Why Infants Should Not Eat Honey

Most people have become aware that infants should not eat honey. There is always a chance of Clostridium botulinum (botulism) bacteria lurking in honey and the problem comes when these bacteria grow in the infant’s intestinal tract. Babies with infant botulism are constipated and have difficulty holding up their heads and sucking. It’s quite dangerous. Because honey can contain the C. botulinum bacteria, responsible beekeepers usually add to their honey labels that no form of raw or pasteurized honey should ever be fed to infants until they are one year old.local honey

(In contrast, botulism in adults is caused by eating food contaminated with the toxin that the bacteria produce. And, that is a life-threatening situation, too, but not usually caused by eating honey.)

Okay, but you already know not to feed honey to infants, right? You don’t hand the baby a spoonful of honey to suck on. But, did you know that this cautionary warning includes baked foods made with honey, such as graham crackers, or muffins and cookies made with honey? If you carefully read food ingredient labels, you may be surprised to find honey in more baked goods than you thought. Too, honey is often added to yogurt and other foods. The same cautionary statement applies. When it comes to your child’s health, extra vigilance could save its life. This means that even your favorite homemade oatmeal cookies made with added honey can’t wind up in the baby’s mouth. Save them for consumption by older children and adults.

It’s maddening that something so good and healthy and natural as organic honey could hurt your baby. But this situation sure lends credence to the modern-day mantra “read the label,” doesn’t it?

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Profit for their fears

“BEFORE we used to hide whenever we saw bees, but now the fear has vanished and we love chasing after the bees,” said Anju Radha Chauhan with a smile.

The president of the Civicivi Maha Shakti Women’s Club in Lautoka, Mrs Chauhan, is a firm believer of achieving success through hard work and commitment.Image

Formed in 2010, the Civicivi Maha Shakti Women’s Club is now well known in Civicivi settlement Drasa, Lautoka for the production of pure honey. The club comprising 12 dedicated housewives started the beekeeping farm in 2011 through the funding of $5000 provided by the Ministry of Women. These women have been trained in bee farming which was facilitated by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Last Friday, the Minister for Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation Dr Jiko Luveni, paid them a visit as per the request of the club. The members were dressed in their bee suits and gloves, waiting eagerly to demonstrate the step by step processes of their honey production. The agricultural students of Drasa Secondary School also took advantage of the event to learn about beekeeping and were amazed to see young women walking boldly with steel bee smokers and bee waxes.

While throwing light on the results of their bee project, Mrs Chauhan said they had made a profit after three harvests last year. She said the challenges they had encountered had not deterred them from progressing.

“From the three harvests, we saved more than $400 through which we will be buying three more beehives to replace the two hives which got damaged during Cyclone Evan. But even that didn’t discourage us in any way, we went ahead with the harvesting and were able to produce 20 kilograms of honey from each of the hives and each bottle of honey is sold at $15.

“From the revenue earned we were also able to donate some money and food items to the underprivileged families in our community,” Mrs Chauhan said.

“The honey fetches a good price in Lautoka market. We also get orders from a few commercial companies.

“The club is also engaged into activities like sewing sulu jaba, school uniforms, doormats and this has been possible through the two electrical sewing machines which have also been donated by the ministry.

“Today, the Civicivi women are proud to showcase their skills and achievements which has been possible through the Ministry of Women’s assistance. We are really glad to host Dr Luveni, she is the first minister to set foot on Civicivi soil, and her conversation with us today has deepened our courage to always work in unity and reach out to help more women who are in search of opportunities to improve their livelihood,” Mrs Chauhan said.

While going through the club’s financial records, Dr Luveni said the achievements were remarkable and portrayed the unprecedented effort of the club to ensure the sustainability of their project.

“I would like to thank you for this kind invitation to visit your community and I am very impressed with the results that have been achieved through your beekeeping project. After seeing your achievements, the ministry will further support this club to build a new women’s centre in Civicivi to facilitate the income-generating and women’s empowerment programs all under one roof.

“Economic empowerment of women through projects such as this enables them to develop their resources and help alleviate poverty in their communities and also make informed choices to improve the lives of their families,” Dr Luveni said.

“It becomes an eye-opener for the communities as well on the importance of women’s participation into economic development. The ministry hopes to create similar success stories on women’s potential and their achievements in Fiji.”

