Beware of the honey trap

Beekeepers Society warns consumers against contaminated honey in local markets

January 04, 2018
Saudi Gazette

Saudi Gazette report

'WHEN you go in search of honey you must expect to be stung by bees," wrote French moralist Joseph Joubert.

Khalid Al-Matrafi, president of Makkah Beekeepers Society, echoed the same warning literally when he cautioned consumers who go in search of pure honey in the local markets.

The production of honey in Saudi Arabia has declined to 800 tons a year currently from 9,000 tons in 2007, when local output reached its peak. The annual demand exceeds 22,000 tons, which is met by imports, and, according to Al-Matrafi, this is where adulterated honey finds its way into store shelves.

Al-Matrafi warned the public against purchasing honey from street vendors or unauthorized dealers, saying they might end up buying fake products.

"Contaminated honey is harmful if consumed by humans. Honey can become contaminated due to poor storage or exposure to sunlight," he Al-Matrafi Al-Watan Arabic daily.

According to Al-Matrafi, the most common way of cheating by apiculturists is to feed the bees with sugar or Chinese honey. There are more advanced methods such as enzyme feeding, which was brought to the Kingdom by expatriate farmers, he added.

"We don't have clear data on fraudulent practices in honey production in the Kingdom. However, it is very important for us to purchase honey from a reliable sources because there is no easy way to detect foul play in honey making," Al-Matrafi said.

"Technically speaking, we don't make any honey, we just collect it and put it in the containers. The honeybees do all the work. Honey production is one of nature's most amazing processes," said Matrafi.

He said the number of beehives in the Kingdom in 1986 was about 20,000, which jumped to 1 million by 2007 when the annual output reached 9,000 tons. Since then the industry began its decline.

"The entry of foreign bees was the main reason for the rapid deterioration of the sector," he added.

There was a tremendous drop in honey production in the Kingdom to the extent that the number of apiaries has declined to 300,000 and the annual production to 800 tons.

As a result of a fall in local production, the volume of imports exceeded 21,000 tons in 2016 while the import of hybrid beehives rose to 700,000. Unfortunately each one of these beehives produced an average of only 1 kg. There are 3,000 beekeepers in the Kingdom who are engaged in honey production.

Al-Matrafi stressed that the sector was unable to develop due to current abnormal conditions created by imported bees that destroy emerging bee communities.

He urged the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Water to create an appropriate environment for beekeeping and raise the number of apiaries to at least 1 million in three years in order to maintain the production levels.

The ministry has provided financial support to beekeepers in the form of loans, but 90 percent of farmers who benefited from the loans have had their bees destroyed by imported bees.

Al-Matrafi asked the ministry to write off those loans as beekeepers would not be able to pay them back. "There are several requests for loan write-offs awaiting decision at the ministry's branch offices," he pointed out.

Saudi Arabia has the world's longest honey season, which lasts for 11 consecutive months. Beekeeping is particularly concentrated in the popular in Hijaz, Tihama and Najd as well as in the extreme north and south of the country.

"We can say that a lot of honey is produced throughout the year. The best types of bees are in Madinah. Unfortunately they are facing extinction. These bees are found in the remote areas of the province,” Al-Matrafi said.

Beekeepers have called on the authorities to adopt queen banking, a technique for caring for queens prior to introducing them into new hives,

to strengthen the beekeeping and honey production industry, Al-Matrafi said, adding that care must be take to choose the best varieties of queens.

"This is an important project that needs greater study and research," he explained.

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