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.
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 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?