* Anshoo Chandra is the media liaison officer for the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women & Poverty Alleviation.

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Can mini scorpions save the dying bee?

A massive global decline in bee populations has given beekeepers and scientists cause for concern. A scientist from Hamburg says that the introduction of tiny book scorpions could keep bee populations alive.

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Behind an unassuming grey door in a first-floor corridor of the Otto Hahn School in Hamburg, a student bee farm is hidden away. It’s a converted classroom, complete with a transparent beehive that lets pupils observe the insects’ behaviour. Assorted beekeeping equipment is stowed in every available space.

Around a dozen students come here regularly to work on research projects they’re doing as part of the national German science contest, the Young Researchers Competition. But, they’re not working on bees.

Instead, they examine book scorpions: small dark brown arachnids that are up to five millimetres long. They’re named for their large pincers, which jut out from their bodies and make them resemble scorpions.

The students want to find our how they can encourage book scorpions to permanently settle inside beehives. The hope is that they can help fight one of the worst enemies of bees: the varroa mite.

“We have a problem with the varroa mite”, explains biology teacher and hobby scientist, Torben Schiffer, who is supervising the pupils. “All the beehives are infected and more bees are dying than can be raised by the beekeepers.”

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Many scientists believe that the varroa mite is one of the main causes for the recent mass deaths of bee populations around the world, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. The varroa is a small parasite, also known as the vampire mite. It sucks blood from bees and their larvae. In doing so, it transports bacteria, fungus and pathogens to the bees.

Experts estimate that Central Europe now has twenty-five percent fewer bees in comparison to thirty years ago, while in the US populations have declined by around a third.

Bees are important for maintaining biodiversity, especially in their role pollinating flowering crops. Losing them could result in a shortage of fruit and vegetables as well as threaten crops that are important for feeding livestock, such as alfalfa for instance.

Up until now, beekeepers have used chemicals such as formic acid in their fight against the varroa mite. But Torben Schiffer believes that the chemicals harm the bees themselves.

Forgotten helpers

Watching the book scorpions at work through a microscope is like observing a gruesome battle. The animals quickly approach the varroa mites, grab them with their large pincers and paralyse them with poison. They then drain their prey with their mandibles while already creeping towards their next victim at the same time.

Back in 1951 the Austrian zoologist, Max Beier, documented symbiotic relationships between bees and book scorpions from which both organisms would benefit. The bees are cleaned of parasites while the book scorpions have plenty to feed on. Nowadays however, few beekeepers know about the small brown animals.

Torben Schiffer believes that the arachnids were driven out by chemicals originally designed to fight varroa mites. Another problem, he believes, is that many beekeepers use beehives made from plastic, which don’t provide a suitable habitat. “You’ve got to have wooden hives in order to have a micro-fauna,” Schiffer told DW. “The babies of the book scorpions need to have very small prey animals and they are found in natural materials like wood or hay.

However, some experts view Schiffer’s findings with scepticism. They question whether book scorpions really are a viable answer to the varroa problem. “It’s very impressive to see how the book scorpion attacks varroa mites under lab conditions”, said Peter Rosenkranz, an expert on the varroa mite at the University of Hohenheim. “But in order to make a real impact, it won’t be sufficient to kill off a few individual mites.” Between spring and autumn varroa mite populations can grow by a factor of fifty or more, Rosenkranz explains.

“The mites have to be put under permanent pressure,” he told DW. “Based on the existing data, I doubt that book scorpions would be able to do this.”

According to Peter Rosenkranz, independent scientific research on the book scorpion is needed to determine its effectiveness against varroa infestations.

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Still, Torben Schiffer is determined to continue with his own research. He has set up a group called the Beenature project, which researches the breeding habits, application and beehive compatibility of the animal. Schiffer also wants to start a global conversation among beekeepers in order to gradually re-establish awareness of the book scorpion.

At the same time he’s urging beekeepers to apply more sustainable methods to their trade in order to strengthen the bees themselves: “These days, bees are kept in plastic hives”, he said. “They’re treated with acid, chemistry and neurotoxins. And they only get sugar in order to survive the wintertime because the beekeepers take out all the honey.”

Schiffer, who is also a beekeeper in his free time, likens his methods to going back in time.

“We must leave the bees their honey and build them hives made out of wood,” he said. “We must look at what the bees need, and not what the humans want.”

