Organic Honey

organic honeyOrganic Honey

Eating healthy and eating organic have become nearly one in the same ever since the organic food craze came on the scene.  One way of looking at eating organic, is that it is basically eating as clean as you can possibly get. Let’s look at organic honey and compare it to an alternative, natural honey.

Organic honey, so long as it is unheated, unpasteurized, and not filtered below 200 microns, has all of the benefits of raw honey plus other added benefits.   When organic food is produced, there is usually less impact on the environment.  No synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, or antibiotics are supposed to be used in the food production process.  This means that you will not get any of these things when you eat the food and the farmer will not be exposed to them as he is raising the food.    The planet will benefit because less fossil fuels will be burned to create the chemicals used in conventional production, and the soils, rivers and drinking water will also be purer.

When at the grocery store, there are often choices for organic, regular and sometimes even natural products.  Each of these means something different.  Organic products that are certified through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will bear a logo that says “USDA Organic.”  The USDA has established an organic certification programs that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed.

It is important to note that the USDA only provides the qualifications to be organic, not the certification that food is organic.  The certifiers are 3rd party agencies approved by the USDA. These agencies are usually corporations that provide many different USDA certifications.  Their main job is to enforce the USDA’s national organic standards and to tell farmers and food manufacturers whether they are in compliance with these standards. If they are in compliance, these businesses can then use the organic seal. To become compliant, businesses and farms must pay fees to the certification agencies to be inspected.

The next most important thing to point out is that there is currently no officially approved USDA organic honey standard.  There is a draft that was presented to the National Organic Standards Board on October 28, 2010, but at this time it has not been approved or adopted by the USDA.

This means that if you purchase organic honey that has the “USDA Organic” emblem on it, it may or may not conform to the proposed standard.  Also, since there is no way to officially certify USA produced honey as organic, the honey bearing the organic seal is produced in Brazil, Canada, Mexico or other nations that have some sort of organic standard, an organization to enforce it, and certifiers that inspect the honey producers, the surrounding area, and the packaging facilities.  The USDA allows these products to bear the “USDA Organic” seal because they honor the foreign organic programs and organic certification companies, even if their program is not close to the USDA proposed organic standard.  So if you want to buy American, do not buy any of this honey.

So if and when the USDA certification for Organic Honey happens, what will it mean for US produced organic honey and producers that want to be organic honey producers?  First, and most easy to recognize, it means that antibiotics and many chemicals will not be part of their production program.

Most commercial beekeepers use traditional methods to control common bee pests and problems.  Terramycin, Apistan, GardStar, Tylan, Fumagilin, Guardstar, and Para Moth  are all chemicals that are not allowed in organic beekeeping.  Coincidentally, they are not allowed in natural beekeeping either.

Fortunately there are other treatments and methods that are much more natural.  These substances are either natural, or are naturally derived and they can currently be used in natural beekeeping.  If approved by the Organic Standards Board and the USDA they can also be used in organic beekeeping.   Unfortunately, no actions have been made on them yet, but thanks to the natural beekeeping movement, it is possible to obtain naturally produced honey without hard insecticides and antibiotics.

It is easy to admit that many of these substances can be purchased at the store, others occur in nature, and many are eaten or taken on a daily basis by people.  Many of these substances are not on the approved list but possibly should be as they are much safer than man-made insecticides and other treatments commonly used to treat bees.

Since we have described the unnatural and natural products that may or may not be approved for organic honey production, the hive and where the hive is located must be described next.  Hives will have to be made of natural substances, such as wood or metal.  All parts and support structures of the hive must be made of untreated materials.  Wax foundation, if used must also be organically obtained.

The honey production process must also be certified.  Even if the beekeeper has never had to use any chemicals or other natural substances in his hives, the bees that produce the honey still have to harvest pollen and nectar to live and produce a honey crop.  As defined by the USDA these sources must also be certified organic for the honey to be considered organic.  Honeybees commonly forage up to four miles in any direction from their home.  This forage area is about 50 square miles or over 30 thousand acres.  This means that unless the beehives are located in a remote area without any residential homes, waste water treatment plants, landfills, towns, cities, power plants, traditional agriculture cropland, etc the honey produced can never be considered organic.  Also water used by the bees must be guaranteed to be not contaminated as well.  It is nearly impossible to control what happens on nearly 50 square miles of land unless it is all rented or owned by the beekeeper.

Natural Honey vs Organic Honey

So in most areas, natural beekeeping may be more easily obtainable than organic beekeeping.  It is true that it may be somewhat of a compromise, but it is more easily obtainable than the pure organic method for most beekeepers.  It is also possible to harvest honey with nearly equal, if not equal, quality and purity when compared to organic honey.

Natural beekeeping has many of same requirements as an organic beekeeping program.  Both crops and land that the bees are kept on must be free of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, as well as genetically engineered crops. Apiaries are to contain only as many bee hives as can be supported by the nectar and pollen supply in the local environment. All hives in residential areas are to be maintained with neighbor’s interests and local ordinances accounted for.

Hives must have removable frames, and adequate year-round ventilation. The hives shall be constructed of natural substances.  If painted, only non toxic safe coatings must be used.  Foundation, if used shall not contain contamination from prohibited substances. The bees used in natural hives must have resistance to diseases and mites.

To control diseases, mites, and contamination.  Brood frame comb must never be older than two years.  This limits and eliminates the buildup of foreign contaminates from the hive and from the bees that are raised and live there.  To keep the brood frame clean only approved substances may enter the hive.  Everything from supplemental food to treatments for hive problems must be natural or naturally derived. Last, but not least, good record keeping must be the first and foremost.

The only major difference between natural and organic beekeeping is the certification requirement of the extended foraging area.

Just as there are certification programs for organic beekeeping that enable beekeepers to produce organic honey, there are natural beekeeping certifications that enable beekeepers to label their honey as naturally grown.

If a beekeeper were to use the natural methods for pest control that were already mentioned instead of the toxic insecticides and antibiotics, most, if not all, of the contamination would be eliminated.  If a location could be found with clover, alfalfa, or other pollinator friendly ground cover it will provide pollen and nectar for the bees.  Also various ornamental bushes and various trees can be planted to provide pollen and nectar at various times of the year.  If bees have food sources close to the hive, they have no need to forage for it miles away.  This can help control exactly what goes into the nectar and pollen that is collected and the honey that is eventually produced on a natural honeybee farm.  Natural beekeeping will yield good natural honey, which is just as good as foreign produced organic honey.

Read more about the honey production practices that the Two Beekeepers use.