I suspect that the concept of partisan politics in the beekeeping industry isnt something that has kept you up nights. But there are different sides to many of the questions that arise in the world of the honey bee and those that keep them. All politics tends to be local, and it can occasionally be bitter, wrongheaded and stubborn. But just as often it can be wonderfully cooperative, friendly and helpful. Over the years the political skirmishes between the major beekeeping groups have been some of both - bad, and good. In the long run the differences tend to be financially based but sometimes they get personal. Such is life when more than three people are involved in most any activity. There is, in the world we live in far too much competition and far too little cooperation, so when you find something that is positive and productive you should stop and take a look.
The rancor that was too common decades ago has mostly dissolved over the past few years, primarily because it is far more productive to work together than to bang heads, and most of the differences have been resolved, fixed or grown stale and forgotten. Moreover, there are fewer and fewer beekeepers around to accomplish things, so no matter what any personal feelings are, working as a team is generally more profitable than yelling at each other.
That doesnt mean that goals cant be reached by taking different routes though, and this is not an uncommon activity ... When monsters need to be slain, how the slayers get the job done, though important, is less so than making sure the monster is dead. Such is a recent case in point.
First, let me introduce the players ...
There is the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF). Members of this group are commercial, sideline and hobby beekeepers, beekeeping supply dealers, queen and honey bee package producers, magazine publishers, honey importers, handlers and packers and pollination businesses. They are a large tent and attempt to cover essentially all aspects of the industry. If you look carefully at the composition of the individuals in this tent you might see some of the possible conflicts that could arise ... honey packers are in business to purchase honey as inexpensively as possible, from honey producers (beekeepers) who are in business to sell honey for as much as they can ... honey importers do the same buy low, sell high.
Since there are only a limited number of any of these specific businesses in our industry, however, to make a sizeable enough force when dealing with national political issues they have banded together. It works, mostly, and they are pretty effective in the political arena, and in creating financial stability to support their causes. As a group they fund scientific research, support 4-H kids, sponsor an annual conference and a host of other industry related and philanthropic activities.
The other major group, the American Honey Producers Association (AHPA), are comprised of only commercial beekeepers. Others ... beekeeping suppliers, queen and package producers, and magazine editors, can belong and can support, but cant be active members. Their rule is that if you earn more than 50% of your income from something other than producing honey you cant vote in their group. Its an exclusive, but effective group of beekeepers looking out for beekeepers. Not uncommon in any industry.
You can see where the interests of these two groups lie, where they cross, and sometimes where they go in different directions. Over the years there has been much cooperation between the two in seeking and gaining goals that benefit both groups, and, conversely, there have been significant differences in their philosophy and what they believe is best for the industry, and in the best interest of their respective members.
But enough of differences. Both groups certainly have a vested interest in solving the Colony Collapse Disorder problem that directly or indirectly affects all beekeepers. How to solve this problem is viewed somewhat differently by the groups but the goal is the same. And, last January, the two groups met together for the first time to work on some of their common problems, and share some of their common goals. I talked about that meeting here.
In the future well look at the excellent work some in the American Beekeeping Federation have been doing recently to solve beekeepers problems in the pesticide area, Colony Collapse Disorder problems, and where their efforts are paying off with groups like the pollinator protectors, the EPA and USDA and University researchers.
This time Ill explore what the AHPA, represented by their Legislative Committee, has been seeking in the halls of congress. They visited Washington back in September to find out why things arent moving faster in the funding arena for the solution to CCD, and why cheap and illegal honey imports from China are still getting into this country and destroying, according to them, American beekeepers markets and ability to maintain their operations.
Colony Collapse Disorder Funding
The Pollinator Protection Act in the Farm Bill authorizes $100 million over 5 years to conduct research on CCD and other threats to the health of bees and other pollinators. Further, for the years 2008-2012, $7.25 million per year is to be allocated to improve the status of the honey bee research labs, and for each of those years $2.75 million is to be allocated to conduct surveillance programs on honey bees pests and pathogens. From this so far, the Senate has only authorized $1 million above last years funding and the rest is nowhere on the horizon. The House, meanwhile, hasnt appropriated any funds in this direction. Of course, what funds are there, what with all the bailouts and buyouts and copouts going on?
Colony Collapse Disorder funds are non-partisan as far as beekeepers are concerned ... all beekeepers can be affected by this problem, so all beekeepers want it solved.
Illegal Chinese Imports
Illegal imports from China are in the news, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is chasing as many as they can. According to the AHPA the Chinese have resorted to using three separate schemes to get honey into this country without paying the tariff imposed on their honey. They are circumventing through third countries, undervaluing the price of their crop and blending.
Circumventing: According to U.S. import statistics, over 30 million pounds of honey entered over the last four years as Russian honey was actually Chinese honey. Plus, honey supposedly from Indonesia, Mongolia, Malaysia and Vietnam was Chinese. Youd think with all the food problems weve imported from China in the past few years, importers would worry a bit more about Chinese honey, but money talks.
Blending: If a product is imported that is less than half honey a honey blend it is not subject to the tariffs imposed on pure honey. However, if a product is said to be a blend, but is in fact pure honey ... well, the technology does not exist in the U.S. to test for country of origin or for blending the best lab for this is in Germany. According to the AHPA it is almost embarrassing that U.S. Customs cant determine where honey being imported originates, or whether its even pure honey. And, they say, China knows this.
Undervaluing: The actual value of Chinese honey is about $1 a pound the tariff on that would be about $0.50 for a total of about $1.50, on a par with U.S honey production costs. The Chinese however are valuing their product at $0.25, with a tariff of only $0.125 per pound total - $0.38 or so per pound far below the $1.50 it should be sold at in the U.S. The unfair advantage compared to U.S. producer costs is obvious, considering that the two main Chinese exporters are sending 5 million pounds a month into this country under this scheme.
U.S. beekeepers have more problems than CCD, and are playing on an international playing field.
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