Letters on organic beekeeping and more...
Second letter - normal organic standards
My dear friends of natural beekeeping,
I hope this letter is not altogether too boring; my previous letter surely was more interesting. Anyway we need to discuss a small leaflet which can give much boredom, in case you don't have boredom. It is: "Organic Honey Standards - An example from Quality Assurance International".
"While pedigree of the bees is not crucial to organic honey production, their handling in a manner that prevents contamination of future organic honey crops with residual honey or bee feed from non- compliant sources is crucial" (1).
QAI does not care so much about the bees. More important is the honey and the handling of bees to obtain organic honey. The bees may be degenerated as can be, if they only are able to collect some nectar in order to produce the QAI certified organic honey.
"Each bee-keeper is required to have a supplemental feeding plan, if starvation is imminent. This would include planning for sources of honey, sugar, syrup, fruit concentrate or other food source for non-flow periods" (1).
The supplemental feeding plan is important; you may feed fruit concentrates and whatever you want, it is less important. I suppose QAI never got to know about food suitable for bees (2).
"The use of non-compliant feed supplements during honey flow is prohibited" (1).
After the honey-flow everything seems to be allowed
"Beekeepers are allowed to use the antibiotic oxytetracyclin (terramycin) as a preventive measure against the spread of American Foulbrood into colonies. Antibiotic applications may be made only after the end of honey production, and must be terminated 30 days prior to the start of new organic honey production" (1).
Quality Assurance International is telling us that they are "a private, professional service corporation developed specifically for the purpose of verifying the authenticity of food." I suppose we need to believe them that they have worked very hard on developing these organic standards, but they will be so kind to believe us that they didn't succeed in it. "Beekeepers are allowed to use the antibiotic oxytetracyclin (terramycin) as a preventive measure" Regarding this sentence QAI is not even the shadow of a certifier for organic beekeeping; not to mention organic standards that take care of bees kept naturally according their needs (2), not to mention the idea old teachers have gotten on natural beekeeping (3).
"Use of wet comb (extracted, but wet with honey) from conventional hives is prohibited" (1).
The use of dry combs from conventional hives is allowed? You have the residuals from antivarroa in dry combs as well as in wet combs. QAI's mistake is not thinking in a wrong way but simply thinking not at all.
"Any honey heated to over 110 degrees F must not be labelled "raw" honey because of heat denaturing of enzymes" (1). I fall out of all clouds! I really didn't know that they know so much about contents of honey!
"Yard records of all inputs must be maintained, including dates and amounts of materials applied. A detailed production log with an apiary yard location system must be maintained in an auditable format" (1).
QAI is teaching us not very much but despite of this we can learn very much from "Organic Honey Standards - An example from Quality Assurance International". We are allowed to be in doubt about all what they say and may carry on inquiring. Where did we stop? - the "auditable format". "Yard records of all inputs must be maintained, including dates and amounts of materials applied ... in an auditable format". In case there is nothing important to tell, it must be at least put into a nice form: nice records and a fine auditable format.
Anyway, now I should almost give QAI a full apology. Quality Assurance International is not worse than all the other; and when being unreasonable or absurd in society, apologizes the nonsense, so QAI is adequate apologized.
- QAI (2000): Organic Honey Standards - An example from Quality Assurance International.
- Thiele, M. (2000): Organic Beekeeping Internet Courses I. TCS-standards 2000. On criticism regarding modern ways of beekeeping. Bad Sooden/Germany.
- Thiele, M. (2000): Organic Beekeeping Internet Courses IV. Bee-philosophy. Bad Sooden/Germany.
Third letter - varroa resistance
As you know, many scientists and beekeepers maintain, varroa resistance is something that can be bred for. You can find articles on it, scientific research, speeches, discussions, so many that you start yawning. So I will not list all scientific research, but I will concentrate on the way how it is carried out.
