Honey and other Bee Products

There is no such thing as Ahinsak Honey.

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, in December 2017 the United Nationals General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution declaring 20 May as World Bee Day.


However, the first National Bee Day was celebrated in India on 5 February 2012. Experts felt that bees being natural pollinators should be used for enhancing agricultural productivity and cited a study which revealed that 15 of 16 crops tracked yielded more due to the presence of bee boxes. There is a growing demand to give the honey bee (to be chosen against the cockroach and mosquito both of which are ironically considered pests and so exterminated) the status of the national insect. If this happens can we not demand that we stop exploiting bees for honey? India’s national animal is the tiger and national bird the peacock and we do not farm them for their products.


Collection of Wild Honey


A substantial quantity of honey is obtained from forests by setting fire to entire beehives. Thousands of rock bees are smoked out and die. Permits are distributed to honey collectors for a couple of months at a stretch in places like the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve where they are called mawaleys. They risk their lives between 7am to 4 pm when they enter the forest because of the tigers that inhabit the swamps. That’s why they pray to the forest goddess Bonbibi before entering and could even sacrifice a chicken. The mawaleys leave one person in their boat – known as bhorel – who has a whistle which he uses to guide the mawaleys back to the boat. The ones who venture ahead have nothing more than a towel draped around their waists and carry a stick on their right shoulders. The team takes along a big, sharp knife to cut the hive and steel pot to collect the honey in. After locating the hive, grass and leaves of the hental tree are collected and a fire is lit below it. The smoke disbands the bees and that’s when the mawaleys climb up the tree and cut through the hive.


The honey obtained in this manner is called 100% pure or natural and marketed as organic honey since it is free from pesticides. (A certain brand of apiary honey gathered directly from farmers at a fair price is also marketed as organic.)


The traditional method of extracting forest or wild honey is very destructive as it damages the entire bee hive and the smoke and fire poses a risk to humans involved. Certain organisations in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are therefore advising tribal honey collectors to wear canvas gear, use ladders and cut off large chunks of the bee hives instead which is as cruel. In fact, the Tribal Cooperative Marketing
Development Federation of India Ltd is training 20,500 tribal gatherers in collecting, processing and marketing of wild honey. Rock bees can not be boxed as they migrate often.

 

The United Nations Development Programme and the Khadi and Village Industries Commission have armed Melghat tribes (of Maharashtra) with wild honey collection kits including headgear and denim overalls, and taught them to rob rock bee hives at night by cutting off a portion of the colony comb in such a way that they get three quarters of the honey stored. The same hives are thus ransacked month after month causing a minimum of 10,000 worker bees to suffer each time – it is downright stealing with nothing “scientific” about it. A portion consisting of as much as a quarter of the hive/colony of the rock bees is cut off in the night. The honey is sold under the brand Hunting Honey (aptly named). The Maharashtra state government Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries and the Pragati Melghat Development Society are responsible for promoting this cruelty and exploitation of wild bees.

 

In Etapalli tehsil (Maharashtra) the forest department trained tribal youth in alternative methods of collection so that they no longer fell trees for harvesting or kill the bees and larvae located inside the tree trunk. Training involves being advised to spray water on beehives and quickly extract the honey. In comparison to smoking hives that results in killing bees, water may not kill but it is cruel nevertheless because it leads to immediate abandonment of the hive and ultimate death by starvation if the queen bee dies.

 

In 2012 The National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD) proudly declared having supported sustainable honey collection in the Vidharbha Forest by generating more income for the tribal honey collectors.


In the forest at Dudhmal, near Lekha Mendha, Gadchiroli huge clusters of bee hives of Apis dorsata occur on the upper, thinner branches of tall trees – bees instinctively know that bears can not climb high on branches that can not take their weight and attack them.


Unfortunately, the bees have no such sure-fire method to safe-guard their hives against humans. Imagine, some one ransacking and even cutting off half your house along with the food that you and your family have stored. Honey is that food which wild bees collect for themselves.


For 10,000 years humans have stolen honey by smoking out bees and destroying entire hives. Today, honey hunting (usually in March and April) is not much better even though complete hives are not destroyed. The hives are not removed in full because crafty humans feel that half-cut hives can rejuvenate and continue producing honey which can be plundered season after season.


