- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Is it organic?
And if you're a beekeeper, has a consumer ever asked you if your honey is organic? How do you know?
An inquiring mind--a beekeeper--asked Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology about organic honey. We thought we'd share his comments.
"The answer to the question about 'organic honey' makes sense only if the inquisitive person knows about the mechanics of producing any 'organic' commodity," said Mussen, who retired last June after 28 years of service but continues to maintain an office.
"There are a set of government definitions that set the requirements for producing many organic products – honey is not one of them. So, we try to play by the rules for organic livestock and organic plant producers. Basically, you have to find a 'certified organic certifier'who will certify your operation, at a cost. You have to develop a 'plan' that explains how and where you are going to keep your bees. Often the certifier wants them to be kept on previously certified organic farms. The likelihood of the bees just sticking around that farm for food and water are practically zero."
So true! Remember that bees forage four to five miles from their colony or within a 50-square mile.
"So, you have to pay attention to the possible locations of 'contaminated' food and water within a 50-square mile area surrounding your apiary," Mussen told the beekeeper. "Things that catch the eye of the certifiers are landfills, golf courses, heavily-trafficked highways, agricultural plantings, etc. where contaminants are likely to be encountered.
"Like milk cows, you are supposed to start, or develop over time, an organic 'herd' of bees. Like dairy cattle, if mastitis or American foulbrood shows up, the infected individuals have to be removed from the herd – not allowed to be killed – and medicated back to health. After a period of time--pretty long--following recovery, the no-longer-sick animals can return.
Mussen points out that "any honey harvested and processed has to be done so in just the right way: no contact with plastics or other synthetics--pretty restrictive on packaging and sealable covers, right?"
Bottom line: "Producing organic honey is nearly impossible around the state (California)," Mussen says.
Now, the truth of the matter, as cited by Mussen:
- Honey is hardly ever contaminated, even in areas of frequent use of possible contaminants. If the contaminants are very toxic, the bees will die when working with the nectar and the honey is never produced.
- Honey is a water-based product, so it does not mix readily with waxes and oils in the hive. Nearly all pesticides are petroleum-based compounds that do not mix well with water or honey at all. So, your honey is not likely to be contaminated no matter where you are. The more secluded your apiaries are from humanity, the better things will be.
Mussen says the United States "produces quite a bit of honey from crops within the center of commercial agriculture and we are not having problems with contaminated honey."
So, whether beekeepers wish to call their honey organic. is up to them. "You would have to become certified, then have occasional visits by your certifier, if you wished to be legal," says Mussen. "It will not change your honey. And, I have never heard of any certifiers testing honey for impurities."
Mussen further points out that the United States does not have a set of standards for organic honey production in as Canada and some European countries do. "We just borrow them from elsewhere!" He recommends this website for more information on organic honey: https://www.organicfacts.net/organic-products/organic-food/organic-honey-standards.html.