the scent of AFB difficult leading to inconclusive results and a sceptical honey industry.

“I had to prove the dogs were capable and that we were going to do this in a way that was slightly different,” Gifford said.

“It's never been done before.”

Which kills bee larvae.

Gifford’s approach includes using a sterile room to keep other smells out, getting scientists to review the trial and, soon, changing the practice odour to the real life bacteria which has been grown in a lab.

“If it’s in amongst honey and all the other contaminants that are big, it may be masked so that will be next part of our project.”

It's estimated a detection dog could check 20 hives for the disease which kills bee larvae in a couple of minutes where as a human inspection could take at least an hour and a half.

Downunder Honey owner Jason Prior said AFB can be hard to spot.

“The odd colony gets missed - bee keepers tend to spread it around because we constantly move weak frames to strong colonies and vice versa.”

Gifford has secured $50,000 from the Ministry of Primary Industries to cover some of the study costs.  

Steve Penno, MPI Director of Investment Programmes said if successful, eradication of the disease could be considered.

“If this proves to be a tool then that would be a great conversation to have.”

But for now, it’s back to training for dogs like Lilley hoping to make a world of difference.