Showing posts with label National Honey Bee Day. Show all posts
Showing posts with label National Honey Bee Day. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Honey Heresy–How Honey Producers Are Ripping You Off

Other than the clarity or purity of the honey, is there any real difference between the main brand honeys you find in major grocery or pharmacy stores and the “unfiltered” style of honey that you might buy at a farmer’s market?  Apparently, lots. 

As you might guess, one difference is the spoon-for-spoon health value.  But new research has revealed some murky politics going on in honey imports that not only threatens the finances of U.S. beekeepers but may also endanger your health.  August 17 is National Honey Bee Day – the right time to learn more about this problem and to increase your knowledge on the different kinds of honey.

Is all honey alike?

There are differences you should be aware of when choosing honey.  Here are the main types of honey and what you should know about each.

Whole comb honey
Whole-comb honey and raw, unfiltered honey
Whole-comb honey and raw honey are about as close as you can get to buying honey in its natural state. 
  • Whole-comb honey is not just the honey but also the honeycomb from the bee hive which it came.  If you want your honey completely unprocessed, buy it this way. 
  • Raw, unfiltered honey is the kind of honey you often find at a local farmer’s market or possibly in a heath food store. It’s out of the comb and into a jar, but is still raw (not heated or treated).
Many of the benefits of buying honey in the comb are the same as the benefits of buying raw honey.  With either:
  • Being raw, these kinds of honey still contain live nutrients and the maximum amount of vitamins in their most natural state.
  • Expect a healthy dose of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.
  • Heal a wound with raw honey.  Honey can kill microbes and dry up a wound.
Any downsides or risks with raw honey or honeycomb? A couple, yes. 
  • First, if you and your children are used to the purified style of honey, such as those you find in a plastic honeybee-shaped squeeze bottle, it may take some mental adjusting to buying honey that has been unfiltered, as it will appear cloudy and often with specs in it. 
  • If you can get past the cloudiness, the other downside of raw honey is the possibility of Clostridium botulinum spores.  The risks are minute, but substantial enough for infants under 12 months that the CDC recommends against giving them raw honey (in fact, infants under 12 months should avoid all foods containing honey).  Once a child’s digestive tract has matured beyond the first 12 months, their systems are able to prevent botulism spores from growing.
Raw unfiltered honeyIf you buy either form of raw honey, in the comb or in a jar, you can benefit even more by buying it from a local beekeeper.  Raw honey contains pollens from your area that, when introduced to your system gradually through honey consumption, can help you build up protective tolerances against plant allergens.
Filtered honey
Filtered honey is a bit more refined than raw honey, as it has been heated beyond the point where it can be called raw.  The heating is done to enable filtering of small particles or impurities.  The vitamin content and healthy pollens remain essentially intact.  Being filtered, this honey is more pure and a bit cleaner.
The main downside to filtered honey is that, because of the heating process, filtered honey will no longer contain any live  nutrients.
Pure honey or liquid honey
Pure honey is by far the predominant kind of honey sold in the U.S..  If you get a honey packet at a restaurant, or buy honey in a plastic bee-shaped container, odds are that you’re consuming pure honey.  Advantages:
  • Pure honey is usually a lighter color and flavor.
  • Pure honey is more crystallization-resistant than raw honey or filtered honey.
  • Pure honey stores longer than other kinds of honey.
  • Because pure honey has been heated to high temperatures, it is the type of honey least likely to contain any microorganisms.
While all that purity sounds like a good thing, it often is the result of ultra-filtering.  If honey is ultra-filtered, then what you’re getting is not real honey, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  According to FDA standards, honey must contain pollen to be considered honey.  But any bee product that has been ultra-filtered will no longer contain pollen. 

Pure liquid honey

One problem with honey that has been ultra-filtered is that most of the nutrients have been cooked out. But the biggest problem is that, with the pollens removed from the honey, it is no longer possible to identify where the honey came from.  The source is important to know for two reasons:
  • China has a glut of honey and has been dumping its honey surplus on the world market, which results in severe undercutting of honey prices, effectively pricing American beekeepers out of the honey market.
  • The health standards for honey production in other countries – most notably China – are much less stringent.  Thus, any of these unregulated and untested pure honeys may contain harmful substances, such as antibiotics and heavy metals.
You can read up on the honey ultra-processing downsides and risks at, Huffington Post, or
Spun honey
Spun honey, also known as crystallized honey, has had some of the honey’s moisture content removed, turning it from a liquid into creamy paste.  It is popular with those who like to spread honey on bread or toast.  It’s biggest disadvantage is that it is even more processed than pure honey, which means that the vitamin content is likely gone.

