Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Mystery of the Red Honey, Part 3

So into the mail the samples went, off to a state food lab by way of Paul Cappy, the state apiculturalist. Paul has been extremely helpful in figuring out our problems and always managed to find the silver lining. The first time I mentioned the possibility that the source of the contamination was the maraschino cherry factory, he immediately suggested that we mix the stuff into our Manhattans. He may have overestimated how many Manhattans I can consume safely, but at a time when everyone involved was tired and worried about the health of our bees, his unwavering view of the upside cheered us up. He also shared many stories about other beekeepers who had experienced similar problems—I had heard some of them before, but had always taken them to be the stuff of legends.

I guess I know better now.

In order of distance from the factory.  Samples taken from hives closest to the factory on the left.
Image Copyright, 2010

Eventually, the results came back. Positive for red #40, the food-safe dye (FD&C Red 40) used to colour cherries at the factory. The proverbial last nail in the coffin, but as I've mentioned, we were already pretty positive that the factory was the source. With that last scrap of evidence in hand, we drafted a letter and made moves to contact Mr. Mondella, the owner of the factory. Things got complicated before we could deliver it.

We had hopes of getting in touch with Mr. Mondella and discussing with him the shared issue of honeybees in his factory. We knew that he wanted the bees out. We didn't know that several other groups were also trying to make contact with him, with varying degrees of success. Several reporters (I know of at least three) and representatives of the New York City Beekeeping Meetup Group (NYCBMG), in addition to our own group of Red Hook beekeepers all attempted to get in touch with the owner of the factory at the same time. I've come to understand that members of the NYCBMG met with a factory manager to discuss the problem and had started to work on solutions. Mr. Mondella even went so far as hire Andrew Cote, the head of the New York City Beekeeping Association (NYCBA), to inspect the factory, discover the source of the problem (i.e. spills/open exposure of syrup), find workable solutions, and serve as a contact for the beekeeping community. For the record, I commend Mr. Mondella for hiring a beekeeper rather than an exterminator. That action, more than any other, has convinced me that he wants to find a reasonable and mutually agreeable solution to the red "honey" problem.

That's when the Times story was published and the shit hit the fan. Seeing as you're here and reading this article, I am sure that you are familiar with how quickly the story spread, and may be you are also familiar with how warped the story got as it fanned out. My favourite version cites Cerise as living on Governors Island. Unaccustomed to the attention his factory was receiving, Mr. Mondella shut down everything—all contact with beekeepers and reporters other than Mr. Cote ceased.

Our small group of Red Hook beekeepers has met with Andrew Cote to discuss his interactions with the factory and to work on developing solutions, but other than that, we have had little or no contact with representatives of the factory. Our meeting with Andrew was productive, but we won't know how effective any of the proffered solutions will be until our bees start flying next spring.

That's pretty much where we are now.

I hope (and believe) that the factory will do its best to limit the amount of syrup and cherries open to the air. It's not completely altruistic on their part—the amount of syrup collected by the bees implies that there has been a lot of exposure. I understand that, and I'm more than happy to be pragmatic about it. If it isn't contaminating our hives next year, I am more than happy to chalk up the problems this year to "growing pains." Jim Fischer, one of the heads of the NYCBMG, estimated that over 250kg of "honey" has been collected or contaminated in an e-mail he sent to me. Obviously that is a ballpark figure, but the large amount of contaminated honey implies that there are serious issues within the factory that are allowing the bees to access the syrup in bulk. There are more than a few drops on the factory floor being lost and that is a bit worrisome.

I'll be sure to keep you updated on any and all developments, so be sure to check back often.

As always, feel free to e-mail me with any questions!

Part 1 . . .
Part 2 . . .

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I am now wondering what happened - was there ever a solution? Are beekeepers having to cut out the polluted combs from their hives? Did the factory start to dispose of its waste in a more responsible manner? Inquiring minds want to know!