Beekeepers in Alsace in eastern France had a nasty surprise recently after discovering their bees were producing honey in shades of blue, green and chocolate brown. The source of the problem was traced to a nearby Mars factory producing M&M's sweets.
Beekeepers in France have had a hard time of it of late. A harsh winter at the beginning of 2012 was followed by one of the wettest springs on record. Summer, too, in France, has been significantly cooler than the average. Coming on top of bee populations in decline, with pesticide being the most likely culprit, beekeepers in the eastern French region of Alsace, next to the border with Germany already had enough on their plate.
If the beekeepers weren't dispirited enough, imagine their surprise when, back in August a number of them around the town of Ribeauvillé discovered their bees were producing green and blue (and unsaleable) honey.
The outbreak of coloured honey affected around a dozen producers, reports French newspaper Le Monde. After three weeks trying to find the source of the problem, large storage vessels were discovered at a recently opened recycling and biogas plant operated by a local farmers' co-operative. The vessels contained food residues the same colour as the multicoloured honeys.
An Agrivalor biogas plant, located 4 kilometres (about 2.5 miles) from the affected bee-hives, had been processing waste from a Mars plant whose production range included M&M's, the bite-sized sweets (candies) in bright red, blue, green, yellow and brown shells, reports the Daily Telegraph. The food residues had been left in open containers and were, so to speak, a honeypot for local bees.
Mars operates a chocolate factory near the city of Strasbourg, 100 km (about 62 miles) away from the affected apiaries reports the Daily Mail.
The biogas plant has now addressed the problem by ensuring waste containers are now cleaned when empty with the colourful waste being stored in a covered hall.
Bee numbers have been in sharp decline around the world over recent years and France is no exception. The French government has already banned a widely used Cruiser OSR pesticide, produced by chemical giant Syngenta, that one study linked to high mortality rates among the bee population, as reported earlier in Digital Journal.
France is one of Europe’s largest producers of honey, annual production running at some 18,330 tonnes annually, according to a recent audit conducted for French national farm agency FranceAgriMer.
The town of Ribeauvillé in Alsace, where the M&M’s coloured honey was discovered, is located in an area principally known for its vineyards southwest of Strasbourg. The town also sits in one of the biggest honey producing areas in France. There are around 2,400 beekeepers in Alsace looking after around 35,000 bee colonies.