Starting and Keeping Bees in Michigan: Rules and Regulations
This document was published in May 2016 and last updated on March 2, 2021.
Michigan Beekeeping Rules & Regulations
This article outlines the updated rules, regulations, and recommendations for keeping bees in Michigan. Please check regulations often, as many are updated every year.
In this document:
- Voluntary Registration of Honey Bee Colonies in Michigan
- Siting Regulations and Local Beekeeping Ordinances in Michigan
- Zoning and Tax Classifications
- Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA)
- Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPS)
- Transporting Bees to Michigan
- Transporting Bees Out of Michigan
- Inspections for Bees Moved to California
- Michigan Food Establishment License Exemption: Food Processors with Gross Sales of $15,001 or Less
- Michigan Food Establishment License: Food Processing with Gross Sales Exceeding $15,001
- Licensing Your Food Facility: The Fixed Food Establishment License
- Honey Labeling for Exempt Processors with $15,000 or Less Gross Sales
- Honey Labeling for Exempt Processors with More than $15,000 of Gross Sales
- Federal Nutrition Labeling Requirements
- Labeling Regulations if Adding Ingredients to Honey
- Added Sugars Nutrition Labeling
- Label Claim: Organic Honey
- Label Claim: Raw, Local Natural, Pure, Unfiltered
- Label Review Request by MDARD
Michigan’s Apiary registration program, as required by Act 412, was rescinded in 1993 when the act was amended. However, in accordance with Michigan Managed Pollinator Protection Plan, Michigan maintains a voluntary registration of apiaries using BeeCheck, a program developed by FieldWatch. BeeCheck provides for Commercial Pesticide Applicators to identify apiaries in the vicinity of crops they are scheduled to treat and provides a communication tool necessary to protect bees from pesticide applications.
Michigan’s Apiary law does not limit locations for hive placement at the state level. However, cities or townships may regulate colony numbers or prohibit beekeeping through a local ordinance. Check with local government agencies for local ordinances that may restrict beekeeping. The state does provide guidelines for siting apiaries in the Beekeeping and Apiary Management section of the Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices (GAAMPS) Care of Farm Animals, discussed more below.
Zoning is a tool used by many local units of government to regulate acceptable land use, including beekeeping and other agricultural operations. The zoning of your property may determine if you are able to keep bees on your property. To determine how your property is zoned or to apply for a change in zoning, contact the zoning administrator for your municipality or county. Keeping bees can be considered as an agricultural activity by some local standards, and your area may not allow for any agricultural activities, including beekeeping.
Keep in mind that zoning and tax classifications are different, even though they use the same groupings. Beekeeping may change your tax classification, but not your zoning. Raising bees as a hobby (fewer than 25 colonies) would usually not result in being classified agricultural for tax purposes. Sideliners (25-300 colonies) are generally a unit of other agricultural operations. Commercial producers (300 or more colonies) may best be classified agricultural although the commercial storage, processing, distribution, marketing, or shipping portions of the operation are not agricultural. To determine what classifies as Agricultural Classification, according to the tax commission, check the State of Michigan Classification of Property.
On the state level, agricultural producers, including beekeepers, can get protection under the Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA). To be covered under the RTFA, a farm must satisfy a three-part test: It must 1) be a "farm" or "farm operation" that is producing a farm product, 2) be commercial in nature, and 3) conform to Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) (see below). If these three conditions are met, the state can provide protection to the beekeeper under the RTFA. In the case of a nuisance complaint, the state can provide the beekeeper with a letter after an on-site inspection that can be used as part of their defense. Just because a beekeeper meets the requirements does not guarantee them freedom from nuisance lawsuits, ordinance and zoning requirements, or other restrictions. If you have questions, you can contact the Right to Farm Hotline at 877-632-1783.
The Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices (GAAMPS) Care of Farm Animals are voluntary practices to promote sound environmental stewardship and to help maintain a farmer's right to farm. In January 2009, beekeeping and apiary management were included for the first time under the Care of Animals GAAMPs. This document is reviewed annually and updated by the Commission of Agriculture through a public hearing process when changes are necessary. MDARD maintains current versions and proposed drafts of GAAMPS on its website. Beekeepers do not have to comply with the GAAMPS because it is not a regulatory document, but failure to follow the regulations means that MDARD cannot provide support under the Right to Farm Act if you are cited or sued. The Beekeeping and Apiary Management section of the GAAMPs provides recommendations regarding colony densities, distances apiaries should be set from property lines, hive placement within the apiary, ensuring a fresh water source to keep your bees out of your neighbor’s pool, controlling diseases in your colonies, transporting bees, and a lot of other useful beekeeping information. For further information or for a copy of the RTFA, you can contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Environmental Stewardship Division, 1-800-292-3939.
The Generally Accepted Agriculture and Management Practices (GAAMPS) Care of Farm Animals includes many helpful guidelines for beekeepers, including a list of beekeeping and apiary management practices. Adherence to the following list of beekeeping and apiary management practices will help beekeepers avoid conflicts with neighbors and demonstrate good beekeeping management:
- Situate hives away from lot (property) lines and occupied buildings.
- Locate hives away from roads and areas frequented by pedestrian and animal traffic.
- In populated areas, use fences and hedges as screens to conceal hives and to elevate the bees’ flight path. Vegetation and fences also serve as windbreaks.
- Do not situate hives on or next to utility right- of -ways (power lines, pipelines or underground cables).
- Avoid placement of hives near schools, recreation areas, picnic grounds or other locations that may result in adverse honey bee/public interactions.
- Provide a water source so the bees don’t fix on neighborhood swimming pools, birdbaths, livestock/pet water sources, etc. The water source must be established before the weather gets hot so the bees are trained to it. Provide fresh water on a regular basis.*
- Keep no more than 4 hives on a lot less than 1/2 acre.
- Maintain gentle colonies. If hives become defensive, determine the cause and requeen with gentle stock if necessary. Skunks are often the reason for hives to suddenly become defensive.
- Work bees when neighbors are not in their yard. Minimize robbing behavior.
- Manage hives for swarm prevention.
- When mowing the grass in front of hives, direct the clippings and exhaust away from the entrance.
- Share your enthusiasm and knowledge of beekeeping with the community.
*Common water sources include birdbaths, pebble filled sections of gutter with end caps, plastic wading pools and entrance feeders. Pieces of carpet screen stapled to wooden frames, Styrofoam floats, and stones and pebbles provide ample footing for the bees to prevent drowning. The addition of salt (water softener, pickling, and sea) or sugar often aids in the training process of honey bees.
There are no mandatory inspection or certification requirements for honey bees entering or being transported within Michigan. Bees from international sources are subject to the provisions of the Federal Bee Act. It is the beekeeper’s responsibility to ensure the bees they purchase or transport into Michigan are in good health.
Michigan’s Apiary law provides for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to conduct apiary inspections for the purpose of issuing a health certificate to verify bees being shipped out of Michigan meet the requirements of the destination state. Beekeepers moving bees can contact the state apiarist, and they can review individual state requirements found at the Apiary Inspectors of America website. Beekeepers moving bees must comply with the rules of the state(s) where they unload bees. In general, and in accordance with Federal Department of Transportation Guidelines, a health certificate is not required for a state you are transiting.
The Michigan Apiary Law, Act 412 of 1976 provides for the suppression of serious diseases among bees, prescribes certain powers and duties of the director of the department of agriculture, and repeals certain acts and parts of acts. If you would like an inspection in Michigan, contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) at 1-800-292-3939, and ask for the State Apiarist. Fees are charged for inspections as required by the Michigan Apiary Law.
Honey bee shipments entering California are subject to two inspections: a cursory inspection at the border station and a more detailed inspection at the destination. You do not need a bee health certificate before you leave, but you can contact MDARD for a voluntary fire ant inspection. This inspection can be useful for beekeepers to get before they travel to California so that they do not have to sit unloaded at the border. To get a fire ant inspection, you will need the license plate information of the truck and trailer with the materials, and you will have to give at least a week notice for the Apiary Inspector to visit your location.
