Honey regulations loosened

Published 9:56 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bees: Suffolk beekeeper Chris Dove shows off part of the honeycomb in one of his two hives at his Westhaven Lakes home last week. Thanks to a change in state law, Virginia beekeepers who sell less than 250 gallons of honey a year no longer have to be inspected by state officials as long as they follow certain rules.

A new state law will allow honey to flow more freely from local beehives.

Beekeepers around the state can now sell honey from their hives without having them inspected by state regulators.

The new law allows beekeepers to sell or give away up to 250 gallons of honey a year without having their apiaries inspected, as long as they label the honey as uninspected.

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That’s good news to local bee enthusiasts.

“There’s just too many regulations,” said Pat Knight, a member of the Nansemond Beekeeping Association. “They’re putting the small farmers out of business. With the small honey producers, it’s the same thing.”

However, nobody yet is willing to predict how the new exemption will affect local honey sales, if at all.

Previously, any beekeeper who distributed his honey to the general public, whether through selling it or giving it away, had to have his operation inspected by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. For most small operations, that meant opening their backyards and kitchens to the inspector.

“We’re there to ensure they’re producing their product in a sanitary manner,” said Pam Miles, program supervisor for the state Food Safety and Security Program. Inspectors checked for pests, proper labels, clean buildings and more.

However, a group of beekeepers approached their lawmakers earlier this year and lobbied for the change in the General Assembly. The bill became law on July 1.

Suffolk beekeeper Chris Dove, who has been keeping bees for two years, is excited about the new exemption. He doesn’t sell his honey, but he does plan to give some away.

“It will be a honey Christmas,” he admitted.

Beekeepers do have to comply with some rules in order to avoid inspection. They must label their honey with a notice that it has not been inspected, along with a warning against feeding honey to children younger than 1 year old.

Infants should not ingest honey, because a naturally occurring bacterium in honey can cause botulism, an illness that can lead to death. However, the digestive system of older children and adults generally destroys the spores.

Knight believes the warning label might be a deterrent for some people.

“The general public, when they see something that says uninspected, that’s going to send up a red flag,” she said.

Of course, beekeepers who don’t want the label on their product still can request inspection, Miles said.

“If someone wants to be inspected because they don’t want that on their label, we will inspect them,” she said.

As long as they follow the rules, beekeepers now can sell their honey anywhere, including at farmers’ markets and stores, Miles said.