Every time I sell honey at my local Farmer’s Market, I get the question, “Is your honey organic?” I try to explain that there is really no such thing.
Every time I am at a store or other farmer’s market and I see honey labeled “Organic”, I just have to roll my eyes. I hate to see people getting sucked into buying something that they think is organic but most certainly is not. I also hate to see just how much people are paying for that “organic” label.
So what’s the story? Let’s look at some facts:
Bees do what they want. There is no way to be sure that they only come in contact with nectar and water that meet organic guidelines.
They routinely fly 2 to 4 miles from their hive to collect nectar and find water and will fly further than that if they need to. They have been proven to fly as many as 7 miles from home.
According to this article, U.S. honey producers can label their honey “organic” if they think their honey meets European Union standards. It also points out that most honey with the organic label in the U.S. comes from other countries. (Don’t get me started on foreign honey. That’s another post.)
Whoa – what about American honey certified by American organic standards?
It seems that the USDA is working on that. They are extending the standards used for livestock to bees…despite the fact that bees are in no way domesticated and cannot be controlled like cows.
European Union standards state that honey can be labeled organic if there are only organic crops within a 3 km (1.86 mile) radius plus several requirements about using chemicals to control pests within the hives, etc. American standards will require a 2 mile radius plus similar management practices.
We know that bees fly further than that…but how much difference does it make? Let’s do some math:
If bees fly 2 miles from their hives to find nectar and water sources, that means that they would cover a circle containing approximately 12 ½ square miles or over 8000 acres. That’s a lot of land and water to believe that bees are only coming in contact with organically managed crops, but remember, that’s only the LOW end of bees’ range. They may travel as far as 6 miles from their hive, meaning that their range could cover about 113 square miles or 72,345 acres, roughly 9 times the area specified in the USDA and EU standards.
Think about it: is there anywhere in the civilized world where anyone could verify that every plant and puddle in an area that size conforms to organic practices? No. But you can be sure you’re still going to see government-certified “Organic Honey” because there is a lot of money to be made in the organic foods market, not because the honey is really free of chemicals and GMOs.
We keep our own bees and harvest our own honey but, every once in a while, we run out and I am happy to buy from other local beekeepers as long as I know they don’t use chemicals in their hives. I never, never buy any honey labeled “organic” because that tells me that whoever produced it is ignorant at best, greedy and dishonest at worst.
Get to know your local beekeepers and don’t pay ridiculous prices for “organic” honey that isn’t!