In 2019, California began to require all bees shipped to California to be registered by apiary location. Beekeepers can use BeeCheck or another state-sponsored registration program to register their apiaries. This requirement aims to provide communication between beekeepers and growers in order to prevent pesticide related bee kills.
Honey is not considered a cottage food, and the regulatory requirements and exemptions have some significant differences. Small-scale honey producers can wholesale their products to grocery stores, restaurants, and other retailers who will then resell them if they are labeled correctly. Honey producers are not limited to direct sales as cottage food products are. Before selling your honey, you must determine if your facility needs to be licensed, if you need a processing license, and what you need on the label.
The Michigan Food Law of 2000, PA 92 of 2000, as amended, is based on the Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21CFR) and serves as the primary source of licensing and labeling needs for Michigan food companies. The Food and Dairy Division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is responsible for assuring that food business operate under correct licensing and that food packages are properly labeled. Below are the licensing and labeling guidelines for companies. Exempt firms and those licensed are still subject to inspection by MDARD or local agencies. To ensure you are exempt, call MDARD at 1-800-292-3939.
All food processors, regardless of licensing need, should follow the “Current Good Manufacturing Practices in Manufacturing, Packing or Holding Human Food” (21 CFR part 110. The Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guides processors on general operating procedures, buildings and facilities, equipment, production, and process controls. MDARD has also written a set of guidelines specific to honey processing facilities, which can be seen in Appendix I of this document. If you follow MDARD’s specific guidelines, you should also follow federal law for your facility.
The Michigan Food Law exempts retail businesses from licensing that sell only incidental amounts of food already packaged and "not potentially hazardous." A sales outlet is exempt from licensing if 1) operated by the producer, 2) the producer operates the processing facility, and 3) gross sales are $15,000 or less. However, you must indicate this on your food package label as indicated later in this document.
As exempt, you would not be required to use a licensed facility. However, you still must meet all requirements of the Michigan Food Law regarding sanitation, building construct and design, employee hygiene, etc. Just because a licensed facility is not required does not mean that you can extract honey in unsanitary conditions. You are still expected to follow food safety guidelines and MDARD can still visit a non-licensed facility if they are following up on a complaint to make sure that your honey house follows the best food processing practices available. See Appendix I of this document for guidelines.
Food establishment licenses are for the processing only, not the facility. If your sales are over $15,001 per year, you will be required to 1) process your honey at a licensed facility (see Licensing Your Food Facility below) and 2) operate under a MDARD Food Establishment License(s). On the Food Establishment License application, FLP (Limited Wholesale Food Processor) is for businesses that expect to have $25,000 or less in total annual gross sales. A FFP (Wholesale Food Processor) is for businesses that expect their sales will exceed $25,000 in total annual gross sales. Both options allow you to sell retail and wholesale. You will also need a Food Warehouse License (FFW) to store your honey after it is packaged. Once the application is submitted, MDARD will contact you to arrange a visit to your facility to ensure the facility is licensed and watch your processing and packaging method before issuing licenses.
If you are interested in having your facility licensed as a Fixed Food Establishment or are required to due to your annual gross sales as noted above, you should call MDARD’s Food and Dairy Division at 1-800-292-3939, identify your area MDARD Inspector, and reach out directly to them for additional guidance. MDARD offers a no-cost facility Plan Review service to beekeepers who are building a honey processing facility. The Plan Review process can help prevent costly revisions by evaluating the proposed facility before construction begins. This process also facilitates communication between the MDARD Inspector and the operator throughout the construction process. For example, they can identify often missed gaps in the plan such as an unsealed floor, improper sinks or lights that are not sufficiently covered so that you do not have to remodel or replace fixtures after they are installed. This review service, along with their step-by-step guide and Plan Review Handout Materials, are useful tools for beekeepers before any construction or major remodeling.
