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Honey Industry Testing-What is it and Why is it Done?

The honey we love and consume every day should be wholesome and trustworthy. This is why the honey industry is committed to advancing stronger testing solutions to ensure the honey we consume is pure and authentic. In order to preserve the purity of honey, the industry is spearheading the ability for honey to be traced back to its original location and deploying new methods aimed at detecting adulterated honey, preventing it from entering the market. 

For more information about the steps industry groups are taking to champion pure honey, click here.

Questions about testing methods? Click here for FAQs.  

What About Colony Collapse Disorder?

In 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder devastated many beekeepers and honey bee colonies across the US.

Colony Collapse Disorder is a syndrome characterized by some very specific symptoms: the majority of worker bees in a hive disappear and leave behind a laying queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. It’s as if a booming metropolis suddenly emptied its working population. As a result, the hive dies.

Scientists still don’t know for sure what causes Colony Collapse Disorder, and the syndrome is infrequently seen today as compared to 2006. Even though CCD is not at the forefront of honey bee health concerns today, high annual losses related to the “4p’s”listed above persist, and are often mis-attributed to CCD in the media.

(link to CCD section of honey bee health page)

What’s Killing Bees

We know what’s killing bees.

There are many things that contribute to high annual colony losses.  Often these factors are grouped into what is commonly known as the “Four P’s.” These represent the major honey bee health threats, and they are all connected. For example, Varroa mites not only weaken bees but also spread viruses, and without access to sufficient floral resources (food), bees are less able to fight off the parasites and diseases. Scientists are also looking at these factors through the lens of climate change, and how they respond to extreme environmental conditions and stressors.

(link to 4p’s pop ups: parasites, pathogens, poor nutrition, pesticides)

Donate to Help Bees

There are many organizations dedicated to helping honey bees and pollinators. From research to habitat to education and policy – however you want to help, there is an organization that can utilize your donation. Project Apis m. is a founder of the Bee Health Collective and supports honey bee research and habitat projects.  You can learn more, and donate to the cause here.

Reduce Your Pesticide Use

Following Integrated Pest Management principles will help you use other measures, and pesticide use is a last resort. If you do choose to use pesticides (herbicides, insecticides or fungicides) in your garden or lawn, be sure to read labels carefully and follow the instructions. Buying organic food can also help reduce your pesticide impact and often local organic produce is produced on small farms with better sustainability practices that benefit bees.

Re-Think Your Lawn

In 2005, a NASA study estimated that nearly 2% of all land in the US is constituted by lawns. That equals about 40 Million acres of the iconic lush, green grass that is sought after by many homeowners, golf courses, and businesses.  These lawns not only create “food deserts” for pollinators, they also use an estimated 7 Billion gallons of water per day.  With growing issues like a lack of pollinator and insect habitat, increased chemical use, and water and drought concerns, re-framing the idea of an “ideal” lawn could have significant positive environmental impacts, including supporting pollinators.  

Does your yard support pollinators? Planting flowers is a great step, but even mowing your lawn less frequently can provide more habitat for bees – and you don’t have to break a sweat to do it. Replacing grass with clover is another way to re-think your yard that benefits pollinators and also improves soil health. In Minnesota you can even apply for a grant to help you transform your yard into a pollinator haven!

Plant Flowers

Just like humans, bees need good nutrition to stay healthy and strong. As urbanization and agriculture expand and take up more space on the landscape, there is less habitat left for pollinators. While some initiatives are addressing this on a large scale, many hands make light work and planting pollinator friendly flowers – in your garden, yard, or even a window box or pot, makes a difference! Pollinator Partnership and the U.S. Forest Service offer regional planting guides, so you can discover what to plant in your area to make the biggest impact.

If you manage or farm land, and want it to support pollinators, these programs offer free seed mixes and technical guidance:

Seeds for Bees

Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund

Pesticides

Pesticides are chemicals that are used to control unwanted pests. From mosquito and tick repellants to weed killers for lawns, to agricultural chemicals, pesticides are powerful tools that can be beneficial. Their usage can also have unintended consequences.

Bees encounter pesticides most often from agricultural use, in-hive products like miticides, community mosquito control, landscaping programs, and homeowner lawn and garden use. Beekeepers rely on pesticides to treat Varroa mites and farmers and gardeners rely on pesticides to treat unwanted insects, fungus, and weeds. While insecticides like neonicotinoids are the most widely known pesticides to impact bees and pollinators, other pesticides such as herbicides can have indirect effects by reducing blooming plants that bees need to survive. Even some fungicides may have unintentional effects on honey bee nutrition or may increase toxicity when mixed with other chemicals.

Beeswax inside of a colony can easily become contaminated with (and often hangs on to) the various pesticides bees encounter. This chart from the Bee Informed Partnership, shows the proportion of pesticides, by target, in wax samples taken from honey bee colonies across the United States. Varroacides make up a large chunk because beekeepers apply these in colonies to control Varroa. Bees tend to encounter insecticides and fungicides while foraging in cropping systems. Fungicides are often used in almond production and blueberries, which many colonies visit for pollination. Samples to produce this data were collected through the National Honey Bee Disease Survey (USDA, HNBDS) in association with Apiary Inspectors of America and University of Maryland.

When considering pesticide effects on pollinators, scientists and beekeepers must be aware of the lethal effects as well as sub-lethal effects. Sublethal effects can be less obvious, and include sensory impairment, reduced immune functions, reduced ability to forage, and other damaging but not immediately deadly effects.

Pesticides are part of current agricultural practices, but many groups are working on mitigating risk to honey bees and other non-target insects through the development of communication tools, best management practices, and the use of integrated pest management (IPM).There are many resources that can be used to learn more about the use of pesticides in the United States, for example, the following tool from the United States Geological Survey, which estimates pesticide use in the United States. Another excellent resource is the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

Poor Nutrition

Just like humans, honey bees are better able to stay healthy if properly nourished., and tThe best source of nutrition is from natural sources – in the case of bees, that means a diversity of blooming plants.

Good nutrition helps mitigate other health stressors including Varroa, pesticides, and pathogens, and access to plenty of flowers is essential to honey production. Honey bees and native pollinators are literally “losing ground” as agricultural land use expands. Corn and Soybeans are the two monoculture crops that use the most land in the USA. These crops do not depend on bees for pollination and tend to be farmed in large areas of land that are heavily treated with agricultural chemicals. 

The above chart, sourced from USDA data, illustrates the growth in corn and soy crops since 1986 along with an overall decline in acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The Conservation Reserve Program is a land conservation program administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. This acreage is traditionally a mainstay for bees’ summer range and honey production Learn More Here

The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund, which has been studied alongside CRP, is a highly effective option for putting pollinator forage on less commercially productive ground. 

When forage isn’t abundant, beekeepers can give bees a boost by using various protein and sugar supplements. Supplemental protein is used when pollen is not readily available to support brood production. This works for a little while but eventually, a natural pollen source is needed for the colony to remain healthy.

Supplemental sugar, usually in syrup form, is given to bees if they need additional energy stores for spring growth or to prepare for winter. Feeding bees is a part of beekeeping, but there is no replacement for natural, diverse blooming plants.

These commercial beekeepers are using tanks of sugar syrup carried on trucks to feed bee colonies upon arrival in California for almond pollination..

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