Today I’m giving you an assignment. I want you to read a blog post at Scientific American’s Compound Eye by Alex Wild. This article, more succinct than I could ever write, is a concise summary of why there is no such thing as organic honey.
A honey producer or distributor can put just about anything he wants on the label–and there is no way to verify these claims. You can find honey in Washington State labeled, “Certified Organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.” But when questioned, that agency says they have no standards for organic honey. Likewise, labels saying things like “All Natural,” “100% Pure” “U.S. Grade A” “U.S. Grade 1” don’t mean anything because there are no regulations and no enforcement. Lawyers call these claims “puffing” and they are legal–especially since no one can prove otherwise.
Wild’s article points out the improbability of finding an area large enough to produce organic honey. Even if you could find an area that large without conventional agriculture, there are highway departments, homeowners, parks departments and a zillion other sources of pesticide contamination and environmental pollution.
Wax foundations are indeed a significant source of pesticide contamination. Some pesticides have been found to leach from the wax back into bee bread, specifically the pollen, which is later eaten by bees. What’s more, nearly all the research that has focused on pesticide contamination has ignored the raft of solvents, emulsifiers, stickers, and spreaders used to deliver the pesticides, which are often toxic in their own right. Detecting any of these compounds–both pesticides and adjuvants–is time consuming and expensive. In the end, there are no feasible, economic ways to protect the honey or detect the contaminants.
Beekeepers who do not use in-hive pesticides will probably have fewer honey contaminants than those who do. But there are no guarantees. So much depends on where you live and what the bees bring home.
In any case, read the article and study the photo. You’ll get the picture.