Businesses that are exempt from licensing follow labeling guidelines that are substantially similar to those for cottage food products as described in section 4102(3) of the Michigan Food Law. The basic information that must be on the label is based on MDARD’s Michigan Maple Syrup and Honey Licensing Exemptions. The requirements, in addition to any additional information or designs you add, may be arranged as desired on the label. The weight, however, should be in the bottom 1/3 of the label. Below are the required items for a label:
- Name and Physical Address: You must use the name of the business or the owners name if no corporate structure has been created. Use the physical address where the honey is processed and packaged. Post office box addresses are not adequate.
- Standard of Identify (Name of Product): If the product is purely honey, use the standard of identify “Honey” as the name of the product. Special rules apply for labeling if the product contains more than just honey which are addressed later in this document. Using all capital letters or upper/lower case are both acceptable.
- Net Weight: The net weight or net volume of the honey product must also include the metric equivalent - conversion charts are available online. It is recommended to place this in the bottom 1/3 of the label.
- Disclaimer Statement: The following statement must be on the label: "Processed in a facility not inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development" in at least the equivalent of 11-point font (about 1/8" tall) and in a color that provides a clear contrast to the background. All capital letters or upper/lower case are both acceptable.
Hand-printed labels are acceptable if they are clearly legible, written with durable, permanent ink, and printed large enough to equal the font size requirements listed above.
Example of a honey label with only the required information. The company add a logo and company name.
123 Foodstuff Lane
Casserole City, MI 82682
"Processed in a facility not inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development" Artie Pinkster
Net Wt. 3 oz (85 g)
Labeling: Labels for companies selling over $15,000 in gross sales should follow the Michigan Food Labeling Guide.
All products sold in the United States are required to have a nutrition label in accordance to the FDA food labeling guide. If you are a small business and file for a small business exemption, you do not have to have a nutrition label. This exemption can be filled out online and must be done annually. The FDA definition of a small business is one that meets the following two criteria: 1) sells less than 100,000 units in the US each year, and 2) has less than 100 full time (or equivalent) employees. You must have the nutrition label if you are making any nutritional or health claims. If you have a nutritional label, all labels must follow the 2016 Nutrition Facts label format.
The labeling guidelines above apply to food products that only have “honey” as the sole ingredient. If you add other ingredients to your honey, you must follow the required additional labeling requirements, including adding a complete list of ingredients to the label. See the Federal Food Labeling Guide for Proper labeling of honey and honey products for additional guidance. Contact MDARD if you have question about labeling requirements for adding ingredients to honey.
As of June 2018, the recent requirements included that honey must have an “added sugars” declaration on the label. FDA has been working with the honey producers on this language, as many producers feels that it makes pure honey appear to have additional sugars added to it or that the product is adulterated. The FDA released a draft guidance in February 2018, and followed by a period of open comment. After the comment period, they released a constituent update. It is likely that this draft guidance will change soon, so make sure you check the most recent requirements often. For updates on the added sugars labeling you can email the FDA at nutritionprogramstaff@FDA.hhs.gov. Beekeepers are required to get a nutrition facts label after their sales exceed $15,001, and the added sugar portion only applies to honey packaged with nutrition fact labels.
If you want to claim that your honey is organic, it must be certified. “Organic” is a regulated term; if you are not certified organic, you must not make any organic claim on the principal display panel or use the USDA organic seal anywhere on the package. If you use the term “Organic” or the seal and you are not certified as organic, you can be fined. See the Organic Certification section in this document for more information.
Terms such as “raw,” “local,” “natural,” “pure,” and “unfiltered” are not regulated in Michigan and do not have official definitions. It is up to the beekeeper to ensure that their product and its handling is appropriate to the use of these terms. The term ‘Organic,’ on the other hand has a specific meaning, and you must be officially certified to use this term. See the FDA Label Claims For Food & Dietary Supplements for more information.
You do not have to have your label reviewed by the state before you sell your honey. However, MDARD can review your label to make sure that they are compliant. If you are interested in having MDARD review your label, follow the following instructions:
Read MDARD food labeling guide and submit all of the following:
- The label or a sketch of the label
- Specifications of the container’s dimensions
- The quantitative formula (recipe)
Labeling specialist, Food and Dairy Division
Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development
P.O. Box 30017
Lansing, MI 48909
If you are interested in becoming a certified organic operation, you will have to be certified by an accredited certifying agent. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) outlines the certification process and maintains lists of USDA-Authorized Organic Certifying Agents. Agents can also be found through the NOP database of certified operations by searching “honey” in the “certified products” field.
