Beekeepers Conference Buzzing Over Regulations

1/26/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

HERSHEY, Pa. — Changes in government regulations were on the minds of many attending the 2013 North American Beekeeping Conference & Tradeshow earlier this month in Hershey.

The government “is getting heavily involved in food safety,” speaker Blake Shook told attendees. “Be prepared for whatever comes.”

Shook — a commercial beekeeper who operates McKinney, Texas-based Desert Creek Honey with his wife, Kathleen — serves as a director for the American Beekeeping Foundation and vice president of the Texas Beekeepers Association.

“Use commonsense cleanliness,” Shook advised.

But until government agencies including Homeland Security and the Food and Drug Administration produce written guidelines, that might not be easy.

“The (American Beekeeping Federation) notified its members and affiliated organizations of the need to register their operations with the FDA under the terms of the Food Safety Act,” George Hansen, the organization’s president said via email. “In most cases, this was a matter of reregistering, since the Homeland Security Act had already had this requirement.”

Some states have incorporated an FDA inspection in their food processor’s license inspection, he said.

“States that do not inspect honey facilities have apparently not made special arrangements, although I did hear that in at least one case, a stand-alone FDA inspection took place,” Hansen said.

“Thus far, smaller scale operations have a system of exemptions they can apply for. Again, there is varied response by state departments of agriculture on this topic,” he said.

“Honey is not specifically listed as a target commodity needing registration and has to be entered manually in the category other,’ ” he said. “Some states are apparently interpreting that to mean the registration does not apply to honey.”

Hansen said the matter is confusing for producers.

“The ABF has not received any specific direction on how the act applies to our industry,” he said.

Contacted after the meeting, Steve Sapp, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency within the Department of Homeland Security, said that his office has little authority over domestic honeybees or honey production.

“The Homeland Security Act of 2002 only mentions that the responsibility for inspecting honeybee imports shifted from the USDA to Homeland Security when this department was created,” he said via email. “This inspectional mission is carried out by (customs officers) at our nation’s international ports of entry.”

Charlie Vorisek, president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association, and member of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Beekeepers and American Beekeeping Federation, said many beekeepers would like to have clarification from FDA officials.

“We’re trying to get the FDA to write a standard (policy) for honey,” Vorisek said.

“You want to be up to speed on all the regulations, he said. “It could put you out of business if you’re not prepared, (and) we don’t want people dropping out because there are new regulations.”

The FDA was unavailable for comment after the conference.

Practical Advice

Shook, who started beekeeping as a hobby in 2003 when he was 13 years old and speaks frequently at meetings and conferences at local, state, national and international levels, had a lot of other advice for his fellow beekeepers.

About 200 folks, most of whom indicated they had more than 100 hives, were at the talk, which focused on transferring honey from the beehive to the bottle.

Bees don’t appreciate a leaf blower, but it works to get them out of the hives so the honey can be removed, Shook told them.

To help control pests, he said, he removes the bees and uses a food-grade aluminum phosphide fumigant to treat combs inside an airtight area.

“It’s very deadly,” he said. “It’s one of the few things that will actually kill everything.”

Another option for destroying parasites is to freeze the honey in the combs, then warm it for extraction, he said.

Shook also talked about how his business grew from a small scale to a commercial honey house and the lessons he learned along the way.

When building a honeybee facility, he recommends making the exterior of metal rather than wood, allowing space for future growth, and installing washable walls, floors and surfaces as well as covered, bright lights.

“We do a lot of work at night,” he said. “I would really recommend lots of exterior lighting.”

Shook showed projected photos of his honeybee facility, which holds roughly 5,000 hives and was built on a heavy slab to support a forklift and storage.

“Make it heavy duty for the future,” he said, adding that floor drains “are a huge benefit.”

A larger facility also needs ample heat, insulation and wiring for machines, including extractors and warmers.

“Don’t skimp on the electricity,” he said.

Additionally, a roll-up door and high ceilings can facilitate a tractor-trailer, he said.


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