Small Honey Producers have a Victory in IllinoisJuly 20, 2010
If I want to sell honey from my hives in Illinois I need an inspected honey house that is basically up to caterer standards. My kitchen is not good enough (and my kitchen is lovely!) I would have to sell a lot of honey to afford a honey house, and I don’t think my 4 hives are up to it. This was a real problem, small producers, of which most beekeepers are, were being kept from the market, even outdoor farmers’ markets and road side stands, because of the way Illinois law was being interpreted by the state. Not only was it a problem for beekeepers, but was a problem for bees. The population of bees seems to be falling and Illinois law was discouraging small scale beekeepers from taking up the hobby.
A quick lesson in honey making. Bees gather nectar and in their gut they create a dilute honey. This is put in the cells of the honey comb and the bees fan the honey until it loses enough moisture. Typically the moisture in honey is reduced to 17 – 18%. Reducing the moisture level increases the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. When the honey is at the appropriate moisture level the bees cap the cell with wax, in essence canning the honey. Honey is shelf stable at that point and needs no refrigeration.
Back to Illinois law. The Illinois beekeepers association proposed an amendment to the Illinois Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that classified honey as a “raw agricultural commodity” and said that the state could not “regulate or inspect” producers of less than 500 gallons of unadulterated honey.”
Illinois law wasn’t keeping the public safe from dirty honey. Honey isn’t dirty; there has never been a documented case of honey-caused illness in Illinois. In fact, honey has antibiotic properties and was (still is by some) used as a wound treatment to prevent infection and promote healing. [Note. Infant botulism is a different issue that a clean honey house doesn’t affect. Infant botulism has been connected to honey because botulism spores are sometimes found in honey and infants younger than 12 months cannot tolerate the spores. Infants under 12 months should not eat honey.]
While the department of health testified against the bill, it passed both the house and senate with ease, and the Governor of Illinois signed the bill this week and it goes into effect January 1, 2011. One thing I like about this action is that it is an example of a grassroots effort to change law that succeeded. Normal people spoke common sense and convinced the vast majority of people to see things their way. As a result, next year, if I want to, I’ll be able to sell honey at my town’s farmer’s market.