To show that only young scientists like Mr. Kirsch (1) are wrong, would seem to be an easy as well as unnecessary work. It is something different, if he is wrong together with the whole herd. In that case he is not the bleating sheep in the rear but it is the herd, which gives him the direction. So the research of Mr. Kirsch can be taken as an example how scientific research is carried out in this matter.
He is just talking hot air, when Mr. Kirsch assures: "The results shows spectacular, that all efforts has been worthwhile". He calls his work extraordinary decisive ("something we see clearer now"), and absolutely nothing crucial follows, except that "further profitable work is going to follow" - - because he gets the funds from government. This is also the reason why he doesn't become tired of telling: "This is of course a challenge of further and first of all long-lasting research". But referring to the incredible results: I don't know what is the bigger poorness, calling the Uruguay-bee an unknown bee, or proclaiming a varroa-tolerance in this bee that can be bred for also in other countries.
Did you ever hear that a bee with varroa-tolerance doesn't loose its tolerance very soon again, if the surroundings changes? No word! (2,3). How cross-eyed it is, to express himself in a way, making this, through which a matter becomes reality, to a matter that follows? But the squinting manner is the true character of Mr. Kirsch's style, and you won't find it in any men's power, speaking about a matter he doesn't understand, in an other than a squinting way. If only he speaks in a modest and unpretentious way, in case he feels himself urged to speak about such a matter! But at the same time adopting the tone of a man, from whom new discoveries can be expected in this matter, something like: "the mechanism of varroa-tolerance until now just shows some promise" or: "Uruguay is similar to an oasis regarding the production of pure honey, propolis and beeswax - and is an El Dorado for bee-scientists" (1). If it were the only place in the world! You can find varroa-tolerant bees in other places of South America like Argentina, Brazil, in Africa, Russia and Asia. Those places are as well suitable for organic beekeeping. And in comparison to those countries, Uruguay is an even more untypical place for organic beekeeping. I discussed it in my first letter and the first organic beekeeping course (4).
Who else is concerned in respect of breeding for varroa-tolerant bees? Mr. Koller for instance. He is describing himself as an amateur or even greenhorn regarding scientific research (5). Maybe his understanding of a layman is not able to get the real problems in sight. But he is not getting tired of praying that varroa-tolerance is something that can be bred for, that can become stabilized. And he is not only praying, he is also grumbling: "Instead of going to work it out, stabilizing varroa-tolerance, Mr. Liebig is only asking, if the colonies in those tests has been really free of varroa and if the previous Apistan-application didn't lead to a kind of falsification. Completely different the Americans." - Yes Certainly! - "Meanwhile they are not breeding only for varroa-resistance" - Heaven forbid! Who is today only breeding for varroa-resistance? The Europeans? The Americans in any case not - ; "they are breeding also for higher honey yields" (5).
Mr. Koller cannot think it himself, as he should like to, that the Americans are breeding for higher honey yields; Bernard's Apiaries Inc needed to tell him personally (5). This was obviously an occasion for Mr. Koller to find out that this company is the owner of a licence for distributing Russian queens. Now Mr. Koller get those original russian queens from USA and is selling them to willing buyer beekeepers. Meanwhile he has a growing sense of being the only administrator and distributor by the grace of god: "I am the only one for the time being who is able to distribute queens, queen cells or maggots from original queens and I feel myself personally addressed" (5).
If somebody wants to waste his money, he may lavish on buying those queens. Although a dead queen may be very cheap, for an original imported queen being alive you have to fork out 1.800 DM (or just peanuts: 500 US $ when you buy in USA). Why this price, when varroa-tolerance is not guaranteed? Well, Mr. Koller says: there is always something that is incalculable. Those incalculability's must be taken into account when calculating the price" (5).
You mean it is not enough that Mr. Koller is assuring it in good faith? And if Mr. Kirsch is assuring it in good faith as well? And if Mr. Koller and Mr. Kirsch and Bernard's apiaries, if they all assure in good faith that those queens have a long lasting varroa-tolerance (in USA as well as in Europe)?
I need to finish this letter - I can't even write these last words - because I am already going off into fits of laughter - I guess the reader of this letter too, in case he is not fallen asleep in the meantime.
