If it’s not made by a bee …

Originally published in Frederick News Post February 03, 2012
By Bethany Rodgers
News-Post Staff

If it’s not made by a bee, it’s not honey.

That seems simple enough, but according to Frederick County beekeepers, the state needs to make sure it holds true on grocery shelves.

“I could put anything in a jar, and put ‘honey’ on the front of it, and it could be sold,” said Ed Mordan, president of the Frederick County Beekeeping Association. “A little sugar water, put a little coloring in it, a little flavoring, and I could sell it for honey.”

Along with beekeepers from around the state, Mordan visited Annapolis on Thursday — Bee Day — to spread the word about honey purity legislation sponsored by Delegate Kathy Afzali.

Afzali’s bill would give sweet-toothed consumers a better idea of what they’re eating, Mordan said. Not all honey is created equal; some companies mix their locally produced supply with corn syrup or inexpensive honey from China or Argentina.

Other companies feed their bees sugar water rather than nectar or heat up their honey to preserve it, destroying the nutritional value in the process, Mordan said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is increasingly intercepting imported honey contaminated with antibiotics, but the federal government has not passed standards for the product. That means states must step in, Afzali said, adding that Florida has adopted honey guidelines.

Afzali’s legislation defines honey as a substance produced by bees from plant nectar. Ranging in color from almost clear to dark brown, true honey cannot contain food additives and derives its flavor from the plants bees visit, according to the proposal.

Bill McGiffin, a Mount Airy resident who owns 25 hives and makes 400 to 700 pounds of honey each year, said his favorite local flavors are from black locust trees and clover. Samples of such locally produced honey were free for the tasting at Bee Day, along with information about apiaries.

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(Left) Bill McGiffin, a member of the Frederick County Beekeeping Association, shares a sample of honey Thursday during Bee Day in Annapolis.

Maryland has more than 1,500 registered beekeepers, according to Jerry Fischer, state apiarist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

The Frederick County association has about 75 members, but some local beekeepers are not part of the group, McGiffin said.

Afzali’s bill would help these honey producers stay competitive with suppliers of cheap, adulterated honey, she said. Her legislation would open the way for someone to file a lawsuit against those who violate the Maryland honey standard.

The support would come at a good time, when many are concerned that bee colonies are disappearing, Afzali said. Fischer said state crops valued at more than $40 million benefit from honeybee pollination, so declines in the insect’s population threaten agriculture.

“They’re the key to growth,” Afzali said of bees. “So we need them, and they need us right now.”

The delegate introduced a similar bill last session, which passed through the House, but did not make it through the Senate. Afzali said the Maryland State Beekeepers Association is backing the proposal this year, so she believes it will have enough steam to power through both chambers.

Maryland Sen. Barry Glassman, a Harford County legislator who dropped by Bee Day, said he would vote for the bill if given the opportunity.

“I think it’s important that you begin to set a standard” for honey, he said.

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