Bee colonies are under attack from the misuse of bee-toxic pesticides yet honey seems to be abundant in T&T because of thriving contraband trade.
The cheap, low-quality honey comes from Venezuela, Grenada and other Caribbean islands and is described as one of the most lucrative contraband trade in the country.
But while law enforcement agencies investigate, very few honey smugglers have been charged and very little testing has been done to determine whether the smuggled honey is safe for consumption.
In the meantime, officials from the T&T Beekeepers Association are urging the authorities to help save bee colonies by banning the use of bee-toxic pesticides.
In an interview, public relations officer of the T&T's Beekeepers Association Vearna Gloster said bees assist in pollination and were an integral part of the agriculture industry.
As a third generation crop farmer and first generation beekeeper, Gloster said she has noticed the attack on bee colonies for the past 14 years.
"I have been observing the ups and downs of the industry and the many challenges faced by beekeepers with both the influx of illegal honey and death of bees due to the many pesticides and weedicides used by crop farmers," she said.
Gloster said the pesticides used in past years had no impact on bee colonies yet today, thousands of bees are dying.
"In 2006 when a newly established apiary was just a stone throw away from the crops, there were absolutely no bee deaths to our colonies. In contrast today, we have crop farmers and beekeepers in close proximity due to lead space and/or land sharing and we find that there are many deaths to bee colonies. Hence, we are in a dire need to bridge the gap between crop farmers and beekeepers to lobby for the need for more bee-friendly pesticides in our country," she added.
Saying bees were important to the agricultural sector, Gloster said, "The larger nations are banning the use of those neonicotinoid 'cides' which were wreaking havoc among their bee colonies but we are somehow being affected by it now."
She called on the Ministry of Agriculture to stop the trend of registering bee-toxic pesticides.
"They may be cheaper and bring in the better crop sprays but in the long run they will hurt the agricultural sector," Gloster said.
She noted that crop farmers and beekeepers can work together to help to make the environment healthier for all.
With regard to the influx of illegal honey, Gloster said, T&T's beekeepers were suffering because a cheaper version of honey is now being sold in supermarkets, health stores and on the roadsides.
Under a 1947 Act of Parliament, honey from abroad is banned from being imported into T&T. Gloster said this protects bees from disease as well as protects the local honey trade but with the influx of illegal honey, those in the apiculture business are suffering.
Contacted for comment, minister of agriculture, land and marine resources, Clarence Rambharat said a review of the chemicals and pesticides imported into the country will be undertaken via the pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board.
"There is constant surveillance of the illegal trade in honey by Customs and Excise, Ministry of Health, Public Health Division and the Animal Production and Health Division of the Ministry. Consumers are always reminded to purchase honey from registered apiaries," Rambharat said.
Asked whether the illegal honey is being tested, Rambharat said, "The Chemistry Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Health is the entity responsible for the testing of food products for food safety."
He said Plant Quarantine is a support service to the Customs and Excise Division and it assists Customs in the examination of containers which are known to contain agriculture products.
"PQ officers are also based at the main ports and airports to provide support in the identification, seizure and destruction of illegal agriculture products. There are sufficient PQ officers to provide this support," he added.
- by Radhica De Silva