What does "Organic" actually mean on a honey label?
As of this writing, the USDA has no official certification for organic honey produced in the United States. Any honey sold in America, that has a USDA certified organic label, is imported from other countries. Neither the USDA nor the FDA actually certifies honey. Instead, the USDA recognizes the organic certification from the original country of origin. This foreign honey sold in America can then be labeled organic. One can see the potential problem with this. US beekeepers cannot claim their own honey is organic, but the USDA tacitly allows foreign honey to be labeled organic. A perfect example of this can be seen on this popular Amazon’s Choice honey. The front label says it’s organic and has the USDA stamp on it. The product states the country of origin is the United States. But notice the Amazon photos do not show the back label. The last time I saw a bottle of Carmichael’s Organic - Premium Quality honey, the back label said the honey was from Uruguay and Brazil, but it was bottled in America. And there’s the rub. "Bottled in America" does not mean made by bees in America.
The honey production vs consumption gap in the United States
Americans consumed 618 million pounds of honey last year. We only produced 126 million pounds. Where does the rest of the honey consumed in America come from? As honey makers, we don’t even make it into the world’s top ten producers. The highest producers, like China, Vietnam and India, export honey to the United States where it will then be packed and labeled. Foreign producers will also sell directly to large packers such as Brad’s Organic Honey whose honey is packed in Spain, but sold in America. Much of the honey exported from these countries is filled with agro-chemicals and toxic adulterants. Yet, the USDA allows this honey sold in America to be labeled “organic” based solely on the information supplied by the country of origin; no confirmation or lab analysis is necessary.
Most commercial beekeepers (those that produce those 126 million pounds of honey mentioned above) in the USA manage bee colonies as livestock to service pollination contracts for agricultural growers. They move millions of hives around the country chasing various blooming orchards and crops. Beekeepers don’t own the thousands of acres surrounding their hives during pollination and since bees fly up to three miles to forage, it is virtually impossible to control what these nomadic hives are bringing home. The honey produced by these pollinating services is loaded with every imaginable agro-toxin. Most American honey is likely to have some level of agro-toxicity.
How do you know if a brand of honey is free of toxins?
Is USDA certified organic honey free of glyphosate, agro-toxin or other adulterants, such as added sugars? As mentioned above, there are no USDA requirements for independent testing of such things once the honey reaches our shores. Nor is there is any national certification of honey produced in the US that demonstrates that a particular honey is free of glyphosate, agro-toxins or other adulterants.
Advertising honey as "organic" is of course great for marketing, and since it's highly sought after, it's also a driving keyword for SEO which is critical for online businesses. Rationally, one would assume "organic" honey, by definition, is free of agro-toxins and adulteration. It isn’t. It's a fraud perpetuated by large commercial honey packers enabled by the USDA.
Only bee yards situated in isolated spots, perhaps deep in Western North Carolina, the Adirondacks, or sparsely-populated, production agriculture-free areas can claim honey that is free of agro-chemicals and thus, truly organic.
Every other year we send our honey to multiple labs for toxin reports. Including an accredited lab for glyphosate (Round Up) analysis. Glyphosate is a known probable carcinogen. This year we sent our wildflower honey to one of the foremost American agro labs in the industry. AGQ Laboratories found our honey tested below the "level of quantifiability" of Glyphosate (<0.010 ppm). That means, they couldn't find anything except pure, truly organic, honey.