Legislation would aid local beekeepers in getting their honey to market

January 28, 2012  By ILIMA LOOMIS - Staff Writer (iloomis@mauinews.com) , The Maui News

WAILUKU - Local beekeepers could have more freedom to sell their honey under legislation proposed by Kahului Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran.

Under current health codes, beekeepers who wish to sell their product commercially must process it in a certified kitchen using county water. But that's not possible for farmers in remote areas not served by the public water system, noted Keith-Agaran.

He said his legislation would not only provide economic benefits by supporting the producers of local honey but would also promote beekeeping and protect the island's supply of healthy honeybees, which are critical pollinators of other agricultural crops.

Keith-Agaran noted that bee populations on Oahu and the Big Island have been damaged by varroa mites and other pests, while Maui so far seems to have healthy bees.

"People are worried about honeybees," he said. "We've got to do things that'll allow people with hives to continue to operate."

His proposal, House Bill 1787, would exempt beekeepers who don't have access to municipal water from the certified kitchen requirement, as long as they prepare the honey next to hand-washing facilities and use water that has been treated to potable standards. The legislation would also exempt home-based beekeepers who produce less than 500 gallons of honey a year.

The bill was introduced Jan. 13 by Keith-Agaran and eight other legislators, including Maui Reps. Angus McKelvey and Kyle Yamashita. The House Agriculture Committee voted 10-0 on Friday to recommend that it be passed with amendments. The bill is also pending before the House Health and Finance committees.

Kaupo landowner Jonathan Starr said he hoped the legislation would open the door for more beekeepers to sell their honey legitimately.

Starr and his wife, Helen Nielsen, took up beekeeping when they received a hive about four years ago. After reading about bee die-offs around the world, they decided to expand their colony, and now they tend 35 hives on their East Maui farm.

"We get really wonderful honey," he said.

Starr said they began selling their product to a handful of local gourmet and health food stores but were told to stop by the state Department of Health because they were not using a certified kitchen.

Starr said he was told that regulators could not certify his private water system, even though he treats his drinking water to potable standards, and that he would not even be allowed to truck in municipal water unless he completely disconnected his private water source and used only the imported water at his property.

The only other option provided to him was to remove the frames from his hives, transport them off the property to a certified kitchen, and extract the honey there - something Starr was not willing to do.

"That's how parasites and diseases spread" among bee colonies, he said.

Starr said the strict requirements didn't make sense, especially since honey is naturally antiseptic and kills bacteria, and no water is added to the honey during processing.

The only water that is needed for the process is used to wash hands and equipment, he said.

"You're not adding water, and even if, theoretically, through improper cleaning of the implements, any bacteria is introduced, it will die," he said.

Starr said he and Nielsen have been limited to selling their honey at craft fairs and giving it away to friends. He said the proposed legislation would enable beekeepers like him to extract and bottle their honey at the apiary, allowing them to increase the population of healthy honeybees on Maui.

"There is a great demand for local raw honey," he said, noting that there's evidence that eating honey that comes from local pollens can be beneficial to people who suffer from allergies.

"All of the honey that could be raised on Maui would be sold on Maui," he said. "It would replace inferior imported honey, and this legislation would make that possible."

* Ilima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@mauinews.com.



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