Logo Agriculture Biologique

On the markets, during private conversations or between beekeepers, one of the most frequent comments that I have noticed are: « all honeys are organic! » or « honey can not be organic! ». Mistake ! Double mistake !  After reading this article, you will judge the efforts of organic beekeepers to produce in compliance with such a binding specification.

My point is not to collide two visions of beekeeping, one being intensive and industrial, the other being artisanal and respectful of the environment - in fact, most beekeepers are nature lovers, respectful of the life cycles of the bees and producing healthy products. On the other hand, nothing prevents the organic conversion of a bee farm raisong several thousand hives. Organic honey and organic bee products are made in bee farms that are folowing the organic agriculture charter of quality. An agriculture which adheres to an ethic, to a certain vision of life and engages itself into it.

An ethic, a vision for life, a commitment.

« Organic farming is a form of agriculture that relies on sustainable techniques to enhance the natural fertility of a farm, including crop rotation, companion planting, biological pest control, and naturally-sourced fertilizers such as compost, manure, green manure, and bone meal. Pest-control measures such as mixed crops and fostering natural insect predators, as well as naturally-sourced pesticides such as pyrethrin, are employed, while it excludes or strictly limits the use of synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators such as hormones, antibiotic use in livestock, genetically modified organisms; human sewage sludge, and nanomaterials.) The agricultural approach emphasizes sustainability, openness, independence, health, and safety. » [1]

The beekeeper engaged in organic farming identifies with these general principles organizing all of its production activities by following these general principles. One of the basic principles is to ensure that bees are able to find by themselves the resources they need in their milieu. If this environment is made up of wild plants or organic crops, ewerything is ok. The cultivation in the field of genetically modified plants is a serious problem to the organic beekeeper. For a small plot planted with GMOs in the middle of a wide area of organic crops, he will be forced to move his hives away to keep his label. The problem is even more serious in the case of mutagens sunflowers or rapeseed that do not fall under the GMO regulations. Sunflowers or rapeseed genetically mutated are already on very large surfaces and beekeepers have no information about the location of these plots. The European population considers these plants as GMOs and do not wish to find them on their plates. Today, these unanswered problems show how organic beekeeping can be difficult in certain agricultural areas. This constitutes an obstacle to freedom of enterprise. An obstacle to the free choice of mode of production. Faced with the freedom to produce GMOs, the beekeeper can oppose the freedom to produce organic honey. For this, the beekeeper must follow precise specifications.

Several specifications

In France there are several specifications referring to organic production in beekeeping : AB, Nature & Progès or Demeter. In order to legally reference to the organic label, a producer must follow the European specifications which sets the legal framework for certification. The private standards are often more stringent than the European framework. The AB logo or the European logo on products from organic agriculture is allowed only for farms controlled by different certifying bodies accredited by COFRAC. Nothing prevents to join a private label and simultaneously be certified organic (that is to say, be controlled by Ecocert and company). Private labels have the annoying tendency to criticize the European context by accusing him of being too lax. However, to market organic products across all EC countries, an harmonized set of Community rules was necessary. To be credible, a commitment must be monitored by an independent body.

Main elements of the European organic specifications

The European specifications relating to organic beekeeping is available from various certification bodies. About organic beekeeping, there are a number of rules to follow. The most important are detailed below:

Foraging areas.

The beekeeper should pinpoint on a 250,000 th map all placements where beehives are likely to stay during the year. He must ensure that the forage area of his bees consists of wild flora or honey crops from organic agriculture. However, it may apply for a waiver if his bees were foraging both on crops from organic agriculture and other crops that are conventional. This is often the case on lavender areas. In this case, the certification body will pre honey and order an analysis (done at the expense of the beekeeper). The organic label will be given in absence of traces of plant protection product in the organic honey. Maintenance of apiaries must be done by mechanical methods without chemical herbicides (Round-Up ...)

The feeding of the bees.

The general principle is that the bees should be able to find in their environment sufficient resources to support themselves. The beekeeper must choose its locations and transhumance routes keeping this basic principle in mind. However, the beekeeper can provide food supplements to his bees. All products given to the colony should be from organic agriculture. Generally honey or pollen from the beekeepers's own operations. Alternatively, honey or pollen derived from an other organic farm. If the beekeeper is unable to find it is possible to feed the hives with organic cane sugar or certified organic syrups. The limit of 7 kg of dry matter over 2 consecutive years by hive that existed in the french AB certification was removed with European harmonization. Given the price of organic sugars or syrups, for organic farmer the paesant common sense makes a natural limit.

