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Repercussions in Chile from EU judgment on honey


Harriet Eeles, Beekeeping Network of the Lakes Region, Casilla 7, Tegualda, 10 Region, Chile

Harriet Eeles

An interesting article appeared in BfD Journal 104 (September 2012) European policy on GMO can damage honey marketing in developing countries.This policy is still causing considerable concern and difficulties for beekeepers in many parts of the world, and we would like to share with you our experience of trying to face this new situation.

Beekeeping in Chile

The latest national census registered approximately 1,500 beekeepers, with 500,000 colonies. Ninety percent of beekeepers have less than 100 colonies, and 4% have over 1,000. The total annual honey production averages 11,000 tonnes, of which 80% is exported. Until the European Court of Justice decision in September 2011, 80% of this volume went to Germany. Chile’s domestic, formal market absorbs about 1,200 tonnes, and the informal market about 800 tonnes. Honey consumption per capita is very low at less than 100 g per year.

The beekeeping community has a number of private organisations for co-ordinating activities including the National Beekeepers’ Network, the National Center for Beekeeping Development, the Association of Honey Exporters, the Queen Breeders’ Co-operative, the Federation of Beekeeping Co-operatives, the Association of Apitherapists and the Api Cultural Movement.

Co-ordination between the public and private sectors takes place in the National Beekeeping Board, and several regional Boards. In the public sector, in addition to the Ministry of Agriculture and its specialised agencies, other ministries that participate in the co-ordination of the activity include Foreign Affairs (ProChile), and Health, Education and Environment.

At least seven of the principal universities have training programmes for beekeepers, and carry out research. Over the past year, the National Beekeepers’ Network has built up important strategic relations with the national fruit exporters’ and seed producers’ associations, to deal with pollination and GMO issues.

GMOs in Chile

GMOs have been present in Chile since 1997, but are authorised for seed production for export only. The main species are canola, maize and sunflower. Due to pressure from the beekeeping sector, information has recently been made public on the location of GMO crops for seed production. However, the system for updating this information needs perfecting, and information is not available on the species planted, which leads to legal uncertainty among European importers on whether these crops are authorised for human consumption. The laboratory analysis to determine presence or absence of GMO pollen has to be done in Germany. As we have no accredited laboratory for these tests in Chile the high cost of this analysis has to be borne by the beekeeper.

Repercussions of the European Tribunal’s decision for Chilean honey exports:

• Drop in final price to producers of 30% compared with 2011.

• In the 2011-12 season, 35% of the volume normally exported to Europe had to be diverted to alternative markets at much lower prices.

• Exports to Germany fell from 80% to 45% of total exports and to USA rose by 31%.

• Production costs rose due to GMO pollen analysis cost.

• Long delays in payments to producers.

• Diversion to the domestic market, at lower prices, of honey of doubtful quality normally destined for export.

• For small-scale beekeepers, access to credit and subsidies was suspended for 12 months, due to uncertainties in the European market.

Action taken by representatives of the beekeeping sector:

• Workshops organised to co-ordinate beekeepers and their presentations to Parliament, Ministry of Agriculture and other governmental authorities.

• Formation of working groups to address challenges facing beekeeping, in particular the consequences of the European Tribunal’s judgment.

• Incorporation of topics related to GMO crops and consequences for beekeepers in seminars all over Chile.

• Proposals to update the national strategy for sustainable development of beekeeping in Chile.

Some results:

• Two presentations made (November 2011 and April 2012) to members of the Agriculture Commission in the lower house of Parliament to stimulate discussion on the effects of European policy on beekeeping and fruit export sectors.

• Meeting of representatives with Minister of Agriculture.

• Implementation of online system to inform registered beekeepers if their apiaries are within 5-10 km of a GMO crop.

• Publication of digital maps showing locations of GMO crops.

Challenges that we face:

• Search for new markets for honey exports.

• Support for a 10-year moratorium on GMO crop cultivation.

