It could be sweet
Honey making may conjure up images of rural idylls, but Lindsay Whalen finds that it's not always that way.
There has been a flurry of activity in the organic and fair trade arenas. There is even a choice of brand if you want to purchase Fairtrade organic honey! So is all this choice good?
Critics have argued that it's environmental madness to import foods that we can produce in the UK, such as fruit for preserves and honey, from the other side of the world. The resulting pollution adds to the menace of global warming. But what if we are also similarly concerned with the plight of impoverished producers in the Third World?
Cutting edge environmental thinking suggests that if we're to manage climate change equitably in the long-term, then everybody on the planet should be given an equal right to pollute, by giving them a fairly distributed carbon ration.
Fairtrade, organic or local?
This means that consumers wishing to support workers in the Third World can ignore the food miles issue and look out for brands that carry the Fairtrade mark.
Companies offering Fairtrade products are indicated by an F next to the brand name in the table. The Fairtrade label only applies to suppliers from the Third World. Therefore, honey and fruit preserves travelling from places like Australia, the US and New Zealand should probably be avoided. Consumers wishing to support regional producers can buy honey and preserves locally or from local farmers markets.
Commercial beekeepers, however, may use synthetic pesticides and antibiotics to combat pests, and this can lead to toxicological hazards for beekeepers and bees, and to risks of honey contamination.5 No UK produced honey can currently be labelled organic, because of problems of cross-contamination. Natural wholefood supplier Suma has chosen to provide UK honey rather than an organically certified one. Nicola Roebuck from Suma explained that currently to receive Soil Association "certification for honey, the bee hives must be on certified organic land and have a four mile radius of organic or uncultivated land." In the absence of an organic label for local honey, the only other option for consumers concerned about these issues is to talk to the producer directly. For reasons of space, this report does not include national listings of local honey suppliers.
The best environmental option will be to buy spreads in glass jars. There is an increasing trend to package honey especially in squeezy plastic bottles. But glass is much easier to recycle than plastic, and glass jars are eminently reusable (for your own jam-making!). Most of the companies who responded to our request for information used some recycled glass content in their jars. This averaged at around 40%. By far the best was Tropical Forest, who claimed to use a minimum of 70% recycled glass content.
Honey will always be off the cards for vegans as it is an animal product. According to the Vegan Society, bees "can go through routine examination and handling, artificial feeding regimes, drug and pesticide treatment, genetic manipulation, artificial insemination, transportation (by air, rail and road) and slaughter."(5) For example, queen bees can be artificially inseminated with sperm obtained from decapitated bees and may be slaughtered every two years because over time their egg producing abilities decline.(5) The Vegan Society also points out that smoke is puffed into the hives to calm the bees down, and handling can lead to bees being harmed.(5)
1 'Jam, jellies and chutneys,' BBC Food, www.bbc.co.uk viewed 13/1/06
2 'Sweet Smell of Excess,' The Ecologist 11/03
3 'What not to feed your child,' The Observer 10/4/05
4 'Response to the Policy Commission on the Future of Food and Farming,' Friends of the Earth 10/01
5 Vegan Society website, viewed 11/1/06
6 'Is it ok ... to drink orange juice?' The Guardian 10/1/06
7Conversation with Vegetarian Society representative 13/1/06
8 Food Magazine: No 71 2005
9 Greenpeace Shoppers Guide to GM, www.greenpeace.org 4/1/06
10 ENDS Report, 369 10/05