Cowardly hunters commence the plunder after dusk because the chance of being attacked by swarms of bees is far more during day time. They hang and climb up a rope ladder, to the fork of a tree. Then crawl slowly on its branches towards the hives as far as they can go depending on which branches can easily take their weight. A torch is barely used because light alerts the bees to attack in defence.


The risk taken by the humans is absolutely self-inflicted – first, the weakness of the branches, second, the height of the branches is about 30 to 40 feet and a fall could cause grave injury, and third, the danger of the bees suddenly swarming down and fatally stinging the men even if they are covered, and four, they need to constantly check their clothes for bees and crush them to death.


Upon reaching the hive, the hunter uses a sharp knife to cut off the top of the bulging comb where the honey is stored. The lower half is where the queen bee lives and contains eggs and pollen. The three to four sets of bees guard the hive begin attacking and the man has to be quick in returning to the ground.


During the monsoon the bees abandon their hives and that’s when certain groups remove entire hives for the beeswax.


Collection of Farmed Honey


Apiary honey is another source and UP ranks first in production. Many states were sanctioned Rs 20 crore each under a Central Project for Apiculture. Agricultural Universities are usually chosen to act as the nodal agency for training and installation of colonies; besides training, beekeepers are also given loans.

 

The National Bee Board (NBB) and the Central Bee Research & Training Institute (CBRTI) under the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC) promote bee keeping. According to them there are 5 crore bees in the world, but only 2.5 lakh beekeepers with 25 lakh bees in India which ideally should be 80 lakh bees. They therefore offer training courses to farmers and encourage planting of particular flowering plants from which bees can collect pollen and nectar. Also in the beginning of 2018, under “Honey Mission” the CBRTI distributed bee boxes free to its former trainees. The KVIC was focusing on West Bengal, Bihar, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttaranchal. For example, awareness drives are conducted in Maharashtra during which bee boxes are distributed with the aim of roping in younger bee keepers into the business. They teach harvesting honey and other bee products such as beeswax, royal jelly, bee venom, propolis and pollen, as well as artificial queen grafting. No different to cruel intensive farming of animals. BWC hopes students do not go in for the beekeeping courses proposed to be introduced by the CBRTI to agriculture colleges and universities. However, they have begun teaching bee-keeping ot prison inmates and jailors together.

 

A year or so after “Honey Mission” was launched, since a dire need for a centralised data bank for maintaining records of the total amount of honey produced in India annually a Beekeeping Development committee was constituted toward the end of 2018. It planed to introduce long term ideas which could be incorporated into a decade long programme.

Following forceful implementation of “Honey Mission” in February 2019 there were 2.5 lakh beekeepers and 25 lakh bee colonies that harvested 70,000 MT of honey worth Rs 770 crore annually. Besides honey, other products produced were beeswax worth Rs 46 lakh, pollen worth Rs 54 lakh, royal jelly worth Rs 3.6 lakh and bee venom worth Rs 8 lakh.


Institutes like the Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Ferozepur in Punjab also hold training camps for which they advertise to attract not only landless farmers but people with white-collar jobs.

 

The Jammu and Kashmir’s apiculture department keep 100 bee colonies for demonstration and offer various schemes that give subsidies for hives, medicines, honey extracting equipment and know-how, as a result of which in 2011 the state’s honey production of 597 tonnes was double that of the previous year.


Although venom from wasps and bees can cause allergic and even fatal reactions in humans, the Pune based CBRTI does bee-sting treatment for people suffering from multiple sclerosis and rheumatic diseases: red coloured wasps removed from hives with tweezers are placed on human skin so they sting. Scientists at MIT Boston have been researching to create antibiotics from wasp’s venom.

Bee venom face masks are said to be non-invasive, firm up skin and have anti-aging properties.