• Support to declare districts as GMO-free regions or areas, and for positive labelling of products from these areas.

• Creation of laboratories recognised by the EU for the detection of GMO pollen in honey, and of plant species involved.

• Campaign to increase honey consumption in Chile.

• More research on functional properties of Chilean honeys.

• Production diversification, especially small-scale beekeepers.

• Professionalisation of pollination services to meet the increasing demands of fruit growers.

• Regulation of beekeeping activity to control migration of colonies in search of safe production areas, which can jeopardise production for resident beekeepers.

• Defence of the natural heritage of the country that is in danger from deforestation, reforestation with exotic species, and different kinds of environmental contamination.


• The Chilean beekeepers, as well as our organic farmers, must demand the government authorities to respect our right to produce natural and healthy foods.

• Those responsible for contamination of a product like honey that is by nature 100% natural and healthy, must pay the bill for certifying these qualities through costly testing, or compensate for the loss of these inborn qualities.

• As it is not possible to eliminate the presence of GMO pollen in Chile, action must be taken to stop further cultivation. Alliances must be formed with other groups involved in GMOs, like the Seed Producers’ Association and the Fruit Growers’ Federation.

• Investment is required for differentiation of honeys and other bee products, to improve their competition on the world market, and in promoting the benefits of consuming them.

• It is essential to create awareness in the Ministries of Health and Education on the benefits of introducing honey into the diet of school children.

• To prepare for an increase in national consumption, beekeepers must be trained to meet this demand, with adequate quantities and quality of honey produced and bottled in suitable conditions, with the implementation of Good Beekeeping and Manufacturing Practices, and Clean Production Agreements.

GMO   Genetically Modifed Organism

See page 13 for the latest European Commission report

Opinions of beekeepers’ leaders

Marcelo Rodríguez, past President of the National Beekeepers’ Network:

Misael Cuevas

The Chilean beekeepers are the most recent victims of the GMO agro-biotechnology industry, as we find ourselves involved together with other production sectors, like the organic farmers and environmental movements, in a fight against GMOs. We have taken on the task of informing the community and politicians of the environmental, social and economic risks and impacts of GMO crops.

Misael Cuevas, President of Ibero-Latina American Beekeeping Federation (FILAPI) and elected President of the National Beekeepers’ Network:

In the case of Chile, the following factors have to be considered:

• Our high dependency on the German honey market.

• The lack of information on the species of GMO crops authorised in the country for seed production, necessary for ascertaining if they are authorised for human consumption in Europe.

• The lack of a laboratory for pollen tests associated to GMO crops using the same methodology as in Europe.

• The high percentage of small-scale beekeepers with static hives.

• The slump in honey sales and prices due to market restrictions.

• Lack of information on the impact and effects on production of wind-blown GMO pollen.

These topics involve all links of the production chain and require joint action, in co-ordination with the public sector, for implementation of a contingency plan to:

• Reduce the economic impact that threatens the sustainability of the business.

• Increase the coverage of governmental instruments for promotion of the sector, especially commercial missions for capturing new markets, supported by ProChile.

• Demand complete and reliable information on all GMO incidents in Chile.

• Strengthen the domestic market and national consumption of bee products.

• Evaluate the possibility of demanding compensation for damage caused to beekeeping activities.

Juan Sebastián Barros, commercial beekeeper from the Araucanía región:

We as beekeepers are much more than honey: we are a strategic reserve for life, and the basis for Chile’s mission to be a power for agricultural and food production. We did not bring in, promote, nor plant GMO crops, therefore the Chilean State must compensate us if it wishes us to continue to exist. The fall in honey prices and the negative load due to previous bad seasons have cornered us. Without beekeepers, there are no bees, and no bees means no fruit for export. Without bees the regeneration of grasslands will be at risk, leading to increased prices for meat and milk products; the forest lands will also be affected, together with the shrubs and bushes that protect the watersheds and provide our water supply….

By courtesy of the Consorcio Apícola extracts from Actualidad Apícola, July 2012