Honey and the Honey Bees

Articles
August 04, 2010

Honey and the Honey Bees

Honey bees have been making news lately, whether it’s that they’re getting their own space in supermarkets- so called ‘hotels’- or that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on mislabeled imports and adulterated products, Supermarket Guru felt there was a lot of confusion surrounding these ever important pollinators.

Honey bees have been making news lately, whether it’s that they’re getting their own space in supermarkets- so called ‘hotels’- or that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is cracking down on mislabeled imports and adulterated products, Supermarket Guru felt there was a lot of confusion surrounding these ever important pollinators. We recently caught up with David Mendes, President ofThe American Beekeeping Federation who helped us clear up some of the issues.

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, we're seeing population losses as high as 60 to 70 percent each year. Since the conclusion thus far is that the omnipresent - “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, little or no evidence of dead bees inside or near hives, but with adequate 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 common 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 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 can consumers be sure they are getting “honest” honey?
Read labels on honey jars, make sure the honey is actually honey and does not contain any other added ingredients - pure honey does not need added preservatives as it is naturally antimicrobial. Also be sure to purchase domestic honey, look for country of origin labeling. Not only does this support domestic bee keepers, but also ensures the little pollinators are well taken care of, and that you are getting the best product available. For the time being it may be advisable to avoid imported honey, especially from China for reasons mentioned above.

Honey is a great, unrefined, natural sweetener, ‘as natural as you can get’ and is also thought to help those who suffer from allergies.

What about organic honey?
Organic honey is made from bees that do not / cannot travel to conventionally grown plants, this is considerably harder these days as you never know what your neighbor has put on their lawn and you can not control where the bees are going to fly. With that said, there are places that produce truly organic honey, free from pesticide residues and antibiotics, and if you are looking for these products you have to do some research. It is also interesting to mention that organic honey producers have a lesser problem with CCD.

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.