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New state ban keeps honey ‘pure’ in Florida

By Staff | Jul 15, 2009

Florida residents can now feel secure that the honey used in tea or baked goods is pure after Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson announced a ban on adding adulterants to honey produced throughout the state.
Any honey collected, processed or sold in the state falls under the prohibition that went into effect Tuesday, one of the first regulations of its kind in the United States to define honey’s “standard of identity.”
“We want to assure consumers that the product that they are buying is pure,” said Bronson at a news conference Monday. “Too often in the past, honey has been cut with water or sugar.”
Processed honey has historically been mixed with sugar or water before sale, although in some instances the additives have contained insecticides or antibiotics.
In 2006, the Florida State Beekeepers Association urged the Food and Drug Administration to standardize an identity for Florida’s honey and halt further contamination.
Florida’s $13 million honey industry ranks fifth in the nation for production, according to the agriculture commission.
Advocates point out that the honey market in Florida has not been the source of tainted honey, instead the ban was instituted to deal with an influx of imported honey in 2006.
“Some honey that has been imported from other countries had been blended with up to 51 percent of other sweeteners,” said B. Keith Councell, Fort Myers president of the Beekeeper’s Association of Southwest Florida.
Councell said some definitions of honey are “fraudulent,” and beekeepers across the state pushed the agricultural commission to make sure people know whether they are purchasing pure or tainted honey.
There have even been instances when the U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified traces of chemicals and insecticides in imported honey, he said.
“What this all entails is actually giving the public a correct value for what they are buying,” said Councell. “If they want to buy honey, we want to make sure it is true honey.”
Honey is produced by a species of bee that harvests it from a nectar source. The bees carry it in a separate stomach located on their back.
Councell said the amount of honey produced in a bee hive depends on a number of factors, including the environment, strength of the hive and whether there is plentiful bloom.
Walker Farms in North Fort Myers is one producer of honey that sells its product locally and ships some to other companies across the country for repackaging.
Its two most popular honey flavors derive from orange blossoms and saw palmettos, both varying in color and taste. Neither have additives, said owner Allen “Buddy” Walker.
“We do not add anything or take away anything. It is natural,” he said. “I’m even opposed to adding flavor to honey like blueberry or raspberry.”
Walker said many foreign imports from countries such as China have contained chemicals or antibiotics because there are not as many regulations.
Beekeepers across the state are not only battling adulterated honey, but another phenomenon known as “colony collapse” in Florida, said Councell.
Colonies are dying out, failing to produce as much honey as they used to, and bee keepers are fighting to keep the bee populations from falling prey to various types of parasites.
The cause of failing colonies is unknown, but Councell said it could be the use of pesticides that bees unknowingly carry to the hive and pass on to the honey.
“Someone sprays some bees in their yard and the bees in the neighborhood collect nectar from the hive,” he said. “A beekeeper may not be aware of that and it could go through.”
Under the new regulation, honey considered anything other than a “natural food product resulting from the harvest of nectar by honeybees” is adulterated or mislabeled, and it is subject to a “stop sale.”
Anyone found misrepresenting an adulterated honey product could face a $500 fine.
State Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, praised officials for passing the new standard. He has been a major advocate on behalf of the honey industry.
“Commissioner Bronson and the leaders of the honey industry — beekeepers and honey processors — are to be applauded for their leadership in protecting not only the health of Floridians but also in protecting this industry which is so vital to the production of food products for all mankind,” Hays said.