 

In Kangra, Himachal Pradesh (HP) 30,000 farmer are engaged in keeping bees and they produce 1,200 MT honey annually. HP farmers of other fruit producing areas (like apple orchards) are increasingly taking to this vocation and the output of honey is growing with export to UK, Maldives and Kuwait. To cut losses due to unfavourable climatic conditions they take the bee boxes during winter for pollination to Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

 

According to the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, in 2012-13 India produced a total of 91,657.74 metric tonne of honey. State-wise production was as follows:

UP                           
Bihar                         

Rajasthan                  

Punjab                        

Arunachal Pradesh        

Karnataka                  

West Bengal                

Tamil Nadu                  

Kerala                        

Haryana                     

Maharashtra               

Assam                       

MP                             
HP                             
J & K                          

Orissa                        

Uttarakhand                 

Chhattisgarh                

19,966.77
 8,018.04
 7,676.22
 5,694.09
 5,654.48
 5,093.32
 5,070.43
 4,819.56
 4,586.88
 4,272.98
 3,378.39
 2,356.94
 2,227.57
 2,210.17
 1,999.85
 1,575.00
 1,500.17
 1,194.33


Unfortunately for bees, India is aiming at establishing 12 crore apiary bee colonies to produce 12 lakh tonne of honey and 15,000 tonne of beeswax; plus 1.20 lakh tonne of forest honey and 10,000 tonne of forest beeswax. Indian bees have a population of 5,000 to 15,000 in a family, whereas Italian bees have a much higher population of 15,000 to 65,000 in a family. In India there are about 10.5 lakh bee colonies or families, and a single hive yields 4-5 kgs of honey. Ironically, South and South East Asia is centre of origin of honey bees, with India having five species, whereas, Europe and USA have only one species.

 

Meliponiculture is rearing of sting-less honey bees called meliponines. It is increasingly being promoted as a source of supplementary income from honey and for crop pollination.


In 2017 while New Zealand’s honey exports jumped 35% (mainly to China and Hong Kong) soaring prices were driving people to steal bee hives. Two years later, in 2019 China dominated the global market with a 15% share, whereas India’s export share was 4.56% and ranked 7th. Leading exporting countries were Argentina, Germany, Mexico, Spain, New Zealand, Brazil, Hungary and Canada.


Since Australian beehives are free from parasites, and therefore pesticides, the price of honey and beeswax gathered from them is high. The beeswax is considered pharmaceutical quality since it can be used in cosmetics (such as lip balms and beard styling waxes) and food packaging. Beeswax wrap has emerged as an eco-friendly, but expensive alternative to plastic cling-film because it is not only biodegradable, but also washable and reusable.


For a teaspoonful of honey, a bee has to make about 10,000 trips to a flower.


Apiculture in India often faces epidemics when entire colonies are destroyed. The bees are farmed in boxes and although they are not killed for obtaining honey and beeswax/mom, we must remember that honey is the food they save for themselves. A honey bee in one trip to a flower collects one-hundredth of a drop or at the most a 40-milligram load of nectar which consists of no more than 20% honey and the rest water which is evaporated by the bees by adding enzymes from their mouths. In other words for a teaspoonful of honey, a bee has to make about ten-thousand trips to a flower. Even a small colony of bees can make as many as sixty thousand trips a day from the hive to the flowers and back, all within a ten kilometre radius of their hive. To put in another way, during its lifetime, each worker bee flies approximately three to five miles from its hive. When honey flows June through August, the worker bees fly fifty-five thousand miles to produce half a kilogram of honey. That’s roughly twelve round trips from Srinagar to Kanyakumari!

 

In order to increase output of apiary honey, quite often queen bees are killed and replaced with younger ones, or some times the queen bee’s wings are trimmed to prevent her from leaving the hive; also, the queens are artificially inseminated and tricked into laying more eggs by adding large wax cells to the hive. When most of the honey from the hive is removed for sale, it is replaced by sugar syrup. One box contains 30,000 to 35,000 bees and that many lives are affected due to human greed for honey and money.


Beekeeping has been mistakenly touted as environmentally friendly because honey bees pollinate. Actually introducing bee boxes puts honey bees into competition with wild pollinators (bumblebees, butterflies, moths, flies, ants, other insects, even bats and sun birds in India) and exacerbates the problem. There is no doubt that indigenous pollinators are negatively impacted by honey bees being introduced in or released into wild or new areas for the commercial production of honey.


Exploitation of Bees and their Hives


Other bee products are bee pollen (mistakenly used as a vegetarian protein diet), bee venom (used in medicines and as beauty treatment), beeswax/mom (used in a wide variety of applications covering cream & lotion cosmetics, lipsticks, foods, pharmaceuticals, paints, candles, polishes, lubricants, as well as for arts and crafts), propolis (a resinous mixture similar to beeswax that bees collect from botanical sources for sealing small gaps in their hives, considered a natural healing agent), bee larvae (eaten: e.g. by Nagas – huge quantities are sold in the weekly bazaar at Dimapur), bee larva powder and royal jelly (used as a food supplement/tonic and in cosmetics). Beeswax/mom is commonly referred to as white wax/bleached wax or yellow wax and is obtained by steeping honeycombs in boiling water.


