Food Forum: The survival of the honey bee

Preserving the American honey bee is much more important than just supporting the U.S. honey industry.

By David Allibone

alliboneHSWhile I was growing up in a small town in south central South Dakota, summer days were always filled with playing baseball and running through sprinklers on a hot day to stay cool. There was always the chance that while you were barefoot, you would step on a honey bee that was visiting a dandelion and get stung in the foot.

The days of the wild honey bees have almost disappeared, and even commercial honey companies with generations of family beekeeping experience are facing critical times in maintaining healthy honey production operations. Over the last several years beekeepers have faced parasites, disease, poor nutrition, pesticides and continued decline in available forage for honey bees. Until the year 2000, the U.S. annually produced 200 million pounds or greater of honey. Since 2001 the annual production has declined, and the annual average is now 150 million to 175 million pounds.

Should we be concerned? The U.S. honey industry is a relatively small part of American agriculture, but it is extremely important to know that U.S.A. honey bees pollinate more than $47 billion in U.S. crops each year. It is estimated that without the pollination services provided by the U.S.A. honey bee, produce aisles in grocery stores would be diminished by 30%. An example of the value of honey bee pollination is that approximately two-thirds of the nation’s two-million-plus commercial colonies are required for almond pollination in California from the middle of February to the middle of March every year.

How can we help? The Sioux Honey Association is a marketing cooperative that was established in 1921 as a marketing organization to provide an organized outlet for its members’ honey and beeswax production. By using Sioux Honey Association’s national brand, “Sue Bee Honey,” the Association is undertaking an effort to educate consumers of the valuable role that the honey bee plays in our food chain.

The Association’s efforts will be identified by the seal, “Support The U.S.A. Honey Bee.” The purpose of the seal is to bring awareness to the U.S.A. honey bee and bring attention to all agriculture products affected by the U.S.A. honey bee. As consumers support agriculture products carrying the seal, it is believed that this attention will create a better environment for the long-term survival of U.S.A. honey bee.

Research into Colony Collapse Disorder is ongoing, but as the U.S. population continues to grow it is envisioned that our food chain will become more important and a critical part of our independence. The Association realizes that this initiative requires great effort and dedication of communicating the message, but the loss of a healthy U.S. honey bee industry would affect most people’s lifestyle, regardless if they live in a rural area or a large city. Outsourcing our valuable pollination services to offshore countries is not an option. The U.S. has a rich agriculture history and we should support all aspects of that tradition.

Over the next several months consumers should start to become aware of the “Support The U.S.A. Honey Bee” seal. It will be appearing on every Sue Bee Honey product in the retail sector to educate consumers about the products they are purchasing and how that is going to impact the U.S.A. honey bee in some manner. We are also working with retailers to place the seal throughout their stores to draw and build consumer awareness.

Remember, foreign honey bees do not pollinate U.S. crops.

David Allibone is president/CEO of the Sioux Honey Association. He can be reached at dallibone@suebeehoney.com.

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