Bees not only play an essential role in our environment, they are also important to our economy. The European Parliament wants measures to better protect them and fight fake honey imports.
The importance of bees
Bees pollinate crops and wild plants, which helps to sustain biodiversity and ensure food security. No less than 84% of plant species and 76% of Europe’s food production depend on pollination by bees. This represents an estimated economic value of €14.2 billion a year.
In recent decades, there have been issues with bee health and high bee mortality rates have been registered. Possible reasons are intensive agriculture and pesticide use, poor bee nutrition, viruses and attacks by invasive species (such as the Varroa destructor, Asian hornet, small hive beetle and American foulbrood), as well as environmental changes and habitat loss. While progress has been seen recently, problems still persist in some member states.
What the Parliament is proposing
On 1 March, Parliament adopted an own-initiative report by Hungarian EPP member Norbert Erdős, calling for more action to protect and better support the European beekeeping sector. Measures in the report include:
- Increasing funds for national beekeeping programmes
- Improving bee health (for example by having a ban on harmful pesticides, more research or breeding programmes)
- Better protecting local and regional bee varieties
The EU's honey market
The EU boasts about 17 million beehives and 600,000 beekeepers, producing some 250,000 tons of honey every year. This makes the EU the second biggest honey producer after China. The major honey producing countries in 2015 were Romania, Spain, and Hungary. However, the EU also imports honey to cover its domestic consumption, mainly from China.
Tackling fake honey
Honey is the third-most adulterated product in the world. The EU defines honey as a natural sweet substance and has set out composition criteria in the honey directive based on high standards.
However, there is an issue with products that do need meet those standards. According to testing by the EU, 20% of samples taken at EU’s external borders and at importers’ premises didn’t respect high EU standards. This could be for example because products have sugar syrup added or honey has been harvested too early and then artificially dried.
MEPs want to fight the spreading of fake honey in the EU market, because it puts pressure on European beekeepers, leads to price drops and raises questions about consumer protection.
This is why they ask for measures to improve testing procedures and intensify import inspections to better detect instances of honey adulteration and for higher penalties for fraudsters. MEPs also want improve labelling to ensure that consumers know which country the product comes from.
The report adopted by Parliament also asks to better promote honey consumption and its health benefits, especially amongst children in schools.