Skip to content

Bees and regionality – Where does our honey come from?

The beekeeping sector is relatively small in the EU, but very important for agriculture, food security and biodiversity due to the pollination services provided by bees. A large proportion of plant species and food production in Europe depends on pollination by bees.

What you should know about honey bees and wild bees

A bee colony, which consists of 20,000 to 50,000 honey bees, produces around 20 to 25 kilograms of honey a year. From spring to midsummer, the bee colony is home to a queen, several hundred drones – the male bees – and around 30,000 female workers. Unlike many other insects, the entire bee colony hibernates. Honey bees live exclusively in beehives, whereas wild bees are mainly hermits and nest in soil, cracks in wood or plant stems. There are around nine species of honey bee worldwide, eight of which are native to Asia. In comparison, there are more than 2,500 species of wild bees in Europe alone, including bumblebees. Honey bees feed on pollen and nectar, which is processed into honey and used as a winter supply. The solitary wild bees do not produce honey and consume the nectar directly.

A bee pollinates a flowering plant

What is endangering our bees?

Intensive agriculture, chemical pollution, outbreaks of animal diseases and the general loss of habitats as well as unfavorable climatic conditions are currently threatening the bee sector. Bee health is therefore subject to various influences. Invasive, i.e. alien species such as the Varroa mite, American foulbrood and the Asian hornet also pose a threat to bees.

Agricultural area with monocultures

Where does our honey come from?

The EU is currently the second largest honey producer in the world after China. Around 600,000 beekeepers in 17 million hives in the EU produce around 250,000 tons of honey every year. Spain, Hungary, Germany and Romania were the most important honey-producing member states in Europe in 2015. Honey is defined as a “naturally sweet substance” in the EU and meets high EU standards.

However, despite high production figures, an additional 200,000 tons of honey are imported into the EU every year to meet demand. Around 40% of total honey imports come from China, with Ukraine, Argentina and Mexico accounting for the rest. The EU is therefore currently the world’s largest honey importer. Far less, around 20,000 tons, are exported from the EU to other countries.

Incidentally, there are around 32,000 beekeepers in Austria who look after over 400,000 bee colonies – and the trend is rising. And 99% of beekeepers work as a sideline, looking after an average of 11 colonies. Regional honey production in Austria currently covers around 46% of demand.

Beekeeper holds a honeycomb full of bees

Protecting bees & calling for more transparency

In order to better protect bees and beekeeping, the EU Parliament has called for harmful pesticides to be banned in future, more financial support for beekeepers and beekeeping programs to be provided, research to be strengthened and protective measures for bee species to be implemented. The EU also wants to take action against the spread of counterfeit honey. This is the third most counterfeited product in the world. Stretched and adulterated honey causes prices to fall and consumers to be deceived.

In addition to better import controls and higher penalties for cases of fraud, the labeling on honey labels should also be improved. At the beginning of 2024, the EU Parliament decided that the country of origin must be clearly indicated on honey packaging in future and that the previous distinction between EU and non-EU countries is no longer sufficient. Honey lovers therefore have reason to be happy and will be able to better understand where the product actually comes from when shopping in the supermarket in future. In addition, education and public relations work on the subject of honey will be promoted and the health benefits will be communicated more effectively in schools.

A species-rich flowering meadow

Tips for happy bees & for more biodiversity

Bees need diverse, small-scale structured habitats that can guarantee a species-rich supply of flowers. These important habitats can be guaranteed by forests, flowering cultivated areas and agricultural land that include flower strips or hedges. But we can all do our bit to protect bees and promote biodiversity.

If you allow “wild corners” in your own garden or on your balcony and offer piles of leaves, old wood or nesting aids for insects, you can bring many animal and plant species to your doorstep. Native wildflower species such as mallow, columbine, carthusian pink, St. John’s wort and scabiosa provide an important food source for bees, butterflies and other insects. Avoiding the use of fertilizers and mowing at the right time – early in the morning or in the evening – can also be important measures to protect bees. Finally, you can promote the preservation of important orchards by buying seasonal, regional foods such as regional fruit juices.


Teile den Artikel mit Freund:innen und Kolleg:innen: