Skyrocketing demand for honey has meant that costs within the US have almost doubled over the previous decade – so why are American beekeepers struggling to make ends meet?
David Bradshaw has been a beekeeper for almost half a century.
Born in Pasadena, and raised in California’s rural Central Valley, he bought his first 200 hives whereas nonetheless in highschool. He then labored alongside his father till they every had about 2,000.
With the common value of honey on US grocery store cabinets at $8.09 (£6.48) per pound (454g) final month, up from $4.66 in May 2010, you’d suppose that it was increase instances for Mr Bradshaw and the opposite 36,000 or so US beekeepers.
Instead, many are getting ready to going out of enterprise, regardless of the large value rise as US honey consumption has grown by greater than a 3rd over the identical interval.
“It’s hard,” says the 63-year-old. “It’s laborious promoting the honey.
“I do some commercial extraction for other beekeepers. And since they can’t sell their honey either, they have problems paying me.”
“These days I get paid only $1.25 to $1.50 per pound of honey, with prices falling further. To break even, I need to be paid at least $2 per pound, which hasn’t happened for about three years.”
So what’s the reason behind the issue? There are various components, from the US importing large volumes of low-cost honey from abroad, to inadequate labelling rules, and even outright dishonest – whereby honey is blended with cheaper elements, reminiscent of corn syrup.
A visit to any US grocery retailer signifies the difficulty relating to honey labels. There are cabinets stacked with honey jars labelled “US grade A”.
So a patriotic American may suppose that that is the perfect high quality honey to purchase. Unfortunately it would not truly imply that the honey in query is from the US.
Instead the time period “US grade A” is a tenet issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for some metrics of honey, reminiscent of moisture, content material, color and readability. Grades B and C are additionally accessible.
So a jar of A might be labelled as such after which additionally say, usually in very small print, that it’s a combination of honeys from various different international locations.
The downside for US beekeepers is that whereas they are saying they should be paid $2 per pound to interrupt even, overseas honey could be imported for as little as 81 cents per pound.
The US imports its honey from a quantity international locations, with India the largest supply, adopted by Vietnam, Argentina and Brazil.
So the individuals making huge earnings from honey gross sales within the US are the importers and honey retail firms, not the home beekeepers.
However, Nicholas Sargeantson, proprietor of the biggest importer of honey to the US, Sunland Trading, factors out that the imports are very important to fulfill demand.
“Imported honey, in general, is coming in large volumes because the consumption here is over 500 million lb (22m kg) [per year] and only 150 are produced domestically,” he says.
While it’s completely authorized to import and promote overseas honey within the US if the origin is acknowledged, in some circumstances the nation or international locations of origin could be illegally hidden or mislabelled. The honey may also have been secretly and fraudulently adulterated, or bulked out, with corn syrup or different cheaper elements.
Sweetwater Science Labs, an unbiased testing lab in Missouri, says that roughly 35-40% of of consumer-instigated honey testing it performed over the previous 18 months was both adulterated, of false origin, or of poor high quality as a result of it had been overly processed, reminiscent of being overheated.
“I have been seeing more and more testing requests to verify the origin of honey, [not just from consumers] but even from growers and smaller packers testing the origins of competitor products,” says Sweetwater’s chief chemist James Gawenis.
Accusations of fraud have dogged the US honey commerce for many years and Mitchell Weinberg, chief govt of meals fraud detection company Inscatech, says issues stay as unhealthy as ever. “I’ve done numerous honey investigations over the past 10 years, and I can say with certainty that the problem of honey fraud today is still huge,”
The downside for the US honey trade in coping with this all is that the sector stays largely self-regulated, with little or no authorities monitoring.
Take the USDA’s grading system – it is not truly enforced. Honeys aren’t routinely examined by the division, or another federal company.
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Michael Roberts, govt director on the Resnick Centre for Food Law and Policy on the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, says the federal government should do extra to police the US honey sector.
“There is insufficient coordination between government agencies to police honey fraud in a way that would make it effective,” he says.
This lack of coordination is rapidly revealed when the USDA was requested whether or not its honey grading system ought to be strengthened. It replied to the BBC that “overall authority for food labelling is the responsibility of the FDA [the US Food and Drug Administration, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services]”.
Its response was related when it was requested what it was doing about the issue of adulterated honey: “Again this is ultimately the authority of the FDA.”
A spokesman for the FDA stated that it “does not have any regulations governing country of origin labelling.” Instead it stated it was a matter for the USDA.
However, he added that relating to honey adulteration: “The FDA considers product labelling, and the statements and representations made therein, on a case-by-case basis. [And] all statements on a food label must be truthful and not misleading.”
The downside of adulterated overseas honey coming into the US is the largest situation, says Ron Phipps, of the International Federation of Beekeepers Associations.
“The reality is not that American beekeepers are non-competitive,” he says. “The problem is other countries are using means of production, which have been observed and documented, that allow production of huge quantities of adulterated honey whose production costs are extremely low.”
Beekeeper David Bradshaw is evident about what he wish to see. “I’d like to see [more] prominent labelling of the country of origin of all honey sold,” he says.
He additionally hopes to see stronger enforcement to guard US beekeepers from adulterated honey, or honey that tries to cover its nation of origin, each of which suppress costs.
Chris Hiatt, vice chairman of the American Honey Producers Association, says that one thing needs to be executed. “We need a decent price to keep our businesses going,” he says. “It is a serious problem.”