Health department concerned about consumer safety
Dressed in a white suit, which covers her body from her knees to her face, Charlotte Ekker Wiggins puts on her right glove as she walks to her garden.
Instead of grass, there are green clovers and colorful flowers. Wiggins is headed to her hobby, which at first looks like wooden boxes, painted pink, purple, yellow and blue to look like houses.
With a closer look, the houses are invaded by bees. Dozens or hundreds maybe. Wiggins takes off the tops of the boxes to take a peek at the bees working in the hives.
Wiggins started raising bees and producing honey in 2010. She was looking for a new hobby. “I didn’t know anything about it,” she said.
In the past, her family had been farmers and beekeepers. However she didn’t even know about her family history in beekeeping. She had learned everything from YouTube videos, books and club meetings, but most of her knowledge in the area comes from other beekeepers she met along the road.
A few months back, Missouri lawmakers passed a law, SB 500, regarding beekeepers and those who sell honey.
In the past, the law would require beekeepers such as Wiggins to have a label on the honey she sold that would state “the honey has not been inspected.”
Wiggins said in order to have her honey inspected, she would need to sell over $30,000 worth of honey and own a commercial kitchen.
It would require her to make honey producer as her full-time job, which is not her primary focus. However she assures she doesn’t use pesticides on her hives.
“I love helping people,” she said. “Most problems are caused by miscommunication.” She says when you understand the importance of communication, you understand bees better.
She is working a full-time job at Mark Twain National Forest but says she takes time to take a look at her bees — at least two times a day. Her honey is for sale at the Nature Girls Health Food store in Rolla.
Under SB 500, the requirement that honey be labeled that it has not been inspected by the Department of Health and Senior Services is repealed.
Missouri has over 25,000 beekeepers, and 34 beekeeping clubs. Wiggins said the new law will promote honey production, and bees, since bees are an endangered species.
While people such as Wiggins are glad to make money off their honey, officials at the Phelps/Maries County Health Department are not that excited about the law.
“Consumers may inaccurately assume safety standards have been met,” said Jodi Waltman, administrator of the county health department. “There have been problems in the past of producers selling foreign-produced honey without labeling, and it was found to be contaminated.”
Waltman said she has health concerns about the law. “Some producers have treated hives with chloramphenicol (an antibiotic) to protect bees from disease” she said. “This leaves traces of the antibiotic in the honey, and in vulnerable populations like young children, the elderly and immune suppressed can lead to aplastic anemia.”