What is Honey? & World Honey Bee Health

Thursday 3 September 2020

Another beekeeping season is winding down with a cool hint of autumn in the air.  A time when beekeepers are harvesting honey prior to our fall assessment of colony health and nutritive status. So, this week we will provide some information on what defines honey as a unique and special food product.  It would seem from speaking with our region's beekeepers that the 2020 honey harvest will be below average.  Considering how the drought has affected other agricultural commodities, bee farmers may be luckier than some, but this does not dull the disappointment and economic impact of a poor honey year.  

The busy team at the University of Florida, Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory has launched a new tool to inform beekeepers of the global distribution of honey bee pests and diseases.  We will have a look at this new website and comment on the applicability to our region's beekeepers.

Also, check out our website (link below) for our updated fact sheet entitled, "VARROA MITE MANAGEMENT OPTIONS FOR ATLANTIC CANADA".

What is Honey?

During our harvest season beekeepers are talking and answering questions about honey. Often these discussions begin with a description of our regions honey as a premium product of excellent quality, and it is agreed that our wildflower honey is some of the best. When the conversation turns to the rest of the world's honey, we often start with an explanation of what is honey and what is not honey!

Honey has been defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This group, of which Canada is a member, has set an international standard for honey in its guideline publication, Codex Alimentarius. This document states, “Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature”.

Our Canadian Food and Drug regulations, Part B, Division 18, follow the Codex standard with the following criteria for honey:

Honey shall be the food produced by honey bees and derived from

(a) the nectar of blossoms,
(b) secretions of living plants, or
(c) secretions on living plants,…

This definition goes on to provide details on the requirements for honey moisture content, other biological components, color and processing guidelines. More on this in the coming weeks!

So first and foremost, as a food product honey must be safe for consumption and have nothing added. It must be derived from the nectar and secretions of plants and flowers, 
collected by the bees and must be ripened in the hive. So when ask, as beekeepers often are, "Do you make honey?", my reply is, “No, bees make honey, I just collect it!”.

World Honey Bee Health

Diseases and pests of the honey bee present beekeepers with our biggest challenge!  The historic precedent show that through migratory beekeeping practices, with some exceptions, once a new pest or disease emerges it inevitably becomes ubiquitous.  The research team at the University of Florida has developed a web-based tool for beekeepers to check the presence of diseases and pests globally.  This work will be a useful and dynamic tool for tracking global disease spread by country. 

Figure: Global Varroa destructor distribution by country: World Honey Bee Health website.

In reviewing the data for our own country, regions are not represented.  As an example, the map indicates that Canada (shown in red in the figure)  is positive for varroa destructor.  This does not reflect the Varroa free status of Newfoundland.  The same problem with the small hive beetle, all of Canada is show as infested. We know that in the Maritimes this is not the situation. Perhaps the addition of information on intracountry variations could be a future improvement.  

Curiously, there is a category under 'pathogens and pests' for Colony Collapse Disorder(CCD) which list the USA and Switzerland as positive.  No information is given for Canada or any other country for CCD.  The direct cause(s) of CCD is unknown so this may be an oversimplification to categorize this under pathogens and pest.

Overall this is a good site for the well informed beekeeper to spend a few minutes and of use for gathering general information on the prevalence of honey bee pests and disease at a national level.  Not useful if you want to drill down into the details of specific diseases or pests within a country.  So for a large, regionally divided, country like Canada the positive reports of a disease or pest may not be immediately relevant to all areas.  The site is regularly updated, by the creators and with approved public submissions, so should remain current.  Also the site is quite easy and pleasant to navigate so have a look for yourself: http://worldhoneybeehealth.com/ .

Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

If you’d like to connect with ATTTA specialists or learn more about our program, you can:

visit our website at https://www.perennia.ca/portfolio-items/honey-bees/

Email abyers@perennia.ca

Thanks for following along with our blog and keeping up with the ATTTA buzz & don't forget to subscribe!