When you dip your spoon into a jar of honey do you consider what else might be in there? While some honey is packed with enzymes and nutrients that are good for your health, others contain things that are not so good for you.
Honey from many countries around the world, including Turkey, China and India, has been found to contain residues of antibiotics in significant amounts.
What’s on our crops?
Most of the crops now grown by farmers use intensive methods of agriculture. The use of weed killers is routine and increasing, particularly due to GMO crops which are modified to be unaffected by herbicides. Blasting the weeds with large amounts of chemicals makes them herbicide resistant over time. Herbicides like glyphosate are blanket toxins for weeds but they also kill the natural bacteria which exist on the plant – they could be described as agricultural antibiotics. Other antibiotic sprays are designed to treat moulds and fungi on the crops like fruit (and in other garden plants). Bees, as pollinators of crops, ingest the herbicides along with the pollen which is passed into the honey; heavy metal and radioactive elements can also be passed on this way.
Bee diseases and their treatment
Bees, like all living creatures, are susceptible to things that threaten their health or lives. This includes external parasites, bacterial and viral diseases. In their natural state, in good health and nourishment, they have higher resistance to adverse factors. Pollution, especially by chemicals, lessens their ability to fight off these things. The practice of moving hives to pollinate large areas of crops in countries such as the USA, the shipping of bees (queens and eggs) and the way intensive commercial honey beekeepers treat their bees and hives have caused these diseases and mites to spread rapidly throughout the world.
Antibiotics are used by beekeepers to treat conditions such as American Foulbrood – although this is ineffective as it only destroys the bacteria and not the spores. These antibiotics can also contaminate the honey.
How antibiotics and herbicides affect bees
Studies show that bees have very carefully balanced digestive systems and that these chemical can disrupt their gut microbiomes. There is evidence that this is a factor in colony collapse.
How do antibiotics and glyphosates in our food affect us?
The rather worrying answer is that we don’t really know. Studies are conflicted but a lot of the research is conducted by companies who have interests in chemical production. There are agricultural chemicals in food, the water supply, the air around industrial farms and agro-forestry. What is the cumulative effect of these herbicides? We do know that continued exposure to antibiotics generally leads to resistance to the ones that we rely on to treat our illnesses.
Which honey is safe to buy?
Bees travel in approximately 2 mile radius from the hive to collect pollen. So to ensure that the honey is not adulterated by toxins from agriculture the hives must be located in remote and pristine countryside away from pesticides. The beekeepers that tend their bees must not use pesticides or antibiotics in the hive either.
Unfortunately, there are no rules about labelling exactly where honey comes from or how it is produced. Like buying all produce and ingredients, asking lots of questions from your supplier or seller is the best way of finding out exactly what you are eating. As short a supply chain as possible keeps things transparent and traceable.
We only bring our honey direct from beekeepers – either our own cooperatives or with one-to-one relationships. We visit them regularly so we know that they abide by natural methods and that the honey is not contaminated. Our hives are in remote areas surrounded by natural landscapes unsullied by chemicals. We believe this is vitally important so that we can all eat a natural and healthy product without hidden nasties and we can preserve something precious for the next generation.