The breeds of bees.

The beekeeper must choose the breed of his bees by favoring local ecotypes better adapted to climatic conditions (less need to feed) more rustic (better disease resistance).

The beehive materials.

The hives are made from natural materials. The wood should not be treated with chemical (such as carbonyl or creosote). The outer face of the hives can be painted with non-toxic or natural paints and varnishes that respect the environment and bee products. If the beekeeper is soaking (empty) hives, this must be done using bees wax. microcrystalline wax was prohibited, it has recently been re-authorized.


The embossed wax must come from organic farming. After a one-year conversion period, the beekeeper may use the wax cappings from his own operations for the replacement of old wax. The suppers are protected against rodents and other pests by physical means (heat, cold, light, draft) or biological (BT) without use of chemicals.

The conversion period.

Organic beekeeping conversion time is 1 year. During which time the operator needs to follow the commitments od organic specifications selling his production as conventional. He has no obligation to change all the bee waxes of his hives during the conversion period. It will change at normal rate (2 per year). The old body waxes are sold in conventional or for industrial uses (perfumes, candles, polish...). All waxes he will use as a replacement must be certified organic.


Chemical medecines and antibiotics are prohibited in organic beekeeping good prophylaxis including flame disinfecting of the material and destruction of contaminated waxes. If foulbrood occurs, the bekkepers transferts the bees on clean waxes. The use of natural products (plant essences ...) is authorized. The wisest thing is to ask the certification body before using any product whatsoever.

Control methods against Varroa Destructor

Chemical molecules are prohibited. A positive list of allowed products in organic farming is available from certification bodies. Organic plants essential oils, thymol, organic acids (formic acid, oxalic acid ...) are allowed. The most common practice in organic beekeeping consists of a treatment with Oxalic Acid in winter (without brood in the beehive) with temperatures between 5 ° and 10 ° with drip of Oxalic Acid solution in a warm syrup over the cluster of bees between the frames. For assays refer to your veterinarian advice. In the summer, after harvest, two to three applications of thymol every 8 days by temperatures between 20 ° and 30 °. Other physical methods that have proved their effectiveness are possible. Good monitoring of settlements with a regular assessment of the level of infestation is essential. If the proportion of varroa is less than 5% infestation is mild, if it exceeds 5%, it must be treated quickly. Whatever the method used, it is imperative to implement an effective control method.

A commitment to product quality.

All products from beehives died of poisoning or contamination by pollutants can't be organic.
For harvesting, the use of chemical repellents is prohibited. Smoking should be done with biofuels environmentally, by physical process (brushing, shaking, blowing, bee hunting). The harvesting by destructionof the bees is prohibited. The honey house equipment must be suitable for food contact (stainless steel) bare metal or galvanized or cast iron are not allowed. Honey shall at no time be heated above 40 °. The automatic liquefaction less than 40 ° is allowed with control HMF (maximum 10mg / kg for honey in bulk or drums - 15mg / kg for honey pots). The pollen must be dried at a temperature below 40 °. Storage is recommended at temperatures between 4 ° and 5 °. For the production of Royal-Jelly, priming cells before grafting should be done with organic jelly. Harvesting operations must be on the same day of the withdrawal of the bars of the hive. The larvae should be removed before the harvest is done by physical processes. The Royal jelly must be filtered at the time of harvest and be packaged in food containers (glass preferred). It must be immediately preserved in the cold between + 2 ° and + 5 °.

A better product

Products from organic agriculture are subject to a great enthusiasm from the public. Bee products are no exception to the rule. Since our company is certified organic by Ecocert, demand continues to grow and demands for new resellers keep coming. Often those stores managers are desperate to find the certified bee products. So much so that they often fall back on import products to meet the demand. In the best case, the products they can find are from Spain, Italy or Greece, but they sometimes come from China or elsewhere. The problem is that customers want to eat organic and local. The consequence of this shortage is an important inflation certified products.
In conclusion, it seems clear that the organic beekeeping market is very promising. It folows a rapid development. Depending on the agricultural environment of our operations, it is more or less easy to take the step of conversion. Adhering to an ethical and living in harmony with the bees and the environment is far beyond the economic attractiveness of a traced sector where the constraints are inherent in its specification. This gives the organic beekeeper pride that is sometimes wrongly perceived by other beekeepers as vanity. Beekeeping has to drop its divisions and work together towards a common goal : preserving the bee.

Olivier BELVAL.

[1] Wikipedia

This article is inspired by article I wrote in 2010 in the journal Abeilles et Fleurs N° 714 et 715