The GI (geographical indication status) was awarded to Bastar in Chhattisgarh for dhokra/dokra artefacts. It is non-ferrous metal casting using the lost-wax casting technique that utilises pure bees wax. Also at Swamimalai, a small village near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, the sculptors and artisans of bronze idols received a GI tag for their ancient art of lost-wax technique of bronze-idol casting using soft dough of bees wax and gum resin.

Some liqueurs can contain beeswax which could be overlooked as an ingredient. In May 2016, Baileys came out with their new dairy- and gluten-free almond milk-based liqueur called Almande. The media covered it extensively while vegans were overjoyed to have an alternative to the traditional Irish cream. It was then revealed that Baileys had not intended to create a vegan beverage! So upon checking they discovered that Almande was unfortunately not vegan since it contained beeswax. The company then declared that they would try to remove the animal product from the formulation by March 2017. By May 2017 new bottles marketed in North America began carrying the vegan label.

Unfortunately manufacturers do not readily utilise the good vegan (plant and mineral derived) substitutes for beeswax that are available: paraffin wax, carnuba wax, soy wax, candelilla wax, ceresin wax, earth wax, bayberry wax, and Japan wax.

The latest in the myriad uses of honey (as medicinal, food and beauty products) is that it has been introduced as a preservative for mangos. Kept immersed in a jar of honey it is claimed that they become sweeter although they shrink due to loss of moisture.

 

Given the background, it is incorrect to feel that no cruelty is involved in obtaining honey and other bee products. Honey is the bees’ food and we steal it from their hives/homes by pulling out dripping honey comb frames and replacing them with empty ones. They do not make it for human consumption, but for their own sustenance, therefore it can not be considered or marked vegetarian. Similarly, other bee products like beeswax/mom and bee larvae, snatched from bee hives are not meant for human consumption.


Alarming Colony Collapse Disorder


Beekeepers are reporting a new phenomenon, that on going to their hives they are finding no bees! More and more bee colonies are mysteriously vanishing in what is called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Their disappearance is positively alarming because bees are responsible for pollination in every thing that grows from crops to vegetables to fruits (i.e. agriculture, horticulture and forestry). America was one of the first countries to begin renting hives out for pollination purposes and they earn more this way than by selling honey and bee products. Moving bee hives great distances and frequently could in itself be one of the reasons of dire stress to bees leading to CCD. Other possible reasons are that bees are finding it increasingly difficult to adapt to genetically modified plants and the use of bee-toxic neonic pesticides, in addition to which radiation signals from mobile phones and towers make them disoriented; they are also harmed due to air pollution and global warming.

Lack of bees and therefore pollination is increasingly affecting farmers in India too. For example pomegranate farmers of Maharashtra have had to resort to renting beehive boxes. It seems the demand is fast increasing and can not be met by the suppliers.


There are 2 species of bees that are rented for pollination purposes: Apis mellifera or European honeybees fly within 4 sq km to collect nectar and pollinate flowers. One colony/box is sufficient to pollinate an acre, but these bees need to be fed concentrated sugar. Each colony survives up to 3 years. Apis trigona is the specie of bees. They require less care, but for pollination purposes 3 boxes per acre are required. Moreover, the colonies of these bees need to be repopulated every year.


Although strict regulations do exist in other countries like Russia, China and New Zealand, electromagnetic radiation (EMR) does not figure in India’s notified list of pollutants. However, it has been proved that birds and bees in particular, suffer the ill-effects. BWC wrote to the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology drawing his attention to the fact that all life gets adversely affected by radiation from mobile/cell phone towers. We also suggested that the government should quickly locate appropriate neutralizing solutions and implement them because radiation was increasingly resulting in serious health problems for humans and animals. Furthermore, a request was made that no towers should be allowed to exist in wild life areas. Bees and also birds were cited: independent studies undertaken had proved beyond doubt that their populations had drastically fallen due to radiation from mobile towers.

