At a recent honey sales seminar put on by the National Honey Board and the Minnesota Honey Producers, there was a great deal of emphasis on adding value to honey products. This idea was reinforced by Carl Loop Jr., president of the Florida Farm Bureau, discussing the October 1995 report of a task force of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) in his remarks in the February 1996 FloridAgriculture. According to Mr. Loop, besides helping producers, adding value to agricultural products would have many positive influences on the total economy. However, Mr. Loop concludes, this new “mindset” requires a change in how many segments of agriculture are presently doing business.
Perhaps no challenge is greater for the agriculturalist than beginning to produce and market “organic” products. Reliance on pesticides, fertilizers and other non-organic inputs has been described as almost an “addiction” in many agricultural operations.
A few years back, none of this would have been the case for honey producers who already had what many considered by fiat an organic product. But, ironically, the introduction of tracheal and Varroa bee mites has placed the beekeeper in the same position as those farmers who still rely on chemicals. The present control methods for these parasites appear to have greatly reduced the possibilities of marketing organic products from the hive.
Other hive products also come under the “organic” rubric, including propolis, pollen and beeswax. It would be tragic, though because of honey’s reputation not catastrophic, if the opportunity to sell value-added organic products was lost to the beekeeping industry. The possibility is real, however, and the industry should take note of recent activity on the organic certification front.
Recent History of Organic Production:
According to recent issue of Farm Aid News, Vol. 3, No. 20, December 1995, the use of organic materials in farm production dates back to the beginning of crop cultivation. However, non- organic farming has dominated our country’s fields since the 1940s when synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides were introduced at relatively cheap prices offering large yield rewards. After several decades of this intensive production, farmers saw their soil deteriorate and their income shrink to below poverty- wage levels. At the same time, a growing number of consumers have become more aware of food safety issues and consequently are beginning to demand food grown without synthetic chemicals. This changing consumer demand has made it possible for many family farmers to earn a viable living from the sale of organic farm products.
According to a nationwide survey conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), quoted in the newsletter, most organic farms are run by family farmers. Eighty-four percent are sole proprietors or family partnerships. “The reason family farmers are responsible for much of organic production is because they are able to respond more quickly and innovatively to market demand changes than someone who has a lot of overhead,” explains OFRF’S Bob Scowcroft.
Organic Products Price Driven:
Organic crop prices vary depending on local supply and demand conditions, according to Farm Aid News, and premiums can range from 25 to 100 percent of the conventional market price. Research quoted from the Midwest Organic Alliance, for example, found that producers growing organic soybeans received three times the price paid to growers who sold non-organic.
Consumer Demand Drives Price:
The newsletter also reports that a study by Rodale Press found in 1993 that nearly two-thirds of all consumers had tried organic produce, and nearly 90 percent said they would buy organic food consistently if it cost the same as non-organic food. Some 41 percent of those consumers surveyed were willing to buy organic produce even if it cost more. As a result, sales of organic foods have increased steadily over the past four years:
Unfortunately, the term “organic” means different things to different people, the reason Congress promulgated Chapter 94 of U.S. Code Title 7 concerning organic certification. Under this legislation, The National Organic Program (NOP) in Washington continues to finalize proposed standards.
Some 275,603 comments based on the proposed regulations governing the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), published December 16, 1997, in the Federal Register and another 10,817 in response to an October 24, 1998 Federal Register entry is the largest public response to a proposed rule in USDA history. It caused the authors to go back to the drawing board. Thus, March 7, 2000, the USDA released its second proposal for the National Organic Program and again comments were solicited.
The latest step is in the works. Final action is expected December 2016
A listing of Organic Certifiers is currently available on the World Wide Web. The standards can vary widely including the following possibilities:
A. Feeding of bees
1. Honey and bee pollen from a known certified organic source is permitted.
2. The use of sugar or sugar syrup as a regular feed source in prohibited.
B. Control/prevention of disease
1. Hives should be regularly checked, with diseased hives kept separate from healthy hives.
2. Use of antibiotics in honey production is prohibited, except when the health of the colony is threatened.
i. If antibiotics are used in a health emergency, the hive must be removed and immediately taken out of organic production.
ii. Only the extraction immediately following the use of antibiotics may not be sold as organic.
3. Extracting honey for organic sale from brood chambers in which antibiotics have been used is prohibited.
C. Foraging areas
1. Apiaries must be located on certified organic land.
2. It is prohibited to locate apiaries within three miles of flowering agricultural crops that have been sprayed with conventional pesticides, if the bees could be using these crops for forage.
3. Apiaries may not be located within two miles of sanitary landfills, golf courses or major traffic areas.
4. Beekeepers must provide clean water and sufficient certified organic forage to feed bees throughout the season.
D. Queen rearing
1. Cross breeding of bee families is encouraged, although the making of artificial swarms is permitted.
2. Artificial insemination is permitted.
E. Honey treatment
1. All surfaces that honey contacts should be stainless steel or coated with beeswax. Honey may not contact galvanized steel or metal with surfaces that oxidize.
2. Mechanical uncapping of combs is preferred to uncapping with heat. In no instance should heat be higher than 95 degrees F.
3. Honey extraction facilities should be designed to prevent the spread of disease.
4. Oxidized barrels are prohibited; re-used barrels are permitted if previously used for food service.
5. Chemical bee repellents are prohibited.
MIEL BIOLOGIQUE: ORGANIC HONEY IN EUROPE
The Union Nationale de l’Apiculture Française (UNAF) is concerned about the European Union’s efforts to develop a designation of organic honey (miel biologique). In an editorial in the April 1997 edition of the Revue Française d’Apiculture (No. 57, pp. 149, 158-9), the President, Henri Clément said that UNAF’s administrative council unanimously concludes that such a designation constitutes not only intellectual heresy, but also an unprecedented attempt to trick the consuming public.
Mr. Clément further asks if the designation of organic (biologique) apiculture is really a conceivable objective? He responds in the negative, and in the strongest language, says it sends a wrong and deceitful message. All honey, he says, unless damaged because of incorrect handling during harvest, is by definition biologique. He concludes that all French beekeepers must demand that this effort by the European Union should be abandoned.
Mr. Clément has some powerful allies. In the same issue of the Magazine. Dr. Rémy Chauvin, honorary professor at the Sorbonne and past director of bee research in the Ministry of Agriculture (INRA) concurs as does J.-P. Faucon, Head of the Bee Unit at Sofia-Antipolis and Raymond Borneck, President of Apimondia (see Letter of February 28, 1997). Other allies include Profs. Dr. E. Bengsch (Medical Research Center, Munich), R. Huber (Director of Biochemistry, Max-Planck Institute) and A kettrup (Director of Medical Research in Toxicology and the Environment (GSF, Munich) who in a unified statement, call the designation absurd.
At the moment most parties agree that the only country in the world producing a large amount of organic honey is Brazil.
In summary, discussions about the “organic” designation are currently going on in U.S. bureaucracies and others around the world. Let’s hope those involved take a close look at the deliberations of the largest honey-consuming regions of the world before making any final decisions the global honey-producing industry will have to live with, perhaps for a very long time.