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Beekeepers who ended up with red honey in their hives, which cannot be marketed as real honey, can mitigate the loss by trading the red stuff for the traditional, golden variety, according to Utah agriculture officials.
Several beekeepers in Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties recently found the red honey in their hives, the result of a Utah County beekeeper feeding his bees a candy cane by-product, according to a news release from The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Bees from other nearby hives also produced the red-colored honey, the release adds.
The Utah County beekeeper, who also has hives in Salt Lake County, claims responsibility for feeding the candy cane product to the beesin a letter to the Wasatch Beekeepers Association. The association, in turn, posted the letter on its website, but left the person's name off for the sake of privacy, said association spokeswoman Denise Hunsaker. The association does not claim responsibility for the red honey.
The bees were fed crushed candy canes this summer as a food supplement, according to the published letter.
"Never was the intent to taint other honey supplies or artificially inflate our own," according to the letter. "Not until it was too late did we realize other neighboring hives were gathering from our bees' supplement."
The letter expresses regret that other hives wound up with red honey.
Meanwhile, the agriculture department has found that the honey is free of lead which was a concern early on, before the red color was attributed to peppermint, according to department spokesman Larry Lewis.
The honey had no detectable levels of lead, so the department does not consider it a health threat to consumers, though some may be sensitive to the red dye, according to the release. The test the department uses can detect lead down to two parts per billion, according to an older news release.
"While it is unlikely the red honey product will be sold at the retail level, consumers are advised that the product does not meet the legal description of honey and should not be marketed as honey," the department advised. The Utah Honey Standard of Identity Act identifies honey as a product that originates from a floral source.
The agriculture department is advising beekeepers with red honey to contact their local beekeeping association to trade it in for the golden variety. In order to avoid the potential for economic loss to the affected beekeepers, the beekeeper responsible contacted the association to organize honey exchanges.
There will be two exchange locations on Oct. 5: one at Al Chubak Ecobeebox at 5051 S. Commerce Drive in Murray, and another at 1206 S. 1680 West in Orem. The beekeeper wanted to make amends and is supplying all of the golden honey, which has been tested for quality assurance, Hunsaker said.
Albert Chubak, associated with the first exchange location, said the peppermint candy was an idea that was not entirely thought through. Instead of leaving the peppermint in open containers, the product should have been administered more directly, he said.
Red honey would sell as a novelty during Christmas time, said Chubak, who is interested in buying any from people who bring it to the exchange.
Odd-colored honey is nothing new.
Last summer, beekeepers around the French town of Ribeauville had bees producing blue and green honey in their hives, according to Reuters. The mystified beekeepers discovered that a plant 2.5 miles away was processing waste from a Mars plant that produces M&M's.
Chubak recalled hearing a similar story two years ago from a beekeeper in Alaska, who lived near a candy cane factory. Chubak said he has even found honey in a tree near Lagoon that tasted like Coca-Cola.
"They are scavengers for sweet stuff," he said.