Celebrate National Honey Bee Day

If you like honey as much as most Americans, you can still make plans for the 2013 National Honey Day.  Spread the honey, yes, and even spread the word about National Honey Bee Day with a National Honey Bee Day Bumper Sticker.  Make the day fun for the whole family with this music video about honey bees
Have a honey of day!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, August 16, 2013

Honeybees–An Endangered Species?

August is a honey of a month, not only because it’s the last month of the summer break for most school kids – and its departing will be such sweet sorrow – but because August 17 is National Honey Bee Day.  We’re celebrating the bee in a big way with a week of articles and info on honey bees and the wonderful, healthful bee products we can add to our diets, such as honey, bee pollen, and royal jelly.  In this article, we focus on the plight of the honey bee – a hot topic due to the sharp decline in bee colonies in the last couple of years that has endangered the American and even worldwide food supply.

Bee on flower

Colony Collapse Disorder – What happened

Roughly seven years ago, the massive dying off of honeybee colonies sent alarm through the American beekeeper community as they reported huge declines in the number of bees.  Countrywide, the beekeepers were reporting losses were from 30 percent to as much as 90 percent.  While bee colony declines have occurred previously in US history, nothing of this scale had ever taken place before.

Government estimates show the decline of managed honey bee colonies as half today the number of colonies in the 1940s, even as the demand for honeybee products has increased over the years.

Why the honey bee colony decline spells disaster

Left unchecked, a honeybee colony collapse of this magnitude threatens the survival of many crops, those that rely on honeybee pollenization to bear fruit.  According to the Agricultural Research Service, USDA’s internal research agency, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. 

But the loss is not just economic; a third of the food in the American diet is made possible through honey bee pollination. Many foods that can only exist with the assistance of bee pollination, such as:
  • Almonds and other tree nuts
  • Berries
  • Most fruits
  • Most vegetables
The loss is even greater though because many forms of livestock are dependent on grazing or grain-feeding of grasses and similar plants that rely on the honeybee.  For example, cattle are often fed alfalfa, but alfalfa requires bee pollination.  When you consider the related connections such as these, estimates on the number of foods we eat that are influenced by honeybee pollenization are as high as 90 percent!

Swarm of bees

What is causing the decline in bee colonies

Scientists have not yet been able to identify conclusively a single cause of the honeybee colony decline. However, research is moving ever closer, and indicators are that the collapse of colonies appears to be the result of numerous factors – a perfect storm of environmental stresses. These include the presence of parasites, pathogens, pesticides, and fungicides in the honeybees’ environment. They add up to conditions of environmental stress that affect the habits of the honeybee, ultimately disrupting their social system and making their colonies more susceptible to disease.

What can be done to save honeybee colonies

There are many efforts underway to give honeybee colonies a better chance for survival and, hopefully, a chance to thrive.
  • Along with their regular crops, farmers are being encouraged to grow groundcover plants that are considered bee-friendly, such as buckwheat, mustard, and sweet clover.
  • Almond growers in particular are being advised to grow groundcover plants along canal banks and roadways. Almonds are highly dependent on the honeybee, and such groundcover planting keeps the honeybees active and healthy during those times when the almond crops have not yet begun to flower.
  • Research continues on many fronts, including several studies by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, to better identify causes and, if necessary, outlaw the use of those pesticides or fungicides in farming that appear to play a significant part in the honeybee colony decline.
Can you make a difference? Yes! You don't have to be a farmer to make the world a safer place for the honeybee; there are actions that you, the common consumer, can do to help to make National Honey Bee Day more meaningful for you and your family:
  • Avoid indiscriminate use of pesticides.
  • Particularly avoid using pesticides in the middle of the day, as that is when honey bees do most of their nectar-foraging.
  • Seed your property with foxglove, the Palm, red clover, and other plants that encourage bee pollenization.
  • Consider becoming a backyard beekeeper.

Bee keeper

For more information about honeybee decline and steps that you can take (and that are being taken) to reverse the decline, visit NAPPC, the website of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, or see the PBS page How You Can Help the Bees

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer