The bitter side of honey

Becoming bee friendly is a good first step for the city. Now Kamloops needs to become honey friendly.

Bee City Canada

Bee City Canada

Canadian and American consumers are getting stung with fake honey. Much of comes from China, the world’s largest honey producer but you wouldn’t know it. Chinese honey is being laundered.

The label rarely says “made in China.” Instead, it will show the country of origin as being from countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan: suspiciously, places that ordinarily don’t produce much honey.

An investigation by the Globe and Mail found that Chinese producers export cheap and often contaminated honey to countries mislabelled as molasses, fructose or glucose syrup so customs officials don’t become suspicious.

The Chinese honey is filtered to remove any soil or pollen that would identify the county of origin and exported to countries around the world.

Worse still, the Chinese honey may be contaminated with antibiotics and adulterated with sugar:

“Most honey comes from China, where beekeepers are notorious for keeping their bees healthy with antibiotics banned in North America because they seep into honey and contaminate it; packers there learn to mask the acrid notes of poor quality product by mixing in sugar or corn-based syrups to fake good taste.”

The importation of fake and imported honey leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of Neil Specht. The Saskatchewan honey producer has seen the price of honey drop from $2.43 to $1.11 a pound last year due to the flood of imported honey into Canada.

“There are few, if any, honey producers that can operate at $1.11 per pound,” Specht told Walrus magazine. “I would suspect the costs of production for most are in the $1.60 to $1.65 range.”

Specht had a bumper crop last year, more than 500,000 pounds, and he’s not sure what to do with it. He could sell it at a loss or keep it in hopes that prices will improve. He normally sells his honey to the Western Canadian co-operative Bee Maid.

Consumer confusion over labelling doesn’t help. When buyers see “Canada No. 1” on a label, they think it’s produced in Canada. But that is just an indication of grade, not country of origin. Fine print may reveal the true source.

Canadian honey producers are understandingly upset. Manitoba bee keeper Allan Campbell alleges that Canada’s largest honey packer, Billy Bee, is marketing their honey as pure Canadian while as much as one-half of the contents may imported. Spokespeople for Billy Bee deny this, insisting that their honey is eighty-five per cent Canadian. Billy Bee brand is a blend of Canadian and Argentine honeys while their Natural Honey Farms brand contains honey from China.

It’s well and good for Kamloops to promote healthy ecosystems for bees; they pollinate much of the food we eat. However, the honey they produce is worth protecting as well. I don’t mean just the honey bought at Kamloops’ Farmers Markets, which I would think is pure Canadian, but also the honey sold on grocery store shelves.

The bee-friendly brand is cute but the hard work is lobbying governments to remove deceptive labelling so that it’s clear what consumers are buying in bee-friendly Kamloops.