|Photo: Justusthane, Flickr.
The Florida legislature this month approved a bill prohibiting the production and sale of adulterated honey -- a racy-sounding term that encompasses the honey-fructose blends and chemically treated honeys that have flooded the market over the past decade. While Florida is the first state to issue an official honey standard, Nancy Gentry, who chairs the Florida Honey Bee Technical Council, says as many as 28 states are contemplating similar legislation.
"We're already seeing significant changes," Gentry reports. "We're going to take blended honey products off the shelf in Florida."
The American honey industry was decimated in the 1980s by the Varroa mite, which took down more than 20 percent of hives nationwide.
Further weakened by outbreaks of colony collapse disorder, the industry couldn't combat the incessant importation of cheap Chinese honeys. Gentry says the quality of foreign honey deteriorated still more after Congress imposed a 250-percent tariff on the product, prompting honey makers to cut costs by releasing honey-flavored corn syrups.
Gentry compares those blends, invariably sold as "honey," to cream cheese mixed with sour cream. "What is it?" she asks huffily.
Certainly not honey, the nation's beekeepers argued. They petitioned the federal government to develop a honey standard, and came close to succeeding in 2006. But the issue was ultimately tabled, forcing Gentry, who owns a small honey company, to adopt a new tactic.
"I've been married 42 years to a trial attorney and I've picked up some law along the way," she says. "I said 'let's go state-by-state.' And Florida stepped up to the plate to give you a new purity of honey."
Jerry Hayes, chief of the Florida Department of Agriculture's apiary division, says the new law will allow the state's beekeepers, who have lately subsisted on renting out their bees to California almond growers to aid pollination, to again earn their living by making honey. Consumers also stand to benefit, since Florida's prized tupelo, palmetto, orange blossom and gallberry honeys will again be widely available.
"Think of honey as wine," Hayes says. "There are different years, different varietals. They each have their own taste, their own flavor, their own mouthfeel."
Hayes says consumers who -- accustomed to honeys cut with corn syrup -- thought honey was a "blah" product will likely be surprised by the taste of pure honey.
"Honey in the barrel was honey in the barrel, because we were competing on price," Hayes says. "Now we'll be competing on quality."