 

A study concluded that subsequent to a mobile phone with a frequency of 900 MHz, being kept daily for 10 minutes in beehives, after 10 days worker bees stopped coming to the hives and the queens laid 100 instead of 350 eggs per day. (Another study showed that sparrows exposed to EMR suffered from reproductive and co-ordination problems and became aggressive.)

 

Earlier, the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests constituted an expert committee for studying the impact of towers and mobile phones on bees and birds in 2010. One of the experiments in Kerala found that thriving hives suddenly left with only queens, eggs and hive bound immature worker bees. Thus, EMR exposure provides a stronger explanation for CCD than other theories.

 

After recommending lowering the permissible EMR level which was not implemented for a year, in 2012 based on the committee’s findings, a precautionary advisory was issued by the Ministry which among several measures to curtail radiation, particularly if affecting wildlife like birds and bees, stated that no new tower should be erected within a radius of 1 km of existing ones. Moreover the forest department should be consulted before installation of towers in and around protected areas and zoos.

 

Recognising and acknowledging the harmful and malignant effects of radiation on humans the Union Ministry for Communications amended the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, to implement new mobile radiation norms on 1 September 2012: radio frequency exposure limits lowered to one-tenth, and mobile handsets sold require special absorption compliance limits, i.e. lower SAR.

 

A 2011 study in Tamil Nadu observed that bees were not visiting flowers but were strangely attracted by the residual sugar in disposed paper cups outside coffee and juice shops. Falling into these cups thrown in garbage bins, an unimaginable high number of bees die (one bee per cup at least) because they are unable to then fly away and survive. Furthermore, others get killed in recycling units.

 

A number of India’s bee scientists feel that there is a decline in population in the country mainly due to use of pesticides and deforestation – and some say even due to urbanization and unchecked tourism. Interestingly, in Israel, pesticides are sprayed in the evening after the bees have settled in their hives, whereas in India they are sprayed in the morning and therefore affect the bees.

 

The Union Ministry of Agriculture has through the National Horticulture Mission’s programme offered the missing pollination support through commercial beekeeping. But, in Mahableshwar (hill station of Maharashtra) beekeeping has almost come to a standstill. One of the reasons being the phenomenal area under strawberry cultivation from Panchgani to Mahableshwar where massive sprays control the strawberry mite and this results in the elimination of bees. There might well be different kinds of sprays for different crops in different places, killing not just bees but numerous kinds of insects, even those that are not labelled as injurious to crops.

 

The scientist who came out with a bee calendar in 2019 declared that the hybrid sunflowers cultivated in Punjab now have poor nectar secretion ability and no longer attract bees like they did few years ago. Similarly there was no flowering observed in cloned variants of eucalyptus trees from which farmers were now extracting oil and pulp meant for the paper industry.

In short, all man-made environmental calamities which are fast resulting in doom for the bees, in turn could very well spell doom for us, humans. Albert Einstein is attributed to have said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination… no more men!” The fact in 2019 was that one-in-six species of bees had already gone regionally extinct somewhere in the world.


Quite right because at the British Ecological Society meeting in 2010, it was stated that globally pollination is estimated to be worth £141bn or $224bn each year; and annually India (second to China) produces about 7.5 million tonnes of vegetables accounting for about 14% of the global total. However, a study presented by the University of Calcutta’s Ecology Research Unit found a decline in pollinating insects in India which was resulting in reduced vegetable yield and could limit people’s access to a nutritional diet. Vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, cucumber and gherkin relied on insects, such as bees, whereas certain crops, including cereals, did not depend on insects for pollination, since the plants used other mechanism such as relying on the wind to carry the pollen. The Food & Agriculture Organisation therefore established an International Pollinators Initiative (India is one of the seven nations of this group) with the aim of identifying practices and building capacity in the management of pollination services. In Maoxian County, Sichuan, China the decline of pollinators has forced some apple (fruit) farmers to pollinate by hand.

 

Furthermore, the United Nations report of March 2011 reiterated that bees pollinate 70 crops of the 100 that provide 90% of the world’s food. It is therefore vital that a decline in the number of bees should not be allowed to continue. Humans should immediately stop the use of insecticides which affect bees and not pollute the air.

 

Another important point for India is that imported bees such as the European Apis mellifera pollinate very few Indian plants and therefore need to be fed sugar and antibiotics to adjust to climatic conditions. In comparison, in fields where the Indian bees Apis cerana indica are found (and no insecticides used) crops flourish.