Organic honey regulations are in transition, and the status is a bit confusing. While there are no federal organic honey guidelines, the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA has issued a written statement affirming that your beekeeping operation may be certified as organic. A certifier can still determine that your operation can be organic by using USDA Guide for Organic Livestock Producers and draft guidelines and adapting the USDA organic regulations for the scope of livestock production (sections 205.236 – 205.240). In addition, they refer to the recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board regarding organic honey production, which includes parameters specific to beekeeping, such as foraging areas, supplemental feed, and hive construction. These recommendations have not yet been adopted by the National Organic Program, but there is a draft of a proposed rule that recommends the addition of apiculture-specific practice standards to the USDA organic regulations. There is no timeline as to when or if this rule will be adopted. If you are interested in becoming certified organic, the best first step would be to contact a certifying agency.
The Michigan Organic Products Act (Public Act 316 of 2000) establishes an organic registration requirement for organic producers, handlers and certifying agents. It also prescribes fees associated with registration, development of a data system to track organic products produced by registered producers, development and implementation of organic production standards, and enforcement through investigation and sampling programs. This act does not specifically list honey, but anyone producing organic products, handling organic products, or certifying organic operations in Michigan, needs to comply with Act 316 registration requirements.
A Guide for Conventional Farmers Transitioning to Organic Certification can be a great resource to guide in this process.
Michigan Beekeepers Association
The Michigan Beekeepers’ Association (MBA) is the oldest continually operating honey bee organization in the country, started in 1865. Their missions are to promote the honey bees to the general public, to help one another in maintaining healthy honey bees, and to encourage more research on honey bees.
Local Beekeeping Clubs
Many areas have local beekeeping clubs that provide education, meeting space, resources, mentoring, etc. to area beekeepers. Check the Michigan Beekeepers’ Association’s map of local clubs to find a club near you.
Michigan State University Extension
- Michigan Pollinator Initiative
- Michigan State University resources for beekeepers
- Michigan State University Extension pollinator and pollination articles, news, and events
- Michigan State University Apiculture Team
Bee Informed Partnership Tech Transfer Team
Michigan hosts a Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) Tech Transfer Team. Tech Transfer Teams are trained field agents who offer regular, fee-for-service, on-site colony inspections and sampling for commercial beekeepers and queen breeders. The data that they collect help provide large-scale beekeepers with the knowledge to evaluate and improve management practices to maintain healthy colonies. The teams conduct and demonstrate the importance of monitoring disease and parasite management while working with beekeepers in the field to collect samples, offer support, and analyze results. Additional service including conducting longitudinal sampling on new feed or treatment options desired by the operation. More information on the program as well as access to all publicly available results can be found at BeeInformed.org.
Thank you to Mike Hansen from MDARD, Tom Tederington from MDARD, Kristen Esch from MDARD from Ken Settimo from MDARD, Stacy Jones from USDA, Michael Wozinak from MDARD, Cirsten Main from MDARD, and Diane Longanbach from MSU Extension for their input on this document.
These regulations should be used as a guide to set up your honey processing facility to meet food safety standards. Contact Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for licensing information and updated standards.
Processing facility. A honey house is any stationary or portable building, or any room or place within a building used for the purpose of extracting, processing and/or handling of honey. It must be constructed in a sanitary manner, suitable to the operation, well maintained, in good repair and vermin proof. During the processing of honey, this place is to be used only for operation or storage of equipment incidental to the activity. (This room excludes the family kitchen.) The grounds adjacent to this building should be free from all litter, waste, refuse or anything that may constitute an attractant, breeding place or harborage for rodents, insects and other pests.
Floors. Floors of all rooms in which honey is handled must be of impervious and easily cleaned material and must be smooth, in good repair and kept clean. Floors that have a drain should drain into an approved sewage disposal system.
