not-so-sweet deal


Buying honey is a no-brainer. See the word Canada on the label, put it in your shopping cart, and feel good about supporting, if not a nearby farmer, at least one from the same country.

Right? Not necessarily.

Last year, a story I wrote for Simcoe Life about local beekeepers introduced me to a whole mess of complexities around the honey industry in our fair country (and this situation has fuelled two other stories so far for Better Farming and another trade mag).   

Standing in the honey house at Tannenhof Farms, I listened as beekeeper Adi Stoer gave me the real dirt.

From him, I found out that that container of honey on the grocery store shelf that says Canada No. 1 in big, black letters may not be Canadian at all.

Take a closer look at the fine print and you might see something like this: Product of China. A blend of Canadian and Argentine honey.  And that blend might contain only about five percent Canadian – the rest imported.

Who knew?!

As you might expect, the problem with this situation is multi-layered. For one, cheap honey is flooding the market, resulting in prices so low that many of our Canadian beekeepers can barely get by.

Another concern has to do with food standards. Recently we all witnessed the tragic deaths of several pets, fatalities caused by a contaminated ingredient from China.

“As imported Chinese wheat takes the blame for the recent deaths of dozens of American pets, new concerns have risen over the safety of Asian-grown foods imported to the United States for human consumption,” a PR Newswire article begins.

Alberta beekeeper Bob Ballard agrees. “The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has very high standards for Canadian beekeepers while Chinese honey floods the market with no checks and balances on it,” he recently told me. In the past, some hive antibiotics that are banned in Canada have been found in imported honey, causing recalls. 

I might have bought that honey. Who knows. Before I did this story, I remember furrowing my brow at a relatively cheap container of honey, wondering why it cost so much less than the others. I couldn’t figure it out. It said Canada. It must be Canadian. I couldn’t find the small print. So, shrugging my shoulders, I lowered it into the cart.  

After talking to Adi, I felt gypped, betrayed, tricked. And that’s exactly the problem that a lot of honey producers have with the way the labels work now.

Currently changes to the labels (among other honey issues) are under consideration by the CFIA. This is a good thing, says the Canadian Honey Council and other interested parties (some, albeit, with a wee bit of cynicism).

What the smaller beekeepers would like to see is pretty simple: words that make it clear to the consumer exactly where the honey is from, so that they can make an informed choice. After that, leave it up to them to choose their honey.   

In this age of overused fossil fuels, struggling farmers and contaminated imports, is it really too much to ask that people be given the chance to make choices that might actually benefit us all?   

6 Responses to not-so-sweet deal

  1. Avatar
    Deniz May 23, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Hi David and Kathy, My husband and I are Canadian and aevirrd in the Dordogne region three years ago. I’d be happy to exchange a few emails comparing things. It has been interesting to say the least. Number One mistake we made was not getting a Saskatchewan or Quebec drivers license before leaving Canada. You can just swap either one of those for a French license. Any other province and you have to do the full French driving exam in French within one year. They say there is an abbreviated test of just 20 road signs you need to know, but somehow no one could tell us when it would be scheduled in the Dordogne. One could not just show up and complete it but go on a scheduled date, which only happened when enough people wanted to do it. Very chicken and egg. I love it here though and won’t return to Canada if I can help it. Pam

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    traditional chinese acupuncture June 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    Finicky place of duty, I gonna bookmark this bleep. Credit on behalf of info

  3. Avatar
    Beekeeping December 7, 2009 at 9:55 am #

    Thanks for this very informative report, and I guess, there’s no better way than to provide your own honey by engaging yourself in beekeeping. It’s worth a try!

  4. Avatar
    Amy Wilkinson November 12, 2008 at 7:50 pm #


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    Kimmy April 13, 2007 at 9:51 am #

    I find that if I buy two big jars of honey at the farmer’s market from the guy I know, they can last me from October till the next market begins in May. No Dangerousway honey (who says it’s “Safe” in the Dangerousway?) for me!

  6. Avatar
    Janet April 9, 2007 at 10:02 am #

    I noticed yesterday that the President’s choice organic honey at No Frills was not from Canada nor from China.

    If you are in the habit of purchasing fresh sushi platters or Dim Sum to be steamed at home from the A&P or anywhere else, check the labels. I recently noticed that these ‘fresh’ foods are made in China. How fresh is ‘fresh’?

    In the United States, there is currently a governmental move afoot to stem imports from China that are fraudulently labelled, but I have heard nothign about such an initiative here. A Canadian friend recently recounted that her sister and a team of athletes had visited China. At one shopping source, they were asked where they were from. ‘Canada’, they said. The clerk hurried away and returned with a complete variety of ‘ROOTS’ sportswear, their designer labels reading “Made In Canada” – at very low prices, of course.

    Labels aside, and going downmarket, consider the impact of ‘dollar stores’ on our economy, not to mention our landfill sites. Dollar store merchanidise wears out quickly and when it is is no longer fuunctional or wanted, dollar store goods are cheap enough to throw away.

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