 

A couple of months earlier an emergency petition was launched by Avaaz (the international famous petition site) which was supported by Beauty Without Cruelty also. It said that “Bees are dying off worldwide and our entire food chain is in peril. Scientists blame toxic pesticides and four European governments have already banned them. If we get the US and EU to join the ban (on neonicotinoid pesticides), other governments across the world could follow, and save bees from extinction. Bees are vital to life on earth – every year pollinating 75% growing plants and crops with an estimated $40bn value, over one third of the food supply in many countries. Without immediate action to save bees we could end up with no fruit, no vegetable, no nuts, no oils and no cotton.” The mega campaign resulted in the EU banning a group of poisons in 2013. In the wake of a decision to be taken by the US in September 2014 Avaaz launched another signature campaign to counteract the US chemical companies’ lobbying.

 

Monsanto’s GM crops containing pesticides kill honey bees. Therefore in 2011, the company purchased the world’s largest bee research firm called Beeologics. They felt the solution will be achieved by producing GM bees! Little wonder that Monsanto has been rated as the worst for its ongoing work to threaten human health and the environment.

In February 2016, the first global assessment of the threat to creatures, including some 20,000 species of wild bees that pollinate the world’s plants was released in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a group affiliated with the United Nations. The report said farming exposed these insects to pesticides, and bees were under attack from parasites and pathogens as well. Chemicals such as neonicotinoids were to blame, and even if pesticides levels were not lethal on individual insects, concentrations in the hives had long-term effects on bee colonies.

Mosquito elimination pesticides also affect bee populations. And, odour from garbage is one of the biggest threats to their survival since it affects their foraging behaviour and has even known to result in starvation.

In a new welcome development devices that amplify the buzz of swarming bees are being used September 2017 onwards by the Northeast Frontier Railway to scare away elephants from crossing railway tracks and risking being killed or injured.


Harmful Honey


Leading nutritionists have stated that honey offers no special health benefits since it mainly consists of sugars and only small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Others say, processing involves liquefying, straining, filtering, heating and pasteurizing honey for which operations heat is needed, damages the natural composition of honey.

 

Honey carries harmful Clostridium botulinum spores which can even prove fatal to babies’ undeveloped immune systems.

 

Honey produced from particular flowers may trigger honey intoxication symptoms like dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea and vomiting.

 

Although honey is called a natural sweetener, it may be considered a refined sugar because it has the same 97 percent relative sweetness as that of granulated sugar, and 80 percent is simple sugars, mostly fructose and glucose with small quantities of other sugars like maltose, sucrose and other complex carbohydrates; and is similar to synthetically-produced inverted sugar syrup. Also, commercial beekeepers often give sugar directly to the bees which increases honey volume but leads to bland tasting honey – no different to a thick sugar syrup.

 

There are four classes of simple sugars – sucrose, fructose, honey and malts – regarded by most nutritionists as harmful to optimal health after prolonged consumption of amounts above 15 percent of the carbohydrate calories. The glycemic index for honey is 32 to 85, depending on the botanical source.

 

Honey causes tooth decay faster than table sugar, as it has the highest calorie content of all sugars with about 65 calories, compared to around 48 calories per tablespoon found in table sugar.

 

Honey is toxic because it contains formic and manite acids. Unlike bees, humans do not have the enzymes to break down these acids or preservatives so when humans eat honey, it immediately begins to absorb moisture from the stomach. Moreover, honey is actually bees’ vomit because it is made from nectar the worker bees regurgitate. In short, honey is only suitable for bees to consume; it is not nutritious and in fact, unsafe for humans.

The majority of honeys available in the Indian market (even foreign brands) when tested in September 2010 were found to contain oxytetracycline (OTC), chloramphenicol, ampicillin, erythromycin, eurofloxacin and ciprofloxacin. Interestingly, OTC found in 50% of the samples tested was up to 25 times higher than the standard fixed by India for export. And, chloramphenicol, banned in the EU, was found up to 15 times higher than allowed in 25% of the samples.

