The US has recently applied a new limit on the carbenzamin content in honey products shipped to the country.
Carbenzamin is a chemical contained in the pesticide used to protect rubber and cashew trees, which provide a large source of honey for the local bee-raising sector, from mold.
And yet it is in the Central Highlands that a huge amount of this chemical is used, driving beekeepers northwards.
Local beekeepers said the limit set by the US, which accounts for as much as 85 percent of the country’s total honey export turnover, is too strict, as it is 100 times lower than the European standard.
“This has severely hindered our bee-raising and exporting activities,” they lament.
Figures from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak show that there are over 200,000 swarms of bees being raised in the area, most of which belong to the Dakhoney JSC.
Annual productivity of honey produced from cashew and rubber flowers is 5,000 – 7,000 tons.
However, many local beekeepers, as well as those in Binh Phuong and Dong Nai, have joined the northward evacuation to protect their bees.
“I harvested nearly 20 tons of honey last year, but this huge amount worth VND600 million (US$ 28,800) is now held at Dakhoney since it has been rejected from being shipped due to its cashew and rubber origins,” said Ta Minh Phung, a beekeeper in Dak Lak.
“The company suggested that we bring the bees to northern provinces to make honey from litchi flowers.
“I have had to borrow VND40 million from the company to cover expenses for the trip, while I still have an unsettled bank loan of VND200 million,” he said sadly.
Meanwhile Nguyen Chi Toan, who runs a honey farm in Buon Ma Thuot City, said he had transported 300 barrels of bees to the northern Bac Giang and Phu Tho provinces to make honey from litchi blooms.
“We used to yield dozens of tons of honey from rubber trees, but such honey is now unmarketable,” said Toan.
“Therefore, we had to earmark VND100 million to transport our bee swarms northwards.”
Similarly, Ngo Sy Hoanh, another beekeeper in Buon Ma Thuot, said he also had to hire three workers for VND60 million to transport his bees to the north.
Passing the barrier
Although beekeepers said the new technical barrier has hindered their exports, Nguyen Xuan Binh, director of the Animal Health Centre region 6, said honey exports to the US are still at a normal level, instead of being banned as earlier reported.
Le Tan Luc, deputy director of Dakhoney, said the company normally exports 4,000 tons of honey to the US by this time every year, but the figure this year is only 1,000 tons so far.
“While waiting for guidance from authorities, Dakhoney has instructed its farmers to bring the bees northwards,” said Luc.
“We have also expanded into other Asian countries to diversify our exporting markets,” he added.
For his part, Phan Dinh Trong, director of Dong Nai Honey Co, said only beekeepers in the areas where rubber and cashew trees are protected with carbendazim face difficulty in exporting, while their counterparts in other localities are unfazed by the US barrier.
“We have exported around 1,500 tons of honey so far this year,” said Trong.
Trong added that Vietnam’s bee-raising sector should try to ensure hygiene and food safety standards for its products to enter other potential markets, rather than focusing solely on the US.
“A delegation from the US will arrive in Vietnam this September to check the chemical residues in Vietnamese honey.
“If it passes all the inspections, Vietnamese bees can return to the EU market after being banned in 2007,” he said.