Items of interest to beekeepers 12 September 2017








HOUSTON AREA BEEKEEPERS SET UP GO-FUND-ME CAMPAIGN TO HELP TEXAS BEEKEEPERS RECOVER —– HONEYGATE: HOW EUROPE IS BEING FLOODED WITH FAKE HONEY France loves honey. But is it real? Cheap imports of counterfeit honey are endangering beekeeping around the world, and the consequences for world food production are severe. Foreign sugars were found 1.4 times in every 10 honey samples tested by the European Joint Research Centre, according to research published in December 2016. The research was undertaken in response to a report by the European Parliament on the most faked foods, in which honey was ranked 6th. Researchers tested a total of 2,264 honey samples from all EU member states (plus Norway and Switzerland) which were collected at all stages of the supply chain. Around 20% of honey either declared as blends of EU honey or unblended honey bearing a geographical reference related to a member state were found to be suspicious of containing added sugar. The rate of suspicious honey was around 10% for blends of EU and non-EU honey, blends of non-EU honey and honey of unknown origin. Faking honey Honey fraud can take different forms. For instance, by selling cheaper multifloral honey as single source honey at a higher selling point; by adding sugar syrups to increase the volume, or by harvesting it ahead of time and then drying it artificially in large “honey factories”, to cut time and costs. In all cases, the final product is far from what consumers think they’re buying, as well as from the EU’s legal definition of honey. The EU defines honey as “the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants […], which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature”. Member states must conduct lab tests on the honey they produce and import, by checking parameters like origins and levels of pollen, moisture, and the presence of added sugars. But testing methods vary and honey fraudsters have a steep learning curve. “There is no single method for authenticity testing for honey – because there are so many ways of adulteration,” says Dr Stephan Schwarzinger, a professor of structural biology at the University of Bayreuth. “It’s like doping analysis in sports. The people who are testing for doping never know if there is a new drug on the market. When you consider the variety of syrups available, there is no single technology that would cover them all. You need to have a look at many chemical and physical parameters.” To counter the difficulty of spotting fake honey, Dr Schwarzinger had the idea of applying nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to honey testing. Magnetic waves deliver a “fingerprint” of the honey, which is compared with a reference database of 10,000 worldwide samples. Based on matching profiles, it is possible to know whether the label is lying. NMR is much more efficient and effective as a method for honey testing, yet it is not widely adopted because of the slow uptake of new technologies in the food sector, the need for a scientific consensus, and resistance from the industry. “Imagine you bought large quantities of honey, and then this new method tells you that all your stock is adulterated. This surely is a source of resistance to adopting new, safer methods,” said Schwarzinger. Chinese honey factories Europeans love honey, and eat on average 0.7kg per year, with Greece and Austria leading the pack at 1.7kg per capita. But Europe eats more honey than it produces – and turns to China for 50% of its honey imports. The largest importers are the UK, Belgium and Spain. China has become the world’s largest producer of honey, with 473,600  tonnes produced in 2014 (compared to the EU’s 161,031). Between 2000 and 2014, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization, its production has increased by 88% driven by a rise in exports. Sales of honey earned China $276.6 million (€231 million) in 2016. But the number of beehives over the same period only increased by 21%. China’s bee population is declining, like everywhere else in the world, due to pesticide poisoning, pollution, and a loss of bee habitat due to urbanization. All of these factors affect the bees’ immune system, and colonies decline their numbers. Pictures of Chinese farmers pollinating their fruit trees by hand have become a symbol of high pollution. Productivity per beehive around the world is dropping – so how can the Chinese bees deliver such a high yield? FAO data The answer is China’s production method. Unripe honey is harvested when it is still a watery soup with high water contents. It is then artificially dried, resin residues are eliminated by filtering, pollen may be removed or added to mask country of origin, and syrups are added to meet the different market prices. “Unripe honey production implies faster and higher levels of production of a product that does not meet the definition of honey (fraud),” said Norberto Garcia, president of the International Organisation of Honey Exporters (IHEO). The Argentinian professor has studied the phenomenon of honey fraud closely and claims it costs about $600 million a year in income losses to honest beekeepers worldwide. “There is a roof for honey production and we have reached that roof in many cases, but demand doesn’t stop increasing.” Cheap Chinese honey could have constituted an incentive for several European countries to import