Beekeepers buzzing for new honey standards

U.S. beekeepers are pressing federal regulators to establish new industry standards for honey sold in the U.S.

The honey producers and packagers say the new standards would prevent fake honey from creeping into the U.S. market and harming their businesses. They’re cheering a move by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could do just that.

“Without these rules, consumers could conceivably buy honey that’s not really honey,” said Gene Brandi, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. “We just want to make sure that the consumers are getting a pure product, so there’s no question in their mind that what they’re buying is real honey.”

The majority of American honey producers already follow strict industry guidelines that ensure the honey is of a high quality. But some foreign companies will skirt these rules when importing honey into the U.S., because there are no federal laws to stop them.

Because the U.S. consumes more honey than it produces, U.S.-based packagers will buy honey from countries such as China and Argentina and then package it once it arrives. But they are concerned that they are being sold low-grade honey, and if they don’t catch it, this product could creep into the U.S. market.

This would not only hurt their business, but it could also destroy consumer confidence in honey industry-wide.

“We’d like to ensure that what they’re shipping us is really honey,” Brandi said. “There have been certain countries that have sent honey here that is not really honey. It’s not something we take lightly as an industry.”

Honey producers and packagers are asking for federal regulations to ensure only top-notch honey products are sold in the country. The Food and Drug Administration shot down an industry petition a few years ago, but now it is turning to the USDA for such standards.

The USDA announced this week in a Federal Register notice that it will research potential new honey standards and what impact they would have on U.S. honey producers and consumers, a move that comes at the request of Congress.

According to the National Honey Board, the U.S. produced nearly 150 million pounds of honey in 2013, but the country consumes more than 400 million pounds each year, driving the industry to import honey from countries like China, which produces about one-third of the world’s honey, or Argentina, another top honey producer.