Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
University of California
Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: Susan Cobey

Show me the honey

“Going green” means buying local honey, say honey bee experts at the University of California, Davis.

“It’s not only supporting the local beekeepers in our flagging economy, but imported honey can be problematic,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey. “When you buy imported honey, you don’t always know what you’re getting. The ‘honey’ could be a mixture of corn syrup and water, or blends of honeylike products. It could contain pesticides or antibiotics. It could be mislabeled or from a different country or floral source than indicated on the label.”

“Also,” Cobey said, “you don’t know how it’s been treated after bottling. Heated honey, for example, breaks down the enzymes and causes the honey to lose flavor.”

Some unethical honey importers illegally mark their products or route them through other countries to avoid paying tariffs or to avoid public health safeguards.

A recent investigative report published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer found that “big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently laundered in other countries — an illegal practice called ‘transshipping’ — in order to avoid U.S. import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.”

“In a series of shipments in the past year, tons of honey produced in China passed through the ports of Tacoma and Long Beach, Calif., after being fraudulently marked as a tariff-free product of Russia,” according to the investigative report.

Investigative reporter Andrew Schneider found that laundered Chinese honey is often shipped into the United States from Australia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, then relabeled as coming from there instead of China.

The news is not new, and neither are the "stings." The Associated Press recently related that "a Chinese business agent for several honey import companies was arrested in Los Angeles Tuesday (Feb. 15) on federal charges filed in Chicago for allegedly conspiring to illegally import Chinese-origin honey that was falsely identified to avoid U.S. anti-dumping duties. The charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)."

The business agent was accused of "conspiring between 2004 and 2006 to illegally import Chinese-origin honey that was falsely identified as originating in South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand to avoid U.S. antidumping duties."

The fact is, the United States doesn't produce enough honey to supply the demand. And due to the lower price, U.S. consumers may reach for the imported honey instead of the locally produced honey.

"Currently U.S. honey producers can supply about half the honey consumed in the U.S.  annually,” said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who writes and publishes the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. “We have to import substantial amounts of honey. If the foreign sources lower their prices far enough, our honey producers can't sell their honey at competitive, above cost-of-production prices. To maintain our market, we cannot allow low-cost honey to slip past the tariffs now in place to keep domestic sales moving."

The UC Davis bee experts expressed concern that antibiotics banned in the United States are used to treat diseases in bee hives in other countries, and then the honey is shipped here. For example, beekeepers in China sometimes use an animal antibiotic, chloramphenicol, in their hives. When humans ingest the honey, it can cause serious illness and sometimes death.

Show me the money? Or show me the honey?

Honey Extraction
Honey Extraction

FRAME OF HONEY COMB ready for the extraction process at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis. UC Davis doesn't market honey, but the bee experts at the Laidlaw facility encourage consumers to buy honey locally, not imported honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Susan Cobey
Susan Cobey

BEE BREEDER-GENETICIST Susan Cobey with a frame of her New World Carniolans she rears at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 8:04 AM
Tags: antibiotics (2), Eric Mussen (6), Susan Cobey (2), UC Davis (24)

Bee-ing green

Going green in your backyard doesn’t mean just planting a bee-friendly garden and providing water for the bees.

Have you ever thought about becoming a backyard beekeeper? You can help boost the declining bee population while engaging in a fascinating and rewarding hobby. Your flowers, fruits and vegetables will benefit (as will your neighbors' gardens). Another reward that’s sweet: honey.

There’s another benefit, too. If you’re into photography, especially macro photography, this is a perfect opportunity to “bee” there.

The number of backyard beekeepers in the United States has increased by about 15 percent over the last three years, according to Kim Flottum (top), editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of The BackYard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden. He estimates the number at 100,000-plus and growing.

“Backyard beekeepers easily represent more than 80 percent of total beekeepers, but have only about 25 percent of the total hives,” he told us. “They contribute lots to local pollination of small gardens and orchards and plants for wildlife. And, they are responsible for most of the local honey one sees for sale, since most sell close to home in farmers’ markets and the like.”

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (left), member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty, also advocates that folks do their part in the honey bees crisis. Don’t just plant bee friendly plants, but plants that bees can forage on in the late summer and fall when food is scarce, he says.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides regional lists of bee friendly plants. The UC Berkeley Urban Gardens website maintains a California list.

What are some of the first steps in becoming a beekeeper?

  1. Join a local beekeeping association where veterans can assist you. Bee Culture maintains contact information for beekeeping associations. The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis maintains a list of beekeeping clubs in California. Many 4-H clubs also offer beekeeping projects where youths can learn the not-so-secret life of bees.
  2. Check your city and county ordinances and your county agriculture commissioner for bee-colony regulations.
  3. Contact your neighbors to see if they are allergic to bee stings or if they have any objections to your keeping bees.
  4. Start a library of beekeeping books. Some of the most recent books by bee experts include The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum; Honey Bee Hobbyist: the Care and Keeping of Bees by UC Davis retired emeritus professor Norman Gary (his experience spans six decades); and Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees: Honey Production, Pollination and Health by University of Florida Extension beekeeping specialist Malcolm T. Sanford, with expertise from the late Richard E. Bonney's book, Beekeeping and Hive Management.
  5. Subscribe to bee publications such as The American Bee Journal, Bee Culture and Speedy Bee.
  6. Glean information from the Internet, including YouTube, but be aware that some info is misleading and inaccurate.

Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey of UC Davis and Washington State University cautions that you must take care of your bees to ward off diseases and pests. And, if you’re catching swarms, especially in southern California, be aware that some could be Africanized bees.

“The swarms are initially docile, but can become very defensive when they grow and have brood and honey—and turn to a public health issue,” she says.

Cobey advocates that would-be beekeepers find a good mentor and/or bee club that offers beginners’ classes and arranges purchase of good queens.

“Temperament alone will make a huge difference,” she says.

Good advice!

On the light side, once you’re a bonafide beekeeper, you can wear T-shirts like “Show Me the Honey,” “I Have Hives” and “I Smoke Burlap.”

The best part of rearing your very own bees, though, is making an individual statement in a world filled with millions of unanswered questions.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is one of them.

(Editor's note: Kathy Keatley Garvey, a communication specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, comes from a long line of beekeepers tracing back to "at least the 1800s.")

Backyard Bee
Backyard Bee

POLLEN-PACKING honey bee heading toward rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Smoking the Hive
Smoking the Hive

BEEKEEPER smoking a hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 9:22 AM
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