Why Does Pass the Honey’s Honeycomb Not Carry a USDA Organic Label?
The current USDA Organic certification Apiculture Standard (recommendations) are unachievable for the majority of beekeepers in the United States and in most other regions of the world. For this reason Pass the Honey takes a different approach to qualifying our products as authentic and pure while supporting honey bee health, beekeeper livelihood and ecosystem health.
The primary issue with the USDA Organic Apiculture Standards is that beekeepers don’t have access to land that meets the standard’s requirements. The standards require hives to be placed within a “Forage Zone” of 1.8 mile (3 km) radius that is certified organic. Additionally beekeepers must have records for a surveillance zone, beyond the forage zone, of 2.2 mile radius (3.4 km) and prove this zone doesn’t contain any major sources of contamination. This amounts to beekeepers needing to have records of an area of 50.27 square miles or 32,177 acres in order to meet the organic guidelines. The majority of beekeepers do not own large swaths of land themselves and obtaining access to the amount of certified organic land, providing verification and records on the land is nearly impossible.
Land that meets the standard’s requirements is nearly non-existent in the United States. Even if beekeepers can secure access to land free from pesticides or other contaminants, their products cannot be certified organic unless an entire area of 1.8 miles is certified organic first. Beekeepers often need to move their bees throughout the year to areas with flowers in bloom, which would require them to have access to multiple areas under organic certification.
Have a look at the Organic Integrity Database for organic certified honey or apiculture livestock operations (the USDA considers bees to be livestock). To date, within the United States we can only see a few farms in Hawaii carry organic certification for honey.
So, what about the USDA certified organic honey on the market? The majority of certified organic honey comes from Brazil and a handful of other countries. Organic certified honey produced in other countries is certified by local agents whose job it is to ensure the USDA guidelines are followed.
Organic certification can also be costly and burdensome for beekeepers. Certification alone fails to support beekeepers with key challenges they face including, declining honeybee health, lack of adequate forage for honeybees and viable business models that can compete with low honey prices driven by fraud in the industry.
Can Honey be Certified USDA Organic?
There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation on USDA organic certification for honey. Technically, the USDA has established a legal path for apiculture in the US and outside the US to be certified organic. In 2010 NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) made formal recommendations for an Organic Apiculture Standard. The recommended standards outline the requirements beekeepers must follow in their management of hives and the requirements land surrounding hives must meet.
It’s important to note the USDA organic regulations have not yet been formally amended to accept the apiculture standard recommendations. In the meantime, the USDA has given certifiers permission to use the draft recommendations as a guide for certifying beekeeping operations as organic. The Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA has issued a written statement affirming that your beekeeping operation may be certified as organic if a certifier determines that your operation follows the guidelines for other livestock and the draft guidelines for bees. Beekeeping operations in other countries must meet requirements equivalent to these recommendations to carry the USDA Organic seal.
Why Regenerative Honey Standards?
USDA Organic Apiculture Standards have failed to provide beekeepers with a viable avenue for differentiating their products in the market, communicating their stewardship of honeybee health and the purity of their products.
Beekeepers, honeybees and the landscapes they depend on are struggling to survive and thrive. Pass the Honey (PTH) is committed to developing the industry standard for regenerative honey to address the critical challenges the honey industry faces that are not addressed with existing certifications or standards for honey. Pass the Honey has developed a set of internal Standards for Regenerative Honey and is working with the Regenerative Apiculture Working Group to establish official industry standards.
PTH’s Regenerative Standards address the following challenges in the industry:
- Honey authenticity, rampant fraud and adulteration of honey
- Supply system transparency and traceability
- Beekeeping principles and standards which are practical and feasible for beekeepers to implement
- Unknown levels of honey contamination
Regenerative Honey Standards provide:
- Beekeepers with a tool to communicate their stewardship of honey bee health, differentiate their products in the market and receive prices for their product that allow their businesses to retain value.
- Buyers and consumers with assurance of honey authenticity, supply transparency, and impact reporting.
- Practical beekeeping principles and standards that support beekeepers in their stewardship of honeybee health.
- Guidelines for testing honey contamination levels
What is the difference between Pass the Honey’s Regenerative Honey Standards and
USDA Organic certified honey?
Pass the Honey’s (PTH) Regenerative Honey Standards are significantly different than third-party organic certification, such as USDA Organic. PTH’s standards are oriented to support honey bee health, beekeeper livelihood and ecosytem health. PTH’s standards are currently an internal tool used to guide honey production and sourcing practices, authenticity testing requirements, and internal monitoring and reporting.
Pass the Honey’s regenerative standards differ from organic certification in the following ways:
- They establish principles beekeepers following to support honey bee health, beekeeper livelihood and landscape health.
- They require consistent authenticity and contamination testing
- They require full supply network transparency and traceability.
- They establish monitoring and reporting requirements that include outcome based indicators for honey bee health, beekeeper livelihood and landscape health.
While many of PTH’s production standards align with organic production requirements, the standards are more flexible and allow beekeepers to make management decisions based on what is best for the health of their honeybees in their context. Beekeeper reporting and product testing ensure end products are authentic and pure.
PTH Regenerative Honey Standards:
- PTH’s standards are made up of:
- Beekeeper commitments
- Beekeeper production standards
- Beekeeper monitoring and reporting on practices and outcomes
- Product testing
- Adherence to PTH’s standards is validated through beekeeper self-reporting and product testing.
- Pass the Honey’s standards are used within direct, transparent, and trusted relationships with suppliers and beekeepers.
- Pass the Honey’s internal standards do not currently involve a 3rd party certifier.
- Many of PTH’s beekeeping standards align with organic certification requirements.
- Pass the Honey is working with other industry stakeholders to develop an industry-wide accepted standard for regenerative honey. For now, PTH manages its own standards internally.