When analysing the sustainability reports published by all UK supermarkets, it’s alarmingly evident that our British beekeepers and bees have been forgotten about. Despite industry wide claims to support British producers, guarantee high animal welfare standards, and tackle climate change, the reality is quite the opposite.
Approximately 12.5% of the honey offered in supermarkets are currently of British origin (e.g. Sainsbury’s currently offer 4 British varieties out of 36), suggesting beekeepers are not British producers than supermarkets consider deserving of their support. The result of this are shelves flooded with cheap, imported honey which in turn has created a detrimental image in consumers minds of what honey is. The cost of quality British honey is in reality more expensive than that currently offered in the supermarkets (Manuka aside). But then aren’t most quality products?
“Supporting British farmers, artisan producers and organic growers is at the heart of what we do” [Waitrose; 2021]
We believe consumers should have the opportunity to choose honeys with shorter, more transparent supply chains, meaning they’re aware of where it’s been created, by what flowering plants and by which beekeeper. This is particularly important when imported honey has potentially unsafe levels of antibiotics and high levels of herbicides and pesticides (but that’s for another blog post).
Having a short supply chain helps to ensure high animal (as well as human) welfare standards. When honey is produced in multiple foreign countries and blended together, it’s near impossible to identify who the beekeepers are that produced it and what practices are being used (e.g. chemicals use, child labour or forced labour). There’s been a huge increase in supermarkets displaying the location of food sources on products, for example, the milk in my local Morrisons displays ‘South West’ on the label. The driving force behind this is consumers' desire to support local, British businesses, which continues to gain momentum (53% of grocery shoppers have tried to buy more British-sourced products since the pandemic began. Mintel; 2021).
And then there’s the climate emergency. We all (I hope) understand the necessity of a combined effort to support our environment, to help it heal and reduce the pressures we place on the fragile system. With this in mind, and the public case supermarkets publish on the measures they’re taking to reduce their environmental footprint, it would make sense to source more honey from the UK, instantly cutting out a vast amount of food miles.
I’m absolutely chuffed that supermarkets are publicising so many initiatives which will ultimately benefit us all and the environment. But it would be so great to read that their eagerness to support British bees had gone beyond working with farmers who provide wildlife strips to help bee populations (as mentioned by Morrisons) to also collaborating with British beekeepers who protect our fragile bee population and work tirelessly to ensure their survival.