cheap honey from China and then re-export it as locally produced. A number of European countries have seen their honey exports increase dramatically in parallel with their imports from China, as shown in the graph below for a selection of European states (Spain, Slovakia, Portugal, Poland, Netherlands, Lithuania, Italy, Ireland, Germany and Belgium). “There is a great market inside the EU which should be checked more deeply,” said Garcia. Increased consumer awareness also pushed importers away from Chinese honey, and European supermarkets are increasingly adopting NMR testing to avoid food fraud. He says that because of the huge flow of fake honey which has been driving down the price of bulk honey globally, in 2017 Chinese exporters cannot compete with pure honey at current prices. The Chinese sanitary authority (AQSIS) is now severely controlling the quality of export honey, especially to the EU, in order to limit losses. This has caused Chinese honey exports to Europe to dip by 3% in 2016, after peaking in 2015. But relying on the market to regulate itself only works until economic incentives are aligned with consumers’ interests, which is usually the exception and not the normThe European Commission will not block member states’ attempts to sue China over its use of counterfeit trademarks and has insisted a future bilateral deal with the Asian superpower will bring “significant benefits” for Europe’s quality food producers. Honey law Chinese honey flooding Europe is not a new thing. Between 2002 and 2004, Chinese honey was banned in the European Union because of a lack of origin labelling and a risk that it contained lead. However, the ban was lifted due to increased demand, which Europe could not satisfy elsewhere, and European honey importers have jumped at the opportunity. Honey is regulated in the EU by the Honey Directive, but the requirements for declaring the origin of honey are extremely low. Labels can read “blend of EU honeys” (e.g. a mix of honey from more than one member state), “blend of non-EU honeys” (a mix of honey from more than one country outside the EU), “blend of EU and non-EU honeys” (e.g. a mix of EU and non-EU honey). “Most of the honey that you find is labelled blend of EU and non-EU honey – there are no standards. The information on the label tells consumers nothing, except that this honey is not from Mars,” says Walter Haefeker, head of the European Beekeepers’ Association. There have been initiatives in the Parliament to amend this directive, in order to include the countries of origin on the label and a blend ratio. Romanian Partidul Social Democrat MEP Daciana Sârbu (S&D) said: “The demand for honey is high and European production is limited. Imports from third countries are needed, but some honey imports are suspected to be produced not from pollen, but other, non-natural sources. The European Commission and the member states need to ensure that the honey placed on the market is not counterfeit. To achieve this, more controls at the packing companies are required.” European and US government and trade officials say they have been lobbying hard against a draft Chinese regulation on food imports, worried it would hamper billions of dollars of shipments to the world’s No.2 economy of everything from pasta to coffee and biscuits. But so far the Commission has been deaf to beekeepers’ requests. “Responsible in the end is the Commission – if the commission would finally allow for [specifying] the origin of honey, it would enable consumers to make better choices, and this would put pressure on the industry to clean up its act,” lamented Haefeker. “But for them, free trade is almost a religion and consumer protection is something they have to be dragged towards kicking and screaming,” he added. Environmental impacts The issue is not just for beekeepers:. Pollinators like bees and other insects are responsible for 35% of the world’s food crops according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. And because of decline in other species, honey bees are increasingly bearing the brunt. “The drop in (the) honey bee population is not as severe [as other insects], as beekeepers always try to make up for the losses. This results in honey bees being more and more important for pollination because the other pollinators are gone. You have an ageing population because it is economically unattractive. If the economics of beekeeping are gone, there is no incentive to reconstitute the colonies after the losses,” warned Haefeker. —– CALL FOR ABSTRACTS FOR THE 2018 AMERICAN BEE RESEARCH CONFERENCE The American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) will conduct the *2018 American Bee Research Conference (ABRC) at the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno, NV <> on January 11-12, 2018. Please refer to the meeting website for all relevant information and links about the meeting, including lodging and transportation: Presentations and abstracts are restricted to research involving the genus “Apis”. ABSTRACTS ARE DUE OCTOBER 20, 2017. Submit through the form on the meeting website: —– MICRORNAs HELP MAKE BEES WORKERS OR QUEENS Certain plant microRNAs slow development to keep worker honey bees small and sterile HAMILTON, Ill. — Bee larvae develop into workers, in part, because their diet of pollen and honey, called beebread, is rich in plant regulatory molecules called microRNAs, which delay development