This does not surprise me that the testing done and reported in the media (and potentially to muddy waters in relation to claims made against the industry in relation to rampant adulteration of honey) may not have been overly reliable for Australian honey.
Australian plants have evolved separately from those in Europe and rest of the world where the NMR testing was developed and samples used to built a profile of honeys. Such profiles were done with the exclusion of Australian honeys. Using the existing NMR profiles to establish whether Australian honey has been adulterated if fraught with danger…as it assumes that the honey (and flowering plants the honey originated) is similar to that elsewhere even though there has been about 100 million years of different evolution pathways.
I just hope the media (ABC, Fairfax, News, Macquarie etc) issue retraction statements for the mischievous earlier reports. Somehow I don’t see this happening.
It remains a perplexing topic.
In the previous 12 months I have purchased two very different jars of local honey (Sunshine Coast - Glass House Mountains).
The first from a local health food shop bottled and labelled for a local supplier who also sells local produce. It was almost black, thick like a paste and bitter sweet, and labelled as all natural.
The second labelled as "raw’ honey was a very pale gold and even in winter poured more like a watery syrup. It was labeled for a local producer and sold through a local fruit and veg store that trades on reputation and quality produce. It is pleasant, mildly floral and sweet.
On face value neither resembled every day Australian produced store bought honey?
The best outcome would be for all three to be reliably Aussie and pure.
Even the same beekeeper’s honey can change from month to month depending on he hives location and plants flowing at that time.
I remember as a child one of my father’s friend was a beekeeper (John Rosser) and we regularly visited his property (possibly as our tea tree honey had run out). The honey he produced changed every time we visited, unless he had chased a particular type of honey by moving his hives into a community at the time of flowering.
I suspect that store honey is blended from multiple sources to produce a more consistent product…rather than that from a single source (beekeeper) which has high level of variability.
Should we reconsider how we are producing honey from European honey bees in Australia?
There are numerous references and papers on potential effects of commercial honey production. Mainly through competition for food resources in flowers (native bees and other nectar eating imsects,and wildlife) and also through longer term impacts to pollination of native flora.
It is a recognised are of concern internationally including the potential for the spread of diseases within the wider bee populations.
European honey bees also establish feral populations. These threaten directly Australian native fauna through loss of nesting sites to hives in tree hollows. This is something Australian native bees don’t do. Or do they have the arsenal of weapons attached to the tail of every European bee to fend off competitors.
Are European honey bees now one more foreign feral animal to be concerned about? That’s despite making money through honey or helping to make money through crop pollination their status is rarely challenged.
One must remember that honey is harvested from managed/boxed hived bees, while feral bees roam are wild and are not exploited commercially as their hives are impossible to harvest.
One also needs to remember that almost all of the food crops in Australia are exotic plant species which native bees have not evolved with, and not their usual food source. While native bees may be effective in pollinating these food crops (where fertilisation of the flower occurs from bees native or exotic), so are exotic bees. It is easier to manage fertilisation using mobile hives that taking pot luck whether a native bee colony which can fertilise the same plants exists and is active in the same area as the crop.
The same reasoning may still hold true in the 22nd century.
We owe much of our current wealth and development to modern agriculture subverting and repurposing our landscapes.
Alternately it may turn out to be a very similar scenario to the debt we owe carbon fuels for bringing us wealth, knowledge and modern household appliances. This is now a very difficult debt to repay. One that the consumer and environment is well aware of.
In the future the current disease threats to the European honey bees may affect food production. The environmental outcomes are uncertain. Who would have suggested in 1900 global warming was going to be a dominant issue for the 21st century.
For food production perhaps, the European honey bee may have had its day anyway, a limited future regardless, just as coal has had it’s day.
With forecasts of a switch to more efficient forms of synthesised and alternate forms of production we may see removal of the needs for European honey bees.
Factory scale food production may be to agriculture what solar and batteries are to the carbon fuel cycle.
Should the consumer stock up on pure Aussie honey now?
The consumer would also need to adjust ones palette as native bee honey is quite different to that which is currently produced commercially. I expect that the taste may not be to the satisfaction of most, even with persistence.
I’m an optimist and believe that any threats to existing commercial production can be overcome.
Success/sustainability in Australia of the European bee is critical to long term food security.
The production of honey, and the non food or other benefits of a successful industry in Australia was considered in a Federal Parliamentary report in 2016. It is a complex topic including consideration of threats to bees such as Verona mite, Colony Collapse Disorder and GM crop pollens. The issue of food security was one of the industry levers exposed to political rigour by the report.
Subsequently Fact Check, with ref to the CSIRO and others produced a considered response to the reports possibly exaggerated content on the impact of honey bees on food security.
Some crops are highly dependent on insects for pollination. The suggestion was approx one in three . In general our most significant food sources the production of grains/cereal crops and meat is not reliant on insects for pollination. Critically the CSIRO appears to be keen to respond and support alternatives including native insects/bees.
Your extended comparison between climate change and the possibility of failure of honey bees in their role as food pollinators is a puzzle. The the causes, effects, mode of operation, risks, costs, threats, scope and solutions are all different. I cannot see how the pairing contributes to understanding either issue, the two have nothing notable in common other than they belong to the very broad class of the interaction of humanity and the environment.
Still, a third is still a considerable number. The European bee is also reported as making up 13% of all flower visits worldwide by insects. No statistic to ignore.
Here is possibly a more balanced view on the honey (European) bees in crop pollination and its future:
One has to love the media, as sensationalist and Armageddon reports sell advertising.
It was being talked about in the 1890s! If not that it was going to be a significant problem right now, but certainly that increasing atmospheric CO2 was going to cause warming of the atmosphere.
The recent ABC two part series “The Great Australian Bee Challenge” produced by Catalyst may add some interesting observations to this discussion on the purity of honey.
It’s available on iView or as a transcript.
The bee keeping expertise explained that honey in the hive is produced through a fermentation and drying process. This is managed by the bees who cap the cells when the honey has fully fermented and the water (content) has been reduced through evaporation.
Honey harvested too early (uncapped) will be higher in water content, which is checked with an optical refractometer. In the program the honey produced needed to be less than 20% water to be acceptable.
For honey with a very low water content is it possible some producers may add water to pure honey, within the expected limits?
Is early harvesting an industry practice resulting in a mix of finished honey with honey that is not fully fermented?
I think you’ve touched on some of the complexities with honey adulteration testing that has the authorities flumoxed.It makes me wonder whether this is something to address at a procedural level rather than a chemical testing level.
A FNQ Apiarist wins a contract wins a contract to supply Woollies Cairns & Townsville supermarkets with his natural honey.
I think that the NMR method will deal with such natural variation once a reference panel of authenticated honey is established.
What bothers me is that this uncertainty has been going on for three years at least and authorities have not responded with any kind of testing or procedural regime to give quality assurance. Nor has any explanation been offered, the issue seems to have fallen into a black hole and the consumer bears the consequences yet again.
Could Choice identify the relevant authority and ask them what they are doing?
Maybe the issue in Auatralia is not as big as some with vested interest are making out…and the cost for implementing exceed the potential benefit.
Regulation/testing must have a community benefit. Not something which seems good at the time.