Maryland beekeepers rallying for home-grown honey

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland beekeepers are rallying around a bill that would set a standard for honey sold in the state.

“Maryland has no definition of what honey is, so anyone can put anything in a jar and call it honey,” said David Morris, who keeps bees in Laurel. “It looks like honey, but in fact it’s high fructose corn syrup. It’s consumer fraud.”

Under the new bill, only pure honey could be labeled as such.

Wayne Esaias, a former oceanographer for NASA and current president of the Maryland Beekeepers Association, said he wants to protect Maryland beekeepers who produce pure, unadulterated honey.

“It’s an honest product and a state definition would help us keep it that way,” he said.

The honey industry is faced with a plethora of challenges that make it difficult to make a living at beekeeping. Honey imported from China and elsewhere is often cut with corn syrup, undercutting the price of pure honey, and increased pesticide use on farms has beekeepers losing large percentages of their colonies, said Dean Burroughs, a full-time beekeeper in Salisbury.

Thirty percent of bees died nationally last year from all causes, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Apiary Inspectors of America.

“Not a lot of legislators in Maryland understand the trials and tribulations of beekeepers,” Esaias said.

Keeping Maryland beekeepers in business is also important for Maryland agriculture because bees are needed to pollinate the state’s crops.

“It takes over a million hives for the U.S. almond crop alone,” said the bill’s sponsor, Del. Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick. “It’s very important that we protect our agriculture and our beekeepers, and the honey bill is the first step.”

Rather than create a new board to regulate the honey industry, the bill would give power to honey producers and consumers.

“It gives us legitimate right to sue those who produce adulterated honey,” Esaias said. “We’re a shoestring industry. If they make us test every batch, we’d be out of business.”

HB 159, cross filed with SB 193, was heard in the House of Delegates last year, but went back to the drawing board for technical errors.

“Last year it flew through the House, but got tabled in the Senate for technical errors,” said Esaias. “It didn’t involve the beekeeping community … this is a better bill.”

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