Why the Capilano ‘honey scam’ is just the tip of the beehive/berg of counterfeit honey in the marketplace? Why this and the related global ‘declining bees’ crisis now are really a ‘canary in the coalmine’ of both economic globalisation and world-wide environmental destruction ? What is causing the global die-off of bees? Why should everyone be greatly concerned? And what can be done about this?
In recent days there have been reports of the great honey scam – that counterfeit honey being sold by Capilano (Australia’s main honey seller) has been ‘watered’ down or ‘adulterated’ with fake honey in the form of cheap corn or rice sugar syrups (from China especially) added to genuine honey for profiteering purposes (1). That is in addition to how a large ‘portion’ of the cheap imported China honeys also being sold in Australian supermarkets (and helping to put Australian honey producers out of business) would seem to be also affected in the same way as well (2). This has all been exposed in relation to the Australian as well as many overseas markets with the help of new more reliable (NMR) testing regime to distinguish the fakes.(3)
If you read our earlier blog on the rise of all kinds of fake foods everywhere (especially in and from China – e.g. where the art of making fake calamari rings out of the rectums of pigs was conceived) (4), this should come as no surprise. But there are good reasons why ‘fake honey’ is almost the final insult – the thin edge of the honeycomb wedge so to speak. In short, the great honey scam is a global crisis in itself also directly impacting on a much greater crisis – the global threat of bees possibly dying out (5). Since 2013 around the world bee numbers have recently declined in many areas such as Europe, USA and Australia at rates of around 30%. The use of pesticides (neonicotinoids in particular) on crops and plants is regarded as a central factor, supported by the stressful effects of climate change, loss of natural habitats, and the rise of the varroa mite – all contributing to bee ‘colony collapse disorder’ (6).
As the Australian situation exemplifies the fake honey from China is greatly making the situation worse for bees. With the Australian honey market under siege from fake imports, the local industry can’t compete with prices despite the declining numbers. So, as well as the disappearing/dying-off bees syndrome hives are also being shut down for economic reasons – thus numbers of professional beekeepers and honey producers are declining in the face of the related crises (7). The corporate imperatives of companies Capilano apparently looking for profiteering shortcuts thus compounds the problem – whilst small professional beekeepers are much more at the mercy of droughts, declining available habitats, etc.
But it really does get much worse (8). As the SMH has put it “it is not an overstatement to say that wiping out honey bees would trigger crop failures, famines and a humanitarian disaster never before seen in modern society” (9). This is because of the role bees play in pollinating plants which have a key role in the general ecology but also additionally in meat and dairy products as well. In fact, pollinating has taken over from honey in terms of percentage of income for many Australian beekeepers (e.g. for the almond industry). It is often estimated that bee help cross-pollinate not only at least 30% of the worlds crops but also around 90% of wild plants (10). This starts to make sense when you realise the role and extent of pollination by bees in (a) oilseed production around the world (olives, peanuts, soybeans, sunflower, coconuts, etc) , (b) the legumes such as alfalfa and clover which are foundational now to all meat and dairy products and (c) and other industries such as coffee and cotton. Its reported that up to 65% of Australian production is dependent on European honeybees and many crops would decrease by 90% without bees (11). But what about all the domestic garden plants as well as wilderness plants which may be lost if bees did become extinct?
What can the average person or family do to help address the situation (besides avoiding fake honey in supermarkets)? With all the focus on the commercial bees from European origins, people forget about the role and importance as well of the 1500 species of native bees in Australia (like many other places). Few seem to be aware that there are ten stingless native bees (including the Tetragonula species) that in relevant areas could be hived in a small family garden (as I am in the process of doing) or a commercial roof-top even (as is being encouraged by groups such as https://www.beeonethird.com/) – to both pollinate flowers and fruit trees in the garden and also produce some DIY honey of the natural and not fake kind! (12). Many native bees are thought to be possibly resistant to the invading varroa mite – and perhaps could make a comeback to play a bigger role in Australian plantlife (especially if the European bees are decimated by this virus). To find out more about this option go to links such as https://www.aussiebee.com.au/
– CKR 4/9/2018