Concerns about bee health and the impacts of climate change have led to the development of smart hives ©123RF
Concerns about bee health and the impacts of climate change have led to the development of smart hives ©123RF

Global focus on… honey

18 January 2019

With bee populations in decline in many parts of the world – including the UK – ensuring a supply will remain key, as global demand for honey steadily increases

Busy bees
An average hive can produce 27kg of honey or more in a good season. However, the beekeeper can only collect ‘surplus’ honey, about 11kg, as the bees need to eat the rest during winter. Bees fly 55,000 miles to make just under half a kg of honey. 

Liquid gold
In 11th-century Germany, beer was sweetened with honey and it was of such importance that peasants were required to make payments in honey and beeswax to their landlords.

Show me the honey
The hype around manuka honey – made from the nectar of the manuka tree – claims it can improve your digestive system, boost energy and heal wounds. People have paid as much as £100 (US$127) for a jar. 

Sticky fingers
Increases in global demand for honey have encouraged fraudsters. Public health fears about ‘fake honey’, which is often adulterated with corn syrup, have presented a challenge for governments and reputational concerns for some of the biggest honey producers.

Global production
China is the biggest producer of honey, with 502,614 tonnes, followed by the EU (237,549 tonnes) and Turkey (105,532 tonnes). The EU imports the most honey, scooping up 200,000 tonnes. Global sales of natural honey were worth an estimated US$2.4 billion in 2017. 

US supply and demand
The price of honey in the US has risen steadily, with demand doubling since the 1990s. Domestic supply has been hit by bee colony collapse, and by 2016 the country’s bees produced 35% less than 20 years ago.

Waggle dance
Chinese honey has been subject to US import duties since 2001. Traders circumvent the rules by sending barrels of honey to Thailand and Vietnam where they are relabelled with these countries as their place of origin.

Bee smart
Concerns about bee health and the impacts of climate change, disease and pesticides have led to the development of smart hives. The World Bee Project and tech firm Oracle will analyse data to boost conservation efforts.

What They Say

“Honey fraud is a threat to national food security.”

Norberto Garcia, Chairman of the U S Pharmacopeia Expert Panel on Honey Quality and Authenticity (As told to the Economist)

 

“The rising popularity of honey-based cosmetic products has been seen in recent years and is estimated to be the fastest growing market for honey.” 

Apiculture Market:  Forecast (2018-2023); Report published by market researcher IndustryARC of Hyderabad, India

 

“Using cloud-based technology, the World Bee Project is going to have a truly global, real-time view of bee population health for the first time. This will arm researchers with the information needed to… reduce the decline in honey bee populations.”

John Abel, Project director at Oracle Cloud

Analysis

The current market – with its price rises and demand pressures – reflects the ongoing desirability of honey. People seeking a health fix will pay large sums for specialist products, while consumer concerns over adulteration have caused headaches for suppliers. The health of bees is a major issue, as colonies face collapse and other environmental challenges. Analysts say demand from consumers and the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries is increasing. Population growth and rising living standards have helped drive demand in developed markets, while a rise in disposable income in China and Asia is creating new demand for premium types. 

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