and keep their ovaries inactive. Xi Chen of Nanjing University in China and colleagues, report these August 31, 2017 in PLOS Genetics. Researchers have long known that diet plays an important role in the complex process that determines whether a honeybee larva will become a worker or a queen. While the workers primarily consume beebread, the queens feast on royal jelly secreted by the glands of nurse bees. Beebread contains much higher levels of plant microRNAs than royal jelly, so researchers decided to investigate if these molecules, which regulate gene expression in plants, could also impact honeybee caste development. They found that honeybees raised in the lab on simulated beebread supplemented with plant microRNAs developed more slowly and had a smaller body and smaller ovaries than larvae raised without the supplements. The plant microRNAs also had a similar effect on fruit fly larvae, even though fruit flies are not social insects. Further experiments showed that one of the most common plant microRNAs in beebread targets the TOR gene in honeybees, which helps determine caste. The study shows that there is more to the story of honeybee caste formation than the traditional focus on royal jelly and identifies a previously unknown function of plant microRNAs in fine-tuning larval development. The work is a powerful example of the effects of cross-kingdom microRNAs and how these interactions can affect a species’ development and evolution. “Regulation of honeybee development by plant microRNAs shows an evolutionary adaptation for colony success through partnership between two species. Further studies in this new field may shed light on the impact of food processing on the evolution of eusociality” said Dr. Xi Chen. —– DISCOVERED: 4th MAJOR MECHANISM FOR ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE TO SPREAD By Alex Berezow   Unlike animals, bacteria can readily share genetic information with other bacteria, even those of entirely different species. Because of this, one clever microbiologist likened bacteria to smartphones and genes to apps. When bacteria share “apps” that encode antibiotic resistance, it poses trouble for humanity. As individual bacterial strains are exposed to antibiotics, natural selection favors the survival of those that have mutated to become resistant. That hard-earned resistance can then be given to other bacteria. Microbiologists have long known of three major mechanisms by which this occurs: Transformation, transduction, and conjugation. Transformation occurs when a bacterium dies and sheds its DNA into the environment. Some bacteria are capable of snatching it up and incorporating it into their own DNA. This process was discovered nearly 90 years ago when harmless bacteria were mixed with dead, but lethal, bacteria and injected into mice. The mice died. It was eventually ascertained that the harmless, living bacteria took up the DNA from the dead, lethal bacteria and were transformed into lethal, mouse-killing microbes. Transduction is a biological mistake. When bacteria-specific viruses, known as (bacterio)phage, infect bacteria, their primary intent is to hijack the cell, create thousands of copies of themselves, and then blow up the cell, spreading more viruses into the environment. Viral replication is sloppy, so some viral particles accidentally package bacterial DNA inside of them. When this defective virus tries to infect another bacterium, it simply injects it with DNA from its previous host. The bacterium lives, and if it’s lucky, it might have been injected with useful genes, which it can then incorporate into its chromosome. Conjugation is the closest thing bacteria have to “sex.” During conjugation, one bacterium latches on to another and inserts DNA directly into it. For decades, these mechanisms for spreading DNA from one bacterium to another — known as horizontal gene transfer — were the only three known. Now, researchers Frances Tran and James Boedicker of the University of Southern California believe they have characterized a fourth. Their results are published in Scientific Reports. Extracellular Vesicles: A Fourth Mechanism of Bacterial Gene Transfer? Bacteria are known to shed bits of their membranes (known as “blebbing”) in a process that resembles a lava lamp. (See upper left image.) The blobs that blossom and break off from the cell may contain all sorts of molecules, such as proteins and DNA. Other bacteria can absorb them. This observation led several different research groups to hypothesize that extracellular vesicles may serve as a previously unidentified mechanism of gene transfer. Dr. Tran and Dr. Boedicker further characterized this enigmatic process. In one key experiment, they showed that extracellular vesicles loaded with DNA encoding antibiotic resistance and produced by three different species of bacteria could be transferred to other, unrelated species of bacteria. Disturbingly, there was no correlation between the rate of DNA transfer and the relatedness of the bacteria. In other words, it’s just as likely that a bacterium would share antibiotic resistance with a complete microbial stranger as with a close cousin. These findings are slightly unsettling. Unlike transformation, transduction, and conjugation, gene transfer via extracellular vesicles may not require specialized machinery. And because membrane blebbing is thought to occur in most — if not all — bacteria, extracellular vesicles may represent a universal method of bacterial gene transfer. That could mean that antibiotic resistance may spread to unrelated bacteria much easier than microbiologists previously imagined. That’s good for nobody, except for perhaps microbiology textbook authors who will now need to release new, updated editions. Dr. Alex Berezow joined the American Council on Science and Health as Senior Fellow of Biomedical Science in May 2016. Dr. Berezow is a prolific science writer whose work regularly appears in BBC News, The Economist, and USA Today, where he serves as a member of the Board of Contributors. With Hank Campbell in 2012, he co-authored the book Science Left Behind, which was an environmental policy bestseller. Formerly, he was the founding editor of RealClearScience. He holds a Ph.D. in microbiology. —– CATCH THE BUZZ 1. NIFA Announces $3.1 Million Available to Support Food and Agricultural National Needs Fellowship Grants Program – WASHINGTON, D.C.  September 1, 2017 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced $3.1 million in available funding to train the next generation of policymakers, researchers, and educators in the food and agricultural sciences. There is a significant shortfall between the number of jobs being created and availability of graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, or environmental specialties.   “These investments support future science leaders,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “We are cultivating students’ skills in leadership, management, critical thinking and problem-solving, along with technical knowledge in the food and agricultural disciplines so they can address the emerging agricultural challenges of the 21st century.”   The National Needs Fellowship Grants Program seeks to increase diversity in the agricultural sciences by supporting outstanding master’s and doctoral-level students in the Food, Agricultural, Natural Resources, and Human Sciences (FANH) disciplines. The program supports individuals who demonstrate their potential to complete graduate degree programs in disciplines relevant to the mission of the USDA. 2. Glyphosate, The Active Ingredient In Monsanto’s Herbicide Roundup, Has Been Added To California’s Prop 65 List. Is Honey In Danger? – Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, has been added to California’s Prop 65 list, meaning that glyphosate is “known to the state of California to cause cancer” and warning labels will be required from July next year. The delayed effective date is due to Monsanto ultimately unsuccessful challenge of the decision by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). Monsanto has now appealed, but no stay of the listing has been granted and the agency added glyphosate to the Proposition 65 list on July 7. California’s action was based on a 2015 statement from the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that glyphosate was “probably” carcinogenic to humans. 3. The Theft Of Beehives And Honey, Particularly Manuka Honey, Is A Growing Problem For Beekeepers In New Zealand – A New Zealander is charged with receiving 1,980 lbs. of stolen honey valued at $40,000, which comes to $20.20/lb by the way. James William O’Keefe, 41, was arrested and charged in Hastings, 190 miles northwest of Wellington. O’Keefe appeared in District Court facing one charge of burglary and another of receiving the three stolen 660-lb. honey barrels in relation to the large-scale theft of honey and associated products. He was remanded in custody. Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos told reporters the theft of beehives and honey, particularly manuka, is a growing problem for beekeepers and the arrest sent a clear message the police are taking honey and beehive theft seriously. 4. Thousands Of Hornets Swarm Over Innocent Fire Service Drone. Never Mind Robots, Get A Load Of These Winged Horrors! – Rise of the Insects A UK Jersey-based drone was brutally attacked by a swarm of Asian hornets after disturbing a nest thought to contain thousands of the angry insects. The brave drone was attacked by the hornets while being used by the Jersey Fire and Rescue service to locate the creatures’ nest. Asian hornets are an invasive species which feeds on native British bees and other insects. Operators thought the sound of the drone’s propellers alerted the vicious hornets to its presence, prompting them to swarm over the unmanned aircraft, attempting to sting it and leaving jets of venom over the craft’s casing. 5. 1 In 10 Australian Pollination Hives Have AFB. – Close check: An audit found that more than 100 hives in Victoria’s North West had clinical signs of American foulbrood. LARGE scale biosecurity checks of honey bee hives has found signs of American foulbrood. Agriculture Victoria undertook biosecurity check of bee hives from Victoria, NSW and Queensland as more than 4.2 billion bees were transported to Victoria’s north west to pollinate almond blossoms. More than 1000 hives were audited and more than 100 were found to have clinical signs of American foulbrood. Agriculture Victoria senior apiary officer Joe Riordan said there was a risk of pests and diseases spreading during almond pollination due to the high density of hives. He said the surveillance focused on endemic bee diseases, appropriate registration and branding of hives and checking of interstate movements certificates.