What is organic honey?
The chemical meaning of organic, reflected in the Oxford English Dictionary, is a substance composed of hydrocarbon radicals, the elements carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
But the word, like so many others, has been appropriated to mean something different and the new meaning, has been incorporated in legislative criteria required to label a food substance as organic.
It is difficult to find exactly what these criteria are. Even beekeeping and honey authorities do not provide clear guidelines. On websites 'organic honey' is obviously confused with 'pure honey' and this results in false labels on marketed honey.
But it is clear that for a food product to be labelled organic, the law requires that it has been produced and packaged without the use of or contamination with man-made pesticides, fertilisers, growth regulators or chemical additives. Food crops must be grown without genetic modification.
So what does this mean for honey?
Bees forage freely on flowers without deference to legal labelling requirements, so their home apiary must be within a flying distance radius of organic certified field, forest or crop. This means no houses, no gardens using fertilisers, chemicals or pesticides, no roads with vehicles spewing out contaminating chemicals.
Then there is the hive housing the bees - no chemicals preserving the wood, no chemicals to treat disease or pests like the small hive beetle. I wonder if the queen, if introduced by the beekeeper, had to be bred in certified organic conditions? And all such contaminants must be avoided in harvesting, processing and bottling the honey.
After all that, what do you get for the extra buck you paid to have the honey on your toast certified organic? Does it taste better? Does it make you feel better? Is it 'better' for you?
Fortunately some sense of reality is beginning to appear. A prominent American with the unlikely name of Randy Oliver, a biologist, beekeeper and prolific writer in beekeeping journals, wrote in a recent issue of The Australasian Beekeeper'in recent years I feel that organic has lost its way, and is now caught up in being anti this or that, rather than being pro feeding the human population with the least environmental impact'.
In my view, the word has come to fulfil the philosophy of Humpty Dumpty - 'When I use a word it means what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less'.
When you contemplate buying organic honey, pause and ponder whether the label is fair dinkum and if it is whether it really means anything for you or is just a marketing gimmick.