Clearing Up the Confusion: Honey & the Bees

July 22, 2010

President of The American Beekeeping Federation helps clear up some of the issues in an exclusive interview.

Honey bees have been making news lately, whether it’s that they’re getting their own space in supermarkets, or that the Food and Drug Administration is going to start cracking down on mislabeled imports and adulterated products, the Lempert Report felt there was a lot of confusion surrounding these ever important pollinators. David Mendes, President of The American Beekeeping Federationhelps clear up some of the issues in an exclusive interview.
First thing first, are we making progress in the battle against Colony Collapse Disorder?

No, in fact Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is “spreading” across the country. As more fields of soy and corn are planted, where these crops were never grown before, we’re seeing our bee populations, the pollinators, die off. In fact, were seeing population losses as high as 60 to 70 percent each year. Since the conclusion thus far is that the omnipresence - “toxic soup”- of fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and other environmental contaminants, are causing CCD, it’s really difficult for all beekeepers, organic and conventional, to protect their bees and keep a healthy stock. 
As a reminder, CCD encompasses several symptoms, the most obvious being the complete absence of adult bees, with little or no build up of dead bees inside or near hives, and with food stores still remaining inside. Post abandonment, wax moth, and hive beetle attacks are noticeably delayed. In actively collapsing colonies, where the workforce is diminishing and thus not able to maintain the brood, it is commonly observed that older colony members do not consume their feed.
We have been hearing a lot about mislabeled and adulterated imports. How much is true?

It’s hard to tell as there are no systems in place to check honey imports, which is where we are seeing most of the problems, and unfortunately the FDA has really dropped the ball here. Their main focus lately has been plastics, and they are working on one big food safety bill - where we anticipate an increased regulation of honey.

Another problem lies in the fact that the Chinese are marketing their product 70 to 80 cents cheaper than the global price of $1.50- $1.60 per pound. This coupled with the fact that they are diverting products to intermediate countries / purposefully mislabeling products, as ‘sweeteners’ to avoid the high tariff on Chinese honey is really disrupting the domestic market. In essence these products are illegal because the associated tariffs were never paid- it is estimated that the Chinese have avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in tariffs.
How feasible are bee “hotels” or hives in supermarkets?

They are certainly feasible but require a lot of attention, because if it’s not done properly it turns into an ‘eye sore.’ My recommendation would be to get a local bee club on board to maintain the hive- but it is definitely a wonderful idea for supermarkets, as people are undoubtedly fascinated by bees. As well as attracting customers, having an observation bee hive in store would help with the marketing of honey as well as educating consumers about the importance of pollinators. 
The honey bee is involved in the production of about one-third of the foods that each American consumes on a daily basis. U.S. agriculture relies on honeybee pollination for anything from apples to melons to alfalfa seeds. For more information on everything bees, visit The American Beekeeping Federation.