Canadian honey producers cut costs

We’ve all been there. Hearing the familiar buzz buzz begin to grow louder. Your heart is racing and palms are sweaty as you look frantically around for the creature responsible for the noise. You pray you don’t get stung as you search for the nearest safe space.

Kevin Nixon laughs. He remembers what it was like being afraid of bees.

“They’re not as scary as most people think, but it probably took me two years of working with them to stay calm when you hear that constant buzz for an hour at a time,” says Nixon, owner of Nixon Honey.

But these days he says he’s less concerned about being stung by bees and more concerned about being stung by higher costs due to the volume of imported honey coming into Canada.

It’s a busy time for Nixon. His hives need to be winterized, but instead of building fresh boxes to store his “little bugs,” he has to re-use the same ones as last year.

The farm is also trying to manage its labour as efficiently as possible, and is looking at cheaper alternative treatments to control pests.

“It’s very difficult to cut labour because the job has to get done and it’s very difficult to cut down on putting input into your bees, because if we cheap out and not give our bees what they need now, next year, our winter losses could be higher. It just snowballs,” says Nixon.

Why?

Because the Canadian honey market is shrinking as a result of imported honey from foreign countries that is driving the value of honey down, says Nixon, who is also chair of the Canadian Council of Beekeepers.

In the spring of 2015, honey was being sold for about $2 a pound, which is how the industry measures production. Now, the sweet syrup is being sold for almost half that, at $1.15. 

Instead of building fresh boxes to store his “little bugs,” this winter Nixon has to re-use the same ones as last year. Photo by AJC1, Creative Commons Licensed

Canadian beekeepers bitter about imported honey

Nixon, along with the beekeepers’ council, blame McCormick Canada, the parent company of the Billy Bee and Natural Honey Farm brands, which uses imported honey from China and other foreign countries in their products, forcing beekeepers to sell below costs, they claim.

A spokesperson of McCormick has said in the past Billy Bee products are made using Canadian honey blended with Argentinian honey. McCormick’s other brand, Natural Honey Farms, contains a small amount of honey from China. All of this information is noted on the product labels.

The Calgary Journal’s calls to McCormick Canada were not returned.

But according to Nixon, current labelling on honey products is misleading for customers. When jars read “Canada No. 1 White,” this denotes only a grade, and not always a product of Canada. The ‘product of’ is usually in smaller print on the back of the label.

“It’s very frustrating, because there’s a lot of people out there that would like to support products of Canada and their local producers and don’t understand that they’re being blindsided,” says Nixon.

According to Statistics Canada, back in 2015 Alberta produced 42.8 million pounds of honey, making it the top producer in the country. In total, honey producers in Canada export up to 70 per cent of their production, mainly to the U.S.

Back in 2006, Canadian production was pegged at more than double that amount – 106 million pounds.

“I think we should all care about the food we eat, and the people who make our food,” says Campbell. Photo by Marco Hamermsa, Creative Commons Licensed

But that’s not the only problem

The frustration has prompted one beekeeper to start a petition calling for McCormick to stop blending Canadian honey with cheap imports.

Allan Campbell, creator of the petition, says more than 7,000 honey farms across the country are in financial trouble because of McCormick’s actions.

“It’s pretty terrible for anybody who’s got loans out and now you’re selling honey for probably well below your cost,” says Campbell. “I just wanted to try and do something about the situation.”

So far the petition has over 75,000 signatures.

Many Facebook users have also posted to Billy Bee’s page expressing their frustrations.

“Please use local honey and support your local area beekeepers and bees,” one user wrote.

“Read the details before you buy their product. I was surprised by their sources of honey,” wrote another.

Nixon says he would like to see Canada build a lab to test the blends of honey imported to Canada. There are currently no such labs in North America, with the closest one being in Europe.

“We physically need to go into those containers, pop lids off of drums, take samples and have them analyzed,” says Nixon, who added this will help determine which honey is from what country.

Until then, Nixon and Campbell say they will keep advocating for change, while encouraging Canadians to educate themselves on the food they eat and where it’s from.

“I think we should all care about the food we eat, and the people who make our food,” says Campbell.

jlukey@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Trevor Solway and can be reached at tsolway@cjournal.ca