The fight against imported honey
During the quiet moments in early January when most Australians are on holidays and time stands still long enough, my husband Steven and I enjoy finding a patch of shade, close to the buzz of a load of bees. It’s then while sitting quietly together, thinking and reflecting on our family’s long legacy of beekeeping that we ask ourselves some hard questions.
Why do we do what we do? How is it that we still love doing what we do when it is at times so hard? What would the industry be like if we didn’t do the things we do?
Finding our voice
We realised long ago that we are not just in the honey business. We are also committed to the business of creating a safe food future for our grandchildren and their children.
To us, the lure of rich profits from using cheap imported honey pales in significance to a world where Australian beekeepers are extinct and there are not enough bees to pollinate the two thirds of Australia’s agricultural produce that depend on honeybees.
What we’ve learned this year, is that our experience and knowledge is unique. To build that elusive legacy we need to work harder to share the facts, our perspective and our views. It’s a scary prospect to be honest. We are both private by nature, we avoid unnecessary attention and as hard-working country folk, we really don’t like controversy and find the social media thing all a bit daunting. But it’s time we find our voice and raise awareness, for the sake of the bees.
Even though the long hard battle against cheap imported honey and ‘honey that may not even be honey’ is tiring, we resolve to share what we know with the purpose of influencing others to assist in making a difference.
One of our biggest concerns right now is the impact of imported honey on Australian beekeepers and the uncertainty reverberating amongst the public regarding which honey (brands) can be trusted.
Risking or compromising quality or product integrity is simply not in our DNA. That is why we don’t import honey. We would rather (and have done so twice) delete our Australian honey lines voluntarily off major supermarket shelves due to lack of supply, than gamble with low-priced imported honey.
What’s at risk?
Honey produced outside of Australia is produced under totally different production conditions from those in Australia. Australia’s honeybees have not been exposed to the deadly varroa mite, so we don’t need to use the varroa chemicals overseas honey producing countries use, to keep bees alive.
We made a decision back in 2004 not to import honey. Knowing we wouldn’t want our family to eat such honey, it simply didn’t feel right to import product and expect Australian families to buy and consume it for our personal business profits. For us its pretty simple, we’re putting 100% safety first and foremost and focusing on the protection and livelihoods of Australian beekeepers for the longer haul.
Since 2004 however, the increasing problem of honey adulteration has now reached epic proportions creating additional risks to the integrity of imported honey. Until now, the global honey industry has been silent about this problem for fear of damaging the good reputation of genuine honey and the livelihoods of beekeepers.
Heartbreakingly, honey is now according to the European Union, on of the top 10 foods most likely to be adulterated. This impacts every hard working Australian beekeeper.
High risk honey adulteration countries include China, India, Turkey, Taiwan, Ukraine and Vietnam. Bee hive numbers collectively in these countries have increased 13% and total honey exported from those countries has increased exponentially by 196%. “Totally crazy” as one of my European Apimondia Honey Adulteration Working Group colleagues says.
Frustratingly, after more than 10 years of silence the damage is already done. The now low price of cheap, potentially fake, adulterated honey has seen beekeepers from genuine honey producing countries such as Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay go out of business. We’ve seen a 30% decrease in Australian beekeepers since 2008. Their pure honey products have fallen victim to what may be concoctions of cheap sugar syrups, enzymes and pollen designed to mimic honey produced by honeybees.
A sustained 100% Australian approach
Once January and Australia Day are over (one of the days we feel most proud of what we’re doing) we will get back to working and educating the major supermarkets to keep supporting 100% Australian honey. With their support, we will claw back critical shelf space for Australian honey from the imported competition. We will continue building on our Bee Cause initiative and sharing our experience with visitors to our Beechworth education centres. We’re working hard on a Melbourne experience to open mid year - watch this space.
We know our job may never be complete, but seeing our own kids take an active interest in keeping bees, and having an influence on the 5th generation of Beechworth beekeepers continues to drive us.
With a great team around us and the support of those consumers who also want to make a difference we can continue to make a positive impact within the industry. Understanding exactly where our honey comes from in Australia, being able to trace it back to a beehive, a gumtree, a tangible Australian landscape and not a nondescript overseas factory is what motivates us every day.
We’ll keep you posted throughout 2017,
We hope you stick with Australian beekeepers.
Steven & Jodie Goldsworthy