- Rosenkranz, P. & Kirsch, R. (1999): Uruguay - Oase ohne Rückstände. Varroatose-Toleranz der Bienen in Uruguay, Beginn längerwährender Untersuchungen. Dbj 5/99.
- Liebig, G. (2000): Nachgehakt. Auf der Suche nach den varroaresistenten Bienen: weshalb in die Ferne schweifen, wenn das Gute liegt so nah? Dbj 11/00.
- Böcking, O. (2000): Varroa-Toleranz - wo stehen wir heute? Dbj 12/00.
- Thiele, M. (2000): Organic Beekeeping Internet Courses I. TCS-standards 2000. On criticism regarding modern ways of beekeeping. Bad Sooden/Germany.
- Koller, J. (2000): Es gibt viel zu tun, packen wir's an. Dbj 12/00.
Letter N° 5 - 7th December 2000 - On criticism
Dear friend of natural beekeeping,
What kind of letter do you think I have received recently? I receive many letters, positive as well as negative but this one is really remarkable. Mr. B. from Germany wrote: "I am seized with horror" and he is accusing me of libelling other persons. I responded: "You can't mean that seriously!, Mr. B., you seem to be aquainted with these kind of accusions, thus you are skilled in libels that are a pure invention. And who preferably wants to be libelled?" And what was he drivelling about? He drivelled about "foolishness", "hate" and "smattering of education" and started with a kind of autobiography or self-portrayal.
I think we let him carry on talking and drivelling; meanwhile we'll continue with our research, the research on effectivity of criticism. I will try to find words that fit: all what is going to be criticized, will be examined very strictly; the starting point are always publications, no affairs. Maybe we are not all the time polite - anyway a polite criticism is no criticism but nothing else than simply paying somebody compliments. This tone of paying compliments is very common in the organic movement. Not only this Mr. B. has become used to it already. It is something different to disparage a person instead of analysing his texts, his publications. We start out from texts and our criticism is well-founded; every satire, every mockery, every ridicule is allowed. But talking about "hate" (in order to use one of Mr. B's expressions.), where just satire and mockery can be found, shows simply the inability to distinguish this.
Self-defence prevents from blowing in one's own trumpet. Therfore I don't want you to be excluded from reading a letter I recently received from the scientist Thomas S./USA: "Dear Michael" he wrote, "I really enjoy your letters on organic beekeeping - even more than the courses, although you have much more details on organic beekeeping included in these courses. I like your style and I appreciate your telling of what needs to be told. You are telling everything in a humorous and satirical way, analysing what people are writing without glossing over, without trying to make things seem better; also an effort on covering everything with a smoke screen or the ability to muddy the waters, or to brew pleasant tranquillizer, as it is common among critics, I cannot find. But I wonder if you are not too critical with us. I have in mind the second and third letter; for instance in the second letter you are telling: 'QAI is not worse than all the other; and when being unreasonable or absurd in society, apologizes the nonsense, thus QAI is adequate apologized'. Of course you give the reason for this, but don't you have organic certifier in Germany? And are they not living in their own 'society' too? I know, you know it, but you forget it with purpose.".
The truth is, I don't want to talk about certifier, because it's a boring matter and I don't want you again falling asleep while reading this letter. Anyway, one word.
The society of organic certifier in Germany is similar to those in the USA. All these companies - I can not list them all - went so far in their neutrality as to give a single regulation or standards more content, and their authors far more insights, far more reasons, than they ever have shown, and they let them defend their business much better, as it ever can be expected from themselves.
It is especially Mr. Grosch, who suddenly make his début with an idea, which sounds pedantic enough to be thoroughly. Somebody else just would redicule this idea; I will look into it. Mr. Grosch got the idea to certify honey and beeproduce just according EEC-Regulation "Organic Farming"; the organic criteria of this regulation can be easily fulfilled, as his label "Öko-Garantie" assures it. There is not a lack of beautiful words, idioms and empty talk, but all his words and hackneyed expressions regarding organic beekeeping he took away from this regulation. The meaning of it was too difficult, too heavy, he couldn't take it away as well, thus he left it where it was. Wait a moment, it will turn out soon.
