Canada does not make everything. We just don’t. But we do produce a bunch of stuff and that stuff should be what we buy in Canada. There’s no-brainer stuff like maple syrup and beer but if we realise that buying foreign maple syrup would be ridiculous, why would we not apply that same logic to every purchase we make? Sure, we can have the occasional Stella but it is always in knowing that it’s just to mix things up, not that it’s the better choice. It is better to buy strawberries that have ben grown within 500 km from your home, than from Chile, or even California for that matter. We should always buy Canadian first. That should be the choice over foreign options when there is a choice.
Among these things that we do produce, is honey.
The strange thing about the honey market is that it breaks conventional buying trends. The largest company charges the most for their honey, and Canadians still buy it. We will hum and haw about the price of organic produce and choose GMO, shrink-wrapped, foreign produce because supporting local farmers costs more. Yet, in the case of honey, we’ll pay more because we trust that cute little bee illustration as being the healthier choice. Of course, it also says Canada all over it, doesn’t it? It does.
But in all the wrong ways.
McCormick Canada owns most of the honey shelf-space in grocery stores. Their cute little Billy Bee buzzing around and their Natural Honey Farms brand calling us like a siren to its green fields. Their packages say things like Canada No.1 (a colour grading system) and Canada’s Favourite (because they take up so much of the honey market). Why wouldn’t we buy that? Why wouldn’t you pay more for it? It’s so Canadian. Canada shows up on the back label as well, only instead of Product of Canada, it usually reads “a blend of Canadian and Chinese honey” or “a blend of Canadian and Argentinian honey”.
McCormick Canada, the world’s largest packager of honey uses foreign honey in most of their honey brands even though Canada exports half of the honey it produces. What’s worse is that Chinese and Argentinian honey contains antibiotics to keep their bees healthy and alive. This contaminates the honey so much that in 2002, Europe banned the import of honey from the world’s largest producer of honey – China.
McCormick Canada has no such concerns about Chinese honey, and it must have huge savings to their bottom-line. But when a price is set by a company’s own SRP, why not just raise the price? Oh, that’s right, they did that too. McCormick Canada’s honey is usually 25% more expensive than other brands.
McCormick Canada spokesperson Andrew Foust confirmed that Billy Bee, which they call “Canada’s favourite”, makes its product using a “small portion of Argentinian honey” and its Natural Honey Farms brand uses Chinese honey. In an attempt to minimize the absurdity, he added that 85 percent of the honey McCormick Canada uses comes from Canada. That leaves a mere 15 percent coming from foreign sources.
Only 15 percent you say?
I once attended a lecture by nuclear physicist and UFO researcher, Stanton T. Friedman. Putting aside ones opinion on the existence of little green men visiting our planet, the probing kind or not, he broke down sightings into percentages. When showing the breakdown of annual UFO sightings, he explained that a percentage were known satellites, another percentage were known commercial aircraft, these private aircraft, these ones military, those are weather balloons, this percentage was birds and so on. At the end, he showed that the military could account for 96% of all UFO sightings.
Phew, that was scary for a moment…wait, what? 4% are completely unknown? Imagine if that number was 15%.
While I settle into my bunker, let’s get back to the 15% foreign honey.
The 15% in question travelled 11,000 km from Argentina or 9,500 km from China. It used endless resources, trucks, trains, boats, trains and trucks again, and to save what? Canada produces about 65 Million pounds of honey per year, exporting its 20 to 30 million pound surplus to the States. But while Canada produces far more than our market requires, companies like McCormick Canada still use foreign honey as filler in most of its honey brands.
Often being sold in Canada and the U.S. below market value, Chinese honey is a great temptation to companies who want to save a few bucks, regardless if Chinese honey has been banned in Europe because it is considered unsafe.
One particular problem is that Chinese and Argentinian honey is known to include chloramphenicol, an antibiotic used to keep the bees healthy and alive. Unfortunately, chloramphenicol is known to transfer into the honey they produce. In some susceptible people, it can cause aplastic anemia, a fatal blood condition. Though most countries, not including Canada, have banned chloramphenicol in food production, the U.S. penalized China with a heavy tariff of over $2/kg. Because of the high tariff China often launders its honey through countries like Russia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, switching the country of origin so it won’t be inspected for markers that show its true source.
And the honey thickens.
This got me thinking, what is the actual honey footprint at the local grocery store? How many honey brands contain this foreign honey? What does the honey say in my own pantry? I never thought to look at its origin, it had to be all-Canadian.