 

The head of the Animal & Pharmacological Experimentation at Smt Kishoritai Bhoyar College of Pharmacy at Kamptee, Nagpur, has stated that “beekeepers use antibiotics at relatively high doses to treat infections or at low doses at ‘growth promoters’… Monitoring antibiotics residues in honey, wax, and bees helps assess the potential risk of these products to human health.”


However, in 2011 Kashmir Apiaries Exports, the largest exporter of honey from India, a Punjab based company having more than 50,000 A.mellifera bee colonies covering Kashmir to Kanyakumari, exported as much as 2,000 tonnes of honey to Western Europe. Their honey processing plant has a capacity of 30,000MT and is the largest is Asia. Incidentally, the company is known in the history of the Indian Railways for running the first ever honey train with 91 containers in 2010.


Safeguards Lacking


The Official Journal of the EU says “A commission inspection to India had revealed serious deficiencies concerning the implementation of the residue monitoring plan of milk and honey. India has been informed accordingly.” Therefore, India can not import honey from China, mix it with Indian honey to bring down the antibiotic level, repack and export it to the EU or for that matter to the US, because such re-shipment has been banned by them.

In India honey is regulated by the Union Ministry of Agriculture under:
• The Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955
• The Bureau of Indian Standards
• The Grading and Marking Act, 1937 (Agmark)
• The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI)


The first three legislations do not include standards for measuring antibiotic levels. However, the Export Inspection Council has the power to check and penalise for the presence of antibiotics and other substances, and, without their clearance, consignments can not be exported. Since exports to the EU and US (the largest importers of honey) have been curtailed, consignments are now finding their way to 40-odd countries like Saudi Arabia which do not have similar stringent import rules.

In December 2014 the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) changed rules whereby honey manufactured and packaged in India from February 2015 onwards needs to conform to new standards. The limit on antibiotic residue in honey is set on the basis of a detection method called “limit of quantification”.

 

To address the issue of adulteration again in August 2018 the FSSAI notified standards for honey and its by-products, bees wax and royal jelly. Honey needs to comply with 18 parameters like that of sucrose content, glucose ratio, pollen count, and foreign oligosaccharides. Bees wax is to be obtained from the honeycombs of bees of Apidae family after the honey has been removed by draining or centrifuging. The combs are to be melted with hot water, steam or solar heat and the melted product filtered and cast into cakes of yellow bees wax. Whereas white bees wax is to be obtained by bleaching the yellow bees wax with oxidising agents. Royal jelly needs to be a mixture of secretions from hypopharyngeal and mandibular glands of worker bees, free from any additive.


In 2015-16 India exported 38,177.08MT of natural honey to the United States, Saudi Arabia, The United
Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bangladesh. (Note: no exports to the EU as mentioned above.)


Nectars sans Cruelty


It is interesting that Nearchus, one of the Greek officers in the army of Alexander the Great, on coming to India, noted the “reed tree that produced honey without the association of bees” – meaning sugarcane!

 

One cup of honey can be substituted with one-and-a-quarter cups of white sugar dissolved in one-third cup of water. Molasses, treacle, golden, corn, maple, date, grape, and other syrups can also be easily used in place of honey. However, the ingredients of these products should be checked to rule out processing with pork fat, milk products or glycerine of animal origin.

 

A vegan alternative available abroad, manufactured from rice nectar, is called “Just like Honey”.


Agave nectar/syrup (derived from a plant by the same name) is also used as an alternative to honey. It is sweeter than honey but tends to be less viscous; and is marketed as a healthy sweetener consisting of around 50% fructose and 15% glucose.


Instead of promoting such alternatives, famous hotels such as the Waldorf-Astoria, New York, undertakes bee keeping on the hotel’s 20th floor. (In 2010 the government ban on bee keeping in the city was lifted.) They mistakenly feel that this is one of the ways in which they can “go green”. In Paris, the Mandarin Oriental hotel also set up its first hive in 2012.


Dead Wasps in Figs


BWC has been asked more than once whether figs contain insects making them non-veg. The answer is yes – and no!


Figs and fig wasps have been inseparable for millions of years because the wasps are the plant’s sole pollinators.


Figs are actually flowers that grow inwards. The figs from the male trees produce pollen, and the figs from the female trees are the edible ones.


When a female wasp enters a male fig it easily lays eggs. The males that hatch, after impregnating the females, usually die inside or escape with difficulty because they are wingless; but the female wasps that hatch get out easily carrying pollen and continue the cycle of laying eggs.


