The WORD from Harrisburg
Pennsylvania’s No. 1 industry is agriculture, employing thousands of workers and producing billions of dollars in revenue annually. In order to continue producing high-quality, great-tasting food, we rely on pollination from honeybees, especially for crops such as apples, peaches, cherries and pumpkins.
The Commonwealth is home to more than 2,000 beekeepers who actively manage around 40,000 bee colonies. Here in our region we have a strong beekeeping presence with the 2 Cs and a Bee Association, which was founded in 1987 to bring together beekeepers from Cambria, Clearfield and Blair counties. In fact, we are also home to the 2012 Pennsylvania State Honey Queen Jessica Long from Tyrone. Beekeepers and the quality of the colonies they manage are an integral component of agriculture that is often overlooked.
In addition to pollination, Pennsylvania honeybees also produce approximately 600 tons of honey each year. Although there are some large-scale beekeeping operations, we have many more part-time, hobbyist beekeepers, who manage bee colonies for the joy of the hobby rather than any notable profit. It is these beekeepers who recently spoke with me about legislation advancing through the General Assembly that would help these small, independent beekeepers more easily sell their honey products to the public.
Currently, changes made to the food safety laws in 2010 are negatively impacting hobbyist and part-time beekeepers due to the registration process and fee needed in order to sell honey, even from the beekeepers residence where the honey is produced.
House Bill 2565, which I co-sponsored, was currently passed by the House and is expected to advance through the Senate. It would exempt from food establishment registration and retail food facility licensing any person who is in compliance with the Honey Sale and Labeling Act and who processes 100 percent of the honey products offered to the public on the farm from which the products are offered.
However, beekeepers who wish to sell their honey at farm stands and other retail establishments would still need to register and pay a $35 fee. This is because, according to state regulations, any product that is sold at a retail establishment must be properly labeled and come from an “approved source,” which is a designation that is obtained only through proper registration.
Obviously, we need to ensure that all food produced sold to the general public meet certain basic food safety standards; however, I think we also need to balance that with the ability of people to affordably and reasonably sell their products. Honey is considered an all natural, non-potentially hazardous food that does not need to be pasteurized or refrigerated and has no expiration date and many beekeepers want to sell their relatively small amount of honey to earn enough money to cover the modest expense of their hobby.
Although not all hobbyist beekeepers harvest and sell honey – as this is a separate activity from beekeeping – many would still like to have the option to sell the product, if desired. This legislation would enable them to do that without excessive oversight or fees.
House Bill 2565 has the support of the Pennsylvania Beekeepers Association.
State Representative Jerry Stern
80th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Tricia Lehman