As I told you, I just don't want to redicule his idea, but to look into it. - Except, as I almost fear, that it might come down to the same thing. - But this probably is not my fault. Thus lets get on with it. What is layed down in this regulation regarding the way of keeping bees naturally according their needs? Regarding organic breeding methods? We'll have a look at it:
Below letter C "Beekeeping and Beekeeping products" Council-regulation (EEC) N° 2092/91 of 24 June 1991 on organic production of agricultural products and indications referring there to on agricultural products and foodstuffs (Official Journal L 198 22/07/1999 p. 0001-0015) amended by N° 1804/99 (OJ L 222 24/8/1999 p.1) and other, recently amended by N° 2020/00 (OJ L 241 26/09/00 p. 39) it has been leayed down the following: "---". Do you want to pull my leg? Thats all? But maybe we can find something about breeding methods: "---". Nothing? Nothing more? But regarding content of honey: "---".
Why shall I spend many words on such a clear matter? - Except my name were Mr. Grosch. In that case it wouldn't be difficult for me to infer all the methods of keeping bees naturally according their needs from this small thing. Yes, when you want to make your conclusions like Mr. Grosch or Mr. L.! This Mr. L. may be anyone who wants it to be. I really do not long for becomming better aquainted with him.
But lets carry on, so that I occasional come to something worth discussing; for instance keeping bees naturally according their needs. We started in our first letter and we'll continue in our next one.
Second letter - normal organic standards
When you look at the socalled "Bio-szene" or "Organic-szene" especially in Germany and see how subjects like honey and beekeeping are being discussed, what are the prospects for that? -- not at all very good, and this at least in two different ways: either the customer and also the beekeeper suppose good honey to be creamy or at least a socalled "bio-honey" or "organic honey" which is being produced "according international known rules for organic apiary" (1) About the real quality of honey and the way of beekeeping they don't worry so much.
A reason to get excited? No, certainly not. But you have to call it something - and this needs to be done clearly. Well, those who prefer cream honey should be clear about this honey: it is a somehow processed product. Why? The honey is, anyhow, being stired over several days and warmed up again. This honey-stiring-manner has been described by Mr. Binder-Köllhofer: "How do I get cream honey? Very simple: First of all you fill the stired honey - already stired over several days for instance with the help of a drill (the author) - in a bucket or container and let it cristalize. It becomes hard but can easily be heated again (35 to 38°C over 2 to 4 days in a special cupboard). Then stir once more (if the stir-drill can be easily moved into the honey) and fill it into jars. After this, let the air bubbles vanish and skim the foam. In the end put it in a heated room (22 to 25°C) and fill it in temperate jars" (2). Depending on how often you stir, once, several times thoroughly or very intensive, you'll get according to Mr. Binder-Köllhofer a "fine-stiff", "creamy" or "Creamy-flowing" or better "over-stired" honey. This is the one.
Later I'll discuss methods how to get good honey without manipulating it. But the other is the question of quality regarding organic honey and organic beekeeping. How must it be, the socalled bio-honey or organic honey? Let's ask Mr. Walter Lang, an expert on honey. What does he say? He says: "Allos. So must it be, the bio-honey" (3). Concealing a total emptyness is neither a thankful nor an easy business. Mr. Lang can be attested, that he didn't save any trouble. The result is, even if he gives us many details about his different kinds of honey, alarmingly superficial. Why? Later more on this.
But how must it be. The organic honey? It is "produced according international known rules for organic apiary" (4). Mr. Langs astonishing fluency in these kind of sentences changes very quickly into mere coast. But we'll have a look into his honey-booklet. You can find in his booklet a lot of reasonable and right things, often one is urged to respect it. Good for him! I thought myself again and again - only that I needed to start yawning. In an old edition of his honey-booklet (5) he started out from facts and facts of the cases and left many hollow spaces. In his new edition (6) however, he wants to start out from a central hollow space and this he wants to surround by facts and consider it from all sides. What he is telling about storage of honey is not altogether very bad: "In case honey is being stored in dark, cool and dry places, it will keep for several years according to kind, ph-factor and watercontent. The optimal temperature to store honey for a long time is 14°C" (7).
