New bill has beekeepers buzzing


It’s a honey of a bill for local beekeepers.

Starting today, small beekeepers can produce up to 500 gallons of honey a year and sell it to retail establishments as well as directly to the consumer without having to get a Department of Health permit or use a certified kitchen. The previous limit was 50 gallons, which could be sold only directly to the consumer.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed SB 482 into law Monday during a news conference in Honolulu where he also proclaimed this week “Hawaii Pollinator Week.” The intent of Act 131 is to cut back on the bureaucratic red tape that has hampered backyard beekeepers and small honey producers.

“We always have had bees; (I thought) we always will have bees, always was, always will be and all’s right with the world,” Abercrombie said.

“It was rather shocking to me,” that bee populations would encounter problems, he said.

Hawaii Island’s estimated 10,000 feral and commercial beehives account for the majority of the 12,000 hives statewide. Kauai is next with 1,000, followed by Oahu, with 600, Maui, with 500, and Molokai with about 100 hives, according to state officials.

The bill is in response to requests from beekeepers and also the state Department of Agriculture, looking for ways to keep apiaries healthy and the bee business thriving in the face of pests such as the varroa mite , small hive beetle, the parasite Nosema ceranae and others.

“Many small beekeepers have been unable to successfully navigate current regulatory hurdles required to operate a certified food-processing establishment on their own premises for the extraction and bottling of honey, which has resulted in many giving up beekeeping entirely,” Russell Kokubun, chairman of the Board of Agriculture, said in a statement.

While the new state budget that goes into effect July 1 doesn’t have money earmarked to battle the bee pests, it does include funding for a permanent apiary program within the Department of Agriculture to be staffed by four administrators. This will serve as a resource for beekeepers in the state, providing investigation, education and best management practices for hives.

“We won’t have to go back and ask for money year after year,” Kokubun said.

At the same time as it reduces bureaucracy, the new law provides consumer protections in how the product is labeled. It also requires producers to take a food safety class and keep records for at least two years, to help assuage the industry’s fears that unscrupulous producers might adulterate their local honey with honey produced outside the state.

Hawaii once produced more than a million pounds of honey annually. However, just 770,000 pounds of honey was produced in 2010, down from 900,000 pounds in 2009 and 950,000 pounds in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The 2010 crop was valued at $1.74 million.

But bees are important not only for honey, but also pollination.

Roughly one-third of all food products require pollinators. Hawaii’s bee-pollinated crop production is a more than $212.8 million industry at the farm gate.

“We must encourage beekeeping operations of all sizes to ensure that honeybee stocks thrive in both managed apiaries and the wild, especially as bee populations have declined due to disease and invasive predators,” Abercrombie said in a statement.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaii.com.

 

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