When a female wasp enters a female fig she gets trapped, is unable to escape, but before she dies from exhaustion, she lays eggs. Therefore, this fig lands up containing at least one dead female wasp. The fig absorbs the dead insect and it becomes a part of the ripened fruit. Without it, the fig will not ripen or be edible. This is why some vegetarians and vegans do not eat figs.

 

The figs that are commercially grown and sold in India are:


Common or edible figs produced parthenocarpically – that is without the aid of fig wasps or pollination. The varieties of figs that fall under this category are called Poona, Conadria, Mission, Kadota and Brown
Turkey.


Capri figs and wild figs are not edible but these male trees are grown for the sole purpose of pollination with fig wasps, without which Smyrna figs can not be produced. The main variety of figs thus produced is called Calimyrna.


Lastly, the first crop of San Pedro figs, known as Breba, is parthenocarpic, but the main or second crop is pollinated by wasps like the Smyrna figs.


Removal of Wasp and Bee Hives Without Killing


Wasps/hornets get attracted to wood and warmth when they choose locations for their hives. Wild honey bees’ hives are also found in unexpected places. If disturbed, or if they perceive their hive is under threat, in defence they attack in droves which could turn deadly for those who are allergic to Melittin that constitutes wasp/bee venom. For such persons who can experience a fatal anaphylactic shock, simply rubbing an onion (cut in two) vigorously on the spot will get the sting out, but is not enough and medical first-aid is essential. Interestingly, wasps do not die upon stinging, but honey bees do.

 

Removal of hives in the conventional manner by smoking results in the death of its occupants. If the smoke is controlled, and the hive has not been set alight, they may not die immediately, but die they will if their queen did not migrate and died. Having been hunted out of their hives or homes, they have no where to go, and without the support of their own colony, suffer and eventually die.


Never call in the pest control agencies to kill the bees: one, the entire colony of hundreds of bees suffer and die; and two, they play a vital role in pollination of crops such as red gram, black gram, horse gram, jowar, maize, cauliflower, cabbage, onion, mango, banana, orange, grape, jamun, sunflower, cotton and cashew.

 

It is best to get a trained person to relocate a hive. There is an ahinsak technique which is carried out at night. It involves tying the honeycomb with a clip on one end after a few minutes of controlled smoke and water spray. The comb is then cut and placed in a specially designed net for transport. The comb is then fixed to the selected place with the clip.

 

Before this is done, it is advisable not to switch on houselights for 45 minutes after sunset since bees get attracted to light. Also if possible, install nets on windows.


The following method to make the entire hive relocate (without killing) works with wasps, but not always with honey bees. First, it is important to decide and clear the route of escape the bees can use without endangering humans, so depending on whether the beehive is indoors or outdoors, keep windows and doors wide open or shut. Next, one needs to cover oneself fully before going near the hive so that the chance of being stung is eliminated.

 

Heavily soak a rag in kerosene and hang it as close as possible to the hive (could be attached to the end of a long stick/rod) but not touching it. Immediately leave the area. As long as kerosene is not poured directly over an insect, it will not die, but the strong smell will repel it. Camphor also works, but do not use mothballs since they are highly toxic and their vapour kills larvae and insects – can even cause acute respiratory problems in humans if used in closed rooms.

 

Wasps may also leave their hive if salt water is sprinkled on it at night, but the hive should be approached in the dark without using a bright light.

 

If the bee hive is on a tree, keeping one’s distance, it is best left as it is. The onset of the monsoon will result in its natural relocation. Bees have also been known to vacate their hives due to ants.

 

Another point is that bees need a water source. Getting rid of the water source nearby (like drying out a pond temporarily) will probably make them look for another location near a new source of water.

 

Before taking down the abandoned hive, through sufficient observation make absolutely sure that it is empty – but as a precaution it is advisable to again be fully covered. With gloves on carefully remove the hive and place it in a suitable predetermined spot with the hope that it gets re-occupied by the same colony or another.

 

Then, go back to the original spot and rub kerosene and cover up or fill the area around the vacated hive immediately otherwise another colony of wasps or bees could easily get attracted to the cavity.


There is a certain type of vacuum machine with a hose that sucks in bees (used in Times Square New York in August 2018) so that they can be released safely elsewhere.

Page last updated on 19/04/19