Honey Producers Still Waiting to Prove Their Products Are ‘Wisconsin Certified’

July 12th, 2011

Madison.com / Wisconsin State Journal

The honey Karen Buch sells sits on store shelves, so it has to speak for itself.

That’s why Buch, who owns Willow Creek Apiaries in Potosi, worked with legislators on a bill that was passed last year to regulate what can be called pure honey and the labeling of it.

“It’s good for the consumer,” said Buch, whose company’s honey is sold at Woodman’s, Piggly Wiggly and other grocery stores. “They should know what they are getting. We’ve had people call us and say, ‘Hey, I want to know your honey is the real stuff.'”

In recent years, honey producers have become frustrated by products that have been diluted or have sweeteners added to them and are labeled “pure honey.”

The Wisconsin law seeks to define honey, for which there is no federal standard, and also create a testing mechanism through which producers could claim their product is “Wisconsin Certified Honey.”

But more than a year after the honey law was passed, the certification process has yet to begin.

At the end of this month, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will hold two public meetings to discuss the testing and the certification process.

“It’s kind of frustrating, but it will happen eventually,” said Tim Fulton, president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association. “It’s in everybody’s best interest to get it right.”

In order to label products “Wisconsin Certified Honey,” producers would need to pay to have them tested and pay a $50 DATCP fee.

The testing fee has yet to be determined and is one of the main concerns of honey producers.

Steve Ingham, administrator of DATCP’s Division of Food Safety, said a full workup could cost $1,500, but a proposal that would test for sugars and water would be in the $150 to $175 range.

“We’re trying to catch something that would be a glaringly adulterated product but not break the bank of the person wanting to participate,” Ingham said.

Buch had already changed the Willow Creek labeling to say “No Imports or Additives” and labels her honey as Wisconsin made. But she wants the additional certified label, too.

“It’s just good for the consumer,” said Buch, who has 1,200 hives. “I think a lot of them weren’t even aware that this might not be honey.”

Need questioned

Sue Richards, whose smaller operation makes her a “sideliner” in the bee and honey business, is in favor of the certification.

Her operation, Hidden Oaks Apiary and Bee Barf Honey, is near Oregon. Her hives are at three farms to pollinate the fruits and vegetables.

“I’m all for it,” said Richards, who has 22 hives this year. “I’d think any reputable honey producer would want to subject their honey to it, to say, ‘This is above board.'”

But other smaller producers don’t see the need for a specific label when they can speak for the honey when they sell it.

Mark Kindschi of Wisconsin Honey Farms of Edgerton sells at the Dane County Farmers’ Market. It’s his only sales outlet, so he isn’t interested in certification.

“I’m face to face with my customers and they get it,” Kindschi said. “It may be different for a large commercial producer that has to depend on sales off store shelves.”

Dale Marsden of Marsden’s Pure Honey in McFarland also sells at the Dane County market.

He said he sees the advantage of the certification but doesn’t think it’s for him.

“My honey has a good reputation,” Marsden said. “I don’t feel I need to do that. It’s probably good for some of the commercial ones and they can afford to do the certification.”

Eugene Woller sells his Gentle Breeze Honey at the Dane County Farmers’ Market as well as in stores throughout Wisconsin and in the Chicago market.

“People, especially foreigners, will ask us if it’s pure honey,” Woller said. “But I rarely have anybody from Madison say, ‘Is it real honey?'”

Woller said he’d wait and see about the certification.

“If there’s consumer demand for it, then we’ll say, ‘Yea, we have to get it,'” Woller said. “I know what our honey is, it’s all pure.”

Other challenges

The potential for adulterated honey on the market is just one more challenge for honey producers in Wisconsin. Colony collapse disorder, the mysterious phenomenon that has led to bee losses worldwide, still confounds producers and researchers.

Even without CCD, mites and diseases continue to frustrate beekeepers. The varroa mite has been a particular problem.

“They’ve become a bigger problem every year,” Fulton said. “They’re very hard to control with the products that are available.”

Changes in farming have created more challenges, beekeepers say.

Woller says as dairy farming has transitioned to crop farming in his area outside Mount Horeb, bees have fewer nectar sources.

The clover on which cows grazed has been replaced by corn and soybeans.

Farmers still grow alfalfa, but it’s harvested before it flowers and draws bees.

“There used to be nine dairy farms on this road and now there’s none,” he said. “Now there’s corn and bees don’t get anything off that.”

Woller has 600 hives in 20 locations, including local fruit and vegetable farms.

“CSA (community supported agriculture) farms help a lot, they have a lot of plants bees can work,” Woller said.

Even with the challenges, Wisconsin’s honey production was on the rise last year. The state ranked eighth in honey production, up three spots from 2009.

Honey production from Wisconsin producers with five or more colonies was 4.35 million pounds in 2010, up 15 percent from 2009.

Even so, Fulton said, most honey producers are small operations on a tight budget. So while they may support a law that defines pure honey, they might not spring for the certification.

“The main part of the bill is the honey identification and the chance to litigate against adulterated honey,” Fulton said. “It’s the certified Wisconsin honey that’s the issue and that’s a sideline issue. But it would be too bad if there was so much money attached to it no one used it. That would be a shame.”

State — Production (millions of pounds)
1. North Dakota — 46.41
2. California — 27.47
3. South Dakota — 15.63
4. Florida — 13.80
5. Montana —11.61
6. Minnesota —8.31
7. Texas —7.20
8. Wisconsin — 4.35
9. Michigan — 4.06
10. Georgia — 2.53
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service

Public hearings are scheduled to discuss a proposed rule relating to “Wisconsin Certified Honey” and the sale of products represented as honey.
• 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 25 at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, 2811 Agriculture Drive, Madison
• 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 28 at the Portage County Courthouse Annex, 1462 Strongs Ave., Stevens Point


Please sign up for Cornucopia's electronic newsletter and action alerts. You can be confident that we will never share or sell your e-mail address and your personal data will be held in strict confidence.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.