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Stunning photos show the ancient tradition of honey hunting in Nepal

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Twice each year, the Gurung tribespeople of Central Nepal risk their lives collecting wild honey from the world’s largest hives high up on Himalayan cliffs. Travel photographer Andrew Newey recently spent two weeks capturing this ancient but dying art.

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“For hundreds of years, the skills required to perform this dangerous task have been passed down through the generations” writes Newey, “but now both the bees and traditional honey hunters are in short supply.”

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To collect the honey, the hunters use nothing more than handmade rope ladders and long sticks called tangos. Smoke is used to drive thousands of angry Apis laboriosa — the largest honey bee in the world.

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The majority of the massive hives are located on steep, south-west facing cliffs to avoid predators and for increases exposure to direct sunlight.

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The autumn honey hunt requires three days and is preceded by a ceremony meant to placate the cliff gods.

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The honey is lowered to a team of helpers waiting below.

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Adopt A Hive

Adopt A Hive

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Women Work to Save Native Bees of Mexico

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So much bee news lately is gloomy, I thought it would be nice to highlight a happy story. Central America has a centuries-long history of native bee keeping; the Madrid Codex, one of three surviving Mayan books, describes bees and beekeeping in detail.  Mayans called their bees Xunan kab, which translates as “royal lady bees.”

Below is an interview with Anselma Chale Euan, President of the Co’oleel Caab Collective in Yucatan, Mexico. Her women’s collective is practicing meliponiculture, or stingless beekeeping, a traditionally male job in Mayan culture. The video will make you smile.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JL4Mb9S3QA]

The bee cultivated by these women is Melipona beecheii; a species named in 1831 for a Captain Beechey, who just happened to have a “bee” in his name for lovely symmetry. These social bees collect honey and live in hives, but have no venom, and cannot sting. (They can still give you a good bite if provoked, though.) Their lovely green eyes and gentle dispositions makes keeping this species as backyard pets practical.

Why isn’t everyone keeping stingless bees, then? Because they produce honey in much smaller quantities than introduced European honey bees. A typical meliponine colony may only produce 2 liters of honey/year, compared with 40 liters or more for a honey bee hive. Stingless bees do produce enough to bring in supplemental income, though.

Diversifying income is important; it’s what makes sustainable livelihoods possible for families living on the edge of poverty.  With multiple income streams, a household is more resilient to uncontrollable stresses of bad weather, price inflation, and unemployment. These bees also are a form of cultural pride and social capitol; it allows the community to gather together in celebration of the rich history of the Xunan kab.

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Are Mayan Bees Really Endangered?

The best answer is we don’t know, but it’s likely. Sorry to harsh your mellow from the happy video. Native stingless bees forage in a Mexican landscape full of alien invaders. Spaniards introduced European honeybees to Central America around 1620, and they are now well established. European honey bees (and their Africanized form) do compete with gentle native bee species for pollen and nectar on flowers. Melipona beecheii is a forest bee, so if they could find flowering trees and shrubs, competition with honey bees might not be a problem. Alas, Yucatan is heavily logged.

The Yucatan peninsula sits right in the path of a lot of big storms; quite a few hurricanes, floods, and droughts have caused beekeepers to lose all or most of their hives. Native stingless bees are quite sensitive to pesticides, so that isn’t helping either.

STINGLESS BEES AND equitable TRADE

We don’t have a firm estimate of how common these bees are in the wild; we only know, anecdotally, where they are being cultivated. So like most animals on earth (which are arthropods, AHEM), their conservation status is “Not Evaluated.”

Traditional knowledge involved in meliponiculture was clearly lost. A 2005 survey found a 93% decrease in Xunan kab hives over the last 25 years. As you can tell from the video, a lot of current bee husbandry is trial and error, since many older, traditionally male beekeepers switched to keeping more profitable European honey bees.

Despite all these negatives, I’m inclined to be optimistic. Renewed interest in these bees as a form of supplemental income is a good sign. The lovely photos of bees on this post are from Eric Tourneret; you can see even more photos of beekeepers and stingless bees here. Tourneret’s photos show us a lively, developing fair trade culture in native bee products. The video above shows women who are empowered through self-employment; they used their creativity to innovate and market new products from a centuries-old tradition.

Here’s hoping meliponiculture in Mexico continues and flourishes.

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