Walls and Ceilings. Walls and ceilings shall have washable surfaces, be clean, and kept in good repair.
Ventilated Openings. There shall be adequate ventilation and all ventilated openings shall be screened to exclude insects. It may be that honey bees enter the extracting facility, but efforts should be made to control entry and to eliminate bees once inside.
Lighting. Permanently fixed light source shall be sufficient to permit efficient operations. All lights over the processing area shall have protective shielding or be shatter resistant.
Water Supply. There shall be an adequate source of safe potable water under pressure in accordance with local sanitary codes. Water from a nonpublic source (private well) shall be tested at least once a year. Contact local health department about testing procedures and locations.
Approved septic systems - Water Disposal. MDARD does not approve septic systems but does require that the system be approved by the local health department. Beekeepers starting up a facility should contact their local health department for information on the approval process.
Toilets. Toilet facilities, including hand-washing basins, shall be conveniently available to honey-house personnel.
Vector Control. No chemicals or poisons shall be used to control insects or rodents while supers of honey are stored in the facility or extracting of honey is proceeding. Follow label instructions and use only approved pesticides.
Construction, Care, Use and Repair of Honey House, Containers and Equipment. During operation, the honey house shall be used exclusively for extraction, processing, packing or other handling of honey and storage of equipment related to the activity of the honey house. Containers shall be free of internal rust, cleaned before use. Honey shall not be packed in containers which have previously contained pesticides, creosote, petroleum products, paint, toxic substances or anything that would react with honey. All equipment should be covered when not in use. Extracting equipment shall have hard surfaces that will not permit reaction of the acid in honey and should be lubricated only with food-grade grease.
Heating Equipment. No boiler, oil stove or other heating equipment that gives off odor or dust may be used within the honey house, unless it is properly ventilated and complies with fire regulations.
Workers Sanitation. Workers shall maintain a high degree of personal cleanliness and wear clean, washable outer garments.
Hand Washing Station. This area shall be conveniently located, easily accessible and supplied with tempered water, soap, single service disposable paper towels or an effective sanitary drying device.
Ware wash sinks/cleaning and sanitizing. The Food Law of 2000 requires that all food-contact surfaces, including utensils and equipment, shall be cleaned as frequently as necessary to protect against contamination of food. The standard method of cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils is a three compartment sink. In addition to the wash sinks, the facility needs to have at least one conveniently located hand washing sink. If using fresh hot water, sanitization equipment / utensil surface temperatures must reach at least 171˚F (77˚C).
Processing Equipment. Processing equipment shall be constructed of durable, smooth and easily cleanable materials, well maintained and stored to avoid contamination.
Bee Hive Equipment. Extracting supers shall be clean and free of contamination. Medication is to be applied only when required following label directions. Supers should be covered, transported in clean vehicles and stored in a clean/sanitary area prior to extracting.
Extracting Honey. Uncapping should be done under sanitary conditions. Extracted honey should be covered if the process is not continuous. Each lot is processed separately and a sample of each lot shall be retained with proper label identification.
Straining of honey shall be done with a clean mesh –cloth material or stainless steel mesh. Reuse of cloth mesh is not advisable. If honey is filtered, the filters should be checked for damage to ensure they are clean and free from extraneous material.
Packaging Honey (Bottling) and Labeling Requirements. The processing of honey for bottling shall be done in a clean/sanitary devoted facility. Retail and wholesale honey containers should be labeled with: product identity, ingredients if any are added, a production or lot code, name, address of manufacturer, packer or distributor, and net weight.
Cooperative Honey Houses (Central Kitchens). As a cooperative honey house, multiple processors can use the licensed facility. The processors that use the facility are not required to obtain a license. Accurate records of members using the facility will be kept. From time to time, MDARD will examine the production records to verify that honey found in commerce was actually produced at the cooperative.
Transport of Supers. Vehicles used to transport supers after removal must be clean. Supers must be covered during transport to prevent environmental contamination. Storage of supers must occur in a clean and sanitary environment.