Definitely Not the Bee’s Knees

Honey. It’s sweet. You like it. I like it. It would be nice if we could have more of it, but the higher price tends to push us toward the sugar shelf. There was a time when I bought it in 5-gallon buckets, but that time is history.

Imagine what many of your recipes would taste like were you to remove honey from them.

Honey production in the US for 2009 (most recent year available) was 144 million pounds. Average price per pound was $1.445. At the same time, our consumption was on the order of 375 millions pounds per year. That gives us a differential of over 200 million pounds, which must be made up from foreign imports.

Except for a 6-year break (1996-2002) honey production has been subsidized (via price supports) in the US since 1952. To ensure that foreign honey is not so cheap that we buy too much of it, we also have tariffs on the import of such honey as high as 500%.

When US producers hit the break-even point at about $1.40 per pound, and Chinese producers can do the same at $0.35, this creates quite a disparity in the market. Leaving aside legitimate concerns about the quality of the non-US honey, are we doing ourselves any favors by using the tariffs and price controls to keep the cost of honey at a point where beekeepers can be profitable? Yes, short term we keep the price of domestic honey where the producers want it to be, but is there a long-term cost which we will have to pay?