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What is in Your Honey?
Honey bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years. It is estimated that over one third of all crops are pollinated by the honey bee. The farmer used to be able to depend on feral colonies of bees to help with the pollination of crops; however, the spread of diseases and the invasion of parasitic mites have caused the wild bee colony to become almost extinct. In many ways, the bee is the “canary” of our society, warning us that the structure of our natural world is getting out of balance.
Aggressive beekeeping practices have created bee colonies that are susceptible to diseases and pests. Traditional beekeepers must resort to chemical means to keep their hives alive and to ensure honey supply. Bacteria, viruses, and infections can invade a hive and kill the colony. The most destructive bacteria are American Foulbrood, although European Foulbrood, Sacbrood, and Nosema can all cause significant damage and/or death to the hive. These diseases are treated with medicated sugar syrup that contains an antibiotic, usually oxytetracycline, or fumagillin. As is the case with humans, these antibiotics merely suppress the diseases which may reappear stronger and spread to other hives.
Pests also cause problems that will ultimately weaken or destroy a hive. Varroa Mites, Trachael Mites, and Small Hive Beetles are treated with the chemicals fluvalinate, coumaphos, or formic acid. The caterpillar that becomes the Wax Moth, which cocoons in the hive, is treated with the toxin paradicholorobenzene.
The beekeeper is advised on all drug and pesticide labels to wear protective clothing and not to use the products during honey flow. If the beekeeper is extremely careful, most of these harmful substances will not be concentrated in the honey. However, residues are corrosive, toxic, sometimes carcinogenic, and can cause mutations of antibiotic-resistant diseases, as well as skin, lung, eye, and nerve damage.
Now that the beehive has been medicated, what about the nectar and pollen sources from which they feed? Bees fly in a radius of about 3 miles from their hive. The widespread use of chemicals in agriculture and on public lands leaves chemical residues which are carried in on the pollens and nectars that bees gather. Commercially-produced honey may contain residues of these chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and genetically-engineered pollen.
When honey is extracted, many large processors use heat to make packing easier and to prevent crystallization which makes the product more attractive to the consumer. As a result, the once nutrient-laden honey is reduced to honey-flavored sugar syrup. At the end of the season, if the beekeeper has “robbed” too much of the bees’ honey, then their food source is replaced by sugar water, detracting even more from the nutrients naturally found in honey.
A day in the life of the organic beekeeper is much different than that of the traditional beekeeper. There are strict standards in place in order to produce “Certified Organic” honey, and these rules are enforced by a third-party organization. No chemicals or drugs are allowed in or around the bees or their hives or in the materials used to construct their hives. Hives with diseases that are not treatable with organic methods must be burned. The hives are placed in locations that are environmentally pure and uncontaminated.
The organic beekeeper leaves enough honey in the hive for the bees to overwinter without having to feed them non-nutritive sweeteners. Organic beekeepers do not use artificial means of reproduction, allowing nature to provide the “fittest of the species.”
Organic honey is carefully extracted and warmed only up to hive temperature -- heat destroys the natural enzymes in honey. Hand-packing the honey may result in some crystallization later, but it is an assurance that the honey has not been heated too high.
It is a difficult task to keep a bee hive healthy and thriving. It is even harder to do so without resorting to the quick-fix of medications and chemicals. With proper foresight and planning, and a little extra time, beekeepers can produce organic honey and bee products without jeopardizing the delicate balance of our natural world. It is our responsibility to support Certified Organic products to encourage the detoxification of agriculture.
This article is written by Kimberly Moore