There has been much debate about whether Albert Einstein actually made the famous statement: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” However, despite uncertainty about the author, there is no doubt that bees are vital to our existence, and the honey they create has become a household favourite across the world.
Why is honey important?
Honey has been seen as a valued commodity for thousands of years, with early wall paintings suggesting it was used as a gift for the afterlife. Bees make honey to create energy, collecting nectar from flowers, and transforming it into honey inside the hive. As such, it is a totally natural product that should not be modified in any way. In fact, honey is sought after for its uncompromised state, which is even believed to have healing powers. As recently as June this year, the NHS carried out a review of the role of honey in wound treatment, recognising that it has been used in this way for thousands of years.
Is honey always pure?
According to the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC), some honey brands have begun mixing honey with other ingredients, including rice or artificial sweeteners. By continuing to buy Fairtrade honey, ethically driven consumers can be sure that their product proves to be as sweet as it tastes.
What can we do to counteract this destructive trend?
"This constitutes a real and concrete threat that violates the quality and genuineness of honey. The current honey fraud problem has an extensive global magnitude, and affects both the price of honey and the viability of many beekeeping operations.
"It has caused an oversupply and a price collapse for fair trade beekeepers. The adulterated honey constitutes unfair competition for all genuine beekeepers, directly threatening their work.
"We urge the public, including beekeepers, consumers and the honey industry alike, to take action and advocate for long-term, sustainable honey production." CLAC President, Miguel Angel Munguía
The advice given by CLAC is: “Read packaging information carefully to find out the origin of the honey and if it is 100% natural. Ensuring the correct labelling and control of the products is fundamental to advance in the fight against adulteration, protecting beekeeping and consumers.”
Miguel Angel Munguía is also Executive Director of honey co-operative, Educe, and works in partnership with the Honey Authenticity Project (HAP). According to HAP, a third of honey traded internationally is adulterated, or even 100% false. It states on their website that ‘the falsification of honey is a crime, it discourages beekeeping. Reduced pollination impacts food production.’
Miguel said: “Adulterated honey has been a real problem for the beekeeping industry, causing price falls, deceiving the consumer and discouraging productive activity, but the most serious thing is that it affects thousands of families who live on beekeeping and fair prices.
“Today the volume of adulterated honey is so great that if the agricultural authorities, governments and especially consumers and producers do nothing, the consequences can be terrible for beekeeping. In addition to the richness of honey as food, we must recognise the role of bees in the pollination of more than 70% of food and in the conservation of
biodiversity. Subsequently, Educe has partnered with HAP to fight this serious problem together.”
How we are supporting Fairtrade honey producers
Shared Interest currently works with six Fairtrade honey organisations in Latin America and Africa. Educe is one of these co-operatives, and they use a Shared Interest finance facility to help pay beekeepers when they supply their honey. The co-operative is based in the Yucatán region of Mexico, and encourages young people in the community to learn organic methods of beekeeping.
As honey production depends largely on climatic conditions, the co-operative cannot always predict volume levels. In 2018, Educe experienced their highest honey quantity in many years due to favourable weather conditions. Sadly, this did not bring the financial reward that it should.
Miguel explained: “However, this did not necessarily represent extraordinary income for our associated beekeepers due to the drop in prices because of the oversupply of adulterated honey.”
Shared Interest only works with honey producers who follow Fairtrade Standards. The Standards ensure fairer terms of trade between farmers and buyers, they protect workers’ rights, and provide the framework for producers to build thriving farms and organisations. They also receive a Fairtrade Premium paid on top of the selling price, enabling farmers or workers to invest in projects of their choice. Fairtrade Foundation is working to protect beekeepers in rural communities and say:
“Counterfeit honey is an increasing problem: fake or adulterated goods of low quality are passed off as pure or single-origin honey, driving down prices for honest producers.
"Fairtrade offers beekeepers a number of ways to confront these challenges and grow their businesses. Many Fairtrade beekeepers are also farmers – the bees they keep help to pollinate crops, which they can sell and subsist on. Fairtrade works with beekeepers to establish surroundings in which bees can flourish, for example by advising them on bee-friendly cultivation methods. Many beekeepers have also used the Fairtrade Premium to switch to organic cultivation.”
“Given the critical role of bees in pollinating plants, their future will affect humanity’s prospects. Working with beekeepers to maintain stable bee populations is in everyone’s interests, and choosing Fairtrade honey is one way you can contribute"
CLAC President, Miguel Angel Munguía