I only wouldn't recommend so many materials, for who preferably wants to store his honey in enamel, tinplate, black plate or sheet-steel?: "For storage of honey only the following materials must be used: glass, enamel, tinplate, varnished black plate or sheet-steel without rust. Not allowed is sheet-zinc because noxious zinc oxide can be the result. As well not suitable is sheet iron, because honey turns black, if it comes in contact with iron" (8). - But why do you want to be surprised about this inconsistancy? It is just the smallest of those which escaped from him. However, I promise to find out the reason for these inconsistancies (although I still don't know how?), if you listen to the following.
The faith in the idea of fulfillment of one's duty, the categorical imperative, the "seriosity" (see also letters on organic beekeeping part I) - These are his initial positions, the state as the highest form of an integrated whole of law and morality - That's what Mr. Lang is striving for, that's his aim and the central subject of his texts. If he gets the opportunity he refers to the minimum requirements of rules, especially EEC Regulation N° 2092/91; as a result of this, working closely according these minimum requirements is his most important step to improve the quality of his apiaries and his honey: "The results of the inquiry are being listed in the examination record of the quality management-handbook" (9). That's the reason why Mr. Lang would offer all his honey as "organic honey" in case he had not to deal with pressures inherent in the situation: "We try to improve the situation in principle to offer honey from certified organic apiaries" (10). In principle yes, - but? What's the matter with all the other apiaries and honey varieties? Does certification causes too many costs? He says: "The price of the honey would increase very much as a result of certification" (11) - What follows? Does his honey may get difficulties to compete with organic honey produced in Germany? Mr. Lang blows his own trumpet: "Honey of high quality is very much demanded; that's the reason why our exporters are able to sell their honey very easily. The additional "organic" lable imply almost no advantages for them" (12). However, there is the chemical analysis, thus why do I need this lable, he thinks himself: "In order to make an objective judgement about the honey and to cover the quality, we test the honey for sensorical and chemical-physical properties as well as residuals" (13).
Thus, the most important pillars of Mr. Langs system are the chemical analysis "to cover the quality" and if necessary the organic certification carried out by "BCS, the certifier of Allos" (14). This central hollow space - chemical analysis and certification according minimum requirements of the rules - he wants to surround by facts and consider it from all sides. What on earth is the matter with him? What does Mr. Lang mean by that? Is there any connection between this hollow space and beekeeping considering the character of bees? Not in the least. Nevertheless he insists on what he suppose to be important regarding honeyproduction - and this already for 25 years: It is honey production "according international known rules for organic apiaries (only use of organic remedies, natural materials, paintings without noxious compounds, hives sited in areas with almost no pollution). Annual inspection by independent certifiers" (15). What does it mean? It means that Mr. Lang is only interested in products free of residuals. The ways of beekeeping, especially if the character of bees is being considered, seems to be not so important to him. He is not concerned at all because the minimum requirements of the rules, according which he is being certified, mention this topic with no word.
Neither he was able to provoke or even stimulate the scientific world. - Regarding this matter I don't need to enter a debate on Mr. Kirsch or Mr. Grosch. I did it at other places (letters on organic beekeeping part I).
Mr. Lang, "one of the pioneers of natural food" (16) as he describes himself without getting tired, has an audience in the natural-food-szene. Here he is the darling of the public because he has withhold nothing from them and at the same time demand nothing. But how does it occur, this on a phenomenal misconception based "Allos" - fashion in German natural food stores? Is it the pseudophilosophical depth when he talks as a "specialist on honey and natural foods" (17) about the "wondergrain of the inkas" (18)?