Recently, I started drinking peppermint tea and in trying to reduce my sugar intake, began using honey. Being the bargain shopper I am, when I see something I regularly use on sale, I buy it and because of this thriftiness, I had collected a few bottles of honey in my cupboard. I had a bottle of McCormick Canada’s Natural Honey Farm brand as well as their Billy Bee brand honey in the cute little bear bottle. I scanned the label, ignoring all of the shout-outs to Canada such as Canada’s favourite and Canada number 1 (that sounds so patriotic), and then my worst fears were confirmed!
Half expecting that my research was misleading; I reached for the first bottle. It sadly read “A blend of Canadian and Chinese honey” and the latter read “A blend of Canadian and Argentinian honey”. O-M-G! The corrupted honey dripping down the shelves of my own innocent pantry? Now tainted like a gangster’s moll. After everything I had recently learned about the global honey crime syndicate, I felt criminally traitorous! Contaminated like honey even! Exit stage left.
How could this be true in mainstream top dollar priced honey from that cute little Billy Bee? And I asked again, how much could they have saved?
This led me to reluctantly reach for a large bottle of honey that I had bought, secretly feeling guilty when I had put it in my shopping cart. By buying this honey I thought I was somehow mistreating my children, feeding them store-brand honey because it was so much less expensive than the Billy Bee honey. My shame mounting, knowing I was sure to read the worst description ever, “contains Argentinian and Chinese honey” and that’s why it’s so damned cheap! Mustering my bravery and overcoming my embarrassment, I turned my bottle of Compliments brand honey, priced 30% cheaper than it’s Billy Bee competitors, and it was…produced…entirely in Canada! How can this be? Suddenly, the honey conspiracy seemed far worse than I had originally thought. McCormick Canada (an American company that adds the Canada to their name for their Honey and Clubhouse Spices lines) saves by using low quality, antibiotic-infused honey and then charges top-dollar for it while a no-name brand uses Canadian honey and sells it at a reasonable price. That doesn’t make any sense.
I immediately reached out to give Compliments Brand owner Sobeys Inc. a buzz!
I emailed Sobeys Inc. asking how a store-brand product could be Product of Canada while major brands use a portion of foreign honey in their premium-priced products? How is it that theirs, and other store brands don’t? Is it because Compliments doesn’t sell enough volume for the savings to be worthwhile? Is it a stance to “buy Canadian”? Or is it that they do use a portion of foreign honey and are not labeling the fact?
The response took a couple of days and in that time I started to really consider that they weren’t responding because I had uncovered their diabolical lie, that they were misleading the end-user with a “Product of Canada” nonsense label.
Had the honey conspiracy become an even greater scandal? I began to fear I’d be visited by the Honey Mob and sent off with some smoke to sleep with the bees.
Then I received a response from Sobeys and it was a sweet as it should be. Jacquelin Corrado clarified that their “Compliments Organic Honey and Compliments Pure Natural Honey Liquid, is made with 100 per cent pure Canadian Honey, supplied by a producer-owned cooperative in Canada.” She explained that their “strategy is to buy from domestic growers first and work extensively with them to offer customers a wide selection of local products.”
This is what I needed to hear. That a Canadian company like Sobeys with $24-Billion in annual sales hasn’t been tempted to pad the bottom line by stirring in some junk honey. Ms. Corrado added, “As a proudly Canadian company, buying Canadian is important to us, because it underscores our belief in supporting the local communities we proudly serve.”
McCormick Canada has some explaining to do.
Actually, they don’t. It doesn’t really matter what they have to add. This is their practice. We are simply left with a choice. Do we buy expensive honey with unhealthy foreign ingredients or do we buy inexpensive all-Canadian honey?
As Canadians we should not tolerate this behaviour from any company. I could get into the particulars about bees and how they pollinate plants and without them, we’ll die as a species…bor-ing. How massive bee colonies are dying the world over so we should keep them healthy without pumping them full of antibiotics, but you don’t want to hear that…what’s on TV? I could talk about jobs and the livelihood of farmers but I won’t. I’ll get to the point…Buy Canadian – invest in ourselves!
The time has come, Canada, to read the label and know that when you can get a Canadian product, that should be the choice you make because that’s the right choice. Complacency dictates that people generally won’t pay higher prices for their health but in the case of honey, the Canadian choice is the cheaper or comparably priced choice. Let’s be dependent on ourselves whenever we can. Buy the things that people just like you make, the people that support your employment, people who make a decent wage, next-door neighbours who participate in the Canada you share.
The truth is that Canada doesn’t produce everything we use, need or want, but when it does it should be purchased before a foreign choice, no matter how cute the mascot is or the cost. Instead of interpreting the price of Canadian goods as being expensive, remember that the cheaper item is just greatly underpriced and consider why that is – you’re smart; you were educated in Canada.