A conjunction of keen perception with a certain limitedness, in fact even a finesse and such a surprising as well as disarming simplicity? It's not that he's conscious of it, it simply corresponds to the personality, the mentality of Mr. Lang. He wanted to make it clear straight out for his honey customers, how the world of honey basically was and how thoroughly Walter Lang was able to see through. This mentality, which naturally must get on the nerves of many people, especially his colleages, resulted in his lively and at the same time fussing morality; this striving to enlighten the people and always a little naive optimism, which incidentally didn't let itself be put off by any real developement and which obviously was approved by countless natural food customers (19). The extraordinary good success in natural food stores has reduced his selfcontrol regarding the important and unimportant in Beekeeping in a fatalful way. I consider this man to be senseless overrated.
Anyhow there is an increasing number of newcomers who are selling organic honey in the natural-food-scene: for instance Mr. Martin Evers. He only wants the best for his customers and this of course from "certified organic apiary" (20). He let us know some details:
"Martin Evers beekeeper's honey is your guarantee for real bio-honey! This means:" (21) -- Oh really? That I'd like to see!
- "The bees collect nectar in an intact surrounding - without industrial plants, motorways and without pesticides.
- During careful processing of honey no synthetic chemicals or bee remedies are being used.
- The queen's wings are not being clipped.
- The bees get enough own honey and pollen for overwintering.
- The apiary is being inspected and certified several times a year." (22).
"During careful processing of honey no synthetic chemicals or bee remedies are being used" (23). Did you ever have seen that synthetic chemical are being used during processing of honey? No single beekeeper get this idea. If this is the particular of an organic or bio-apiary, I indeed don't know what the particular of an organic apiary is!
"The queen's wings are not being clipped" (24). Correct, nevertheless he is withholding the truth: the queens are being artificially inseminated and the socalled queen rearing by grafting left its marks on the queen as well as the colony.
"The apiary is being inspected and certified several times a year" (25). I guess the inspectors are camping near the hives.
But who wants to infer the level of modern beeliterature or literature on organic beekeeping in Germany from the texts of Mr. Evers, would be thoughtless. This level is considerably higher.
Following the line of least resistance attracts successful honey sellers in a comprehensible as well as dangerous way; anyhow, Mr. Evers frowned upon it: Regarding his new attempt to sell his honey and to write advertising copies, routine can be hold against him not in the least. On the the contrary: while his other advertising copies or information texts are all too well known in the natural-food-scene, the new phraseology, with which Mr. Evers dares to take the first step on the honey market, gives more the impression of an announcement written by a very beginner, who is not being aware of his possibilities and limitations.
Briefly: Who wants to know more about beekeeping considering the character of bees as it is described in our courses and as it is claimed by leading institutes is, in respect of Mr. Lang and Mr. Evers, being knocking at the wrong door.
- Schrot & Korn. Das Naturkostmagazin 6/2001, p. 2, Schaafheim/Germany
- Bindeler-Köllhofer, B., 2001: Cremiger Honig, ein Kinderspiel? ADIZ/Die Biene/Imkerfreund 6/2001, p. 14-15. Berlin/München, Germany.
- see note 1.
- Walter Lang/Allos, 1995: Honigbroschüre. Mariendrebber, Germany.
- Walter Lang/Allos, 2001: Honigbroschüre. Mariendrebber, Germany.
- Schrot & Korn. Das Naturkostmagazin 6/1999, p. 18, Schaafheim/Germany. Regarding "independent certifiers" see also letters on organic beekeeping part II, #28ff. Bad Sooden, Germany.
- Schrot & Korn. Das Naturkostmagazin 7/1999, p. 16-17, Schaafheim/Germany.
- In the letters on organic beekeeping part I-III you may find from time to time a short note on those "organic moralizers". But please understand that I can't waste my time with those people. I really have better things to do than to enter a debate on who is the greater organic moralist, Mr. Lang or Mr. Evers?
- Schrot & Korn. Das Naturkostmagazin 10/2001, p. 55, Schaafheim/Germany.