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National Honey Board Referendum Fails

The referendum to add new responsibilities to the National Honey Board failed by a 2 to 1 margin last Friday, and today, the International Trade Commission found in favor of U.S. beekeepers injured by both Argentine and Chinese honey imports.

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National Honey Board Referendum Fails, Anti-Dumping suit passes first hurdle.

National Honey Board Referendum Fails

The nation’s honey producers, producer-packers, handlers, and importers have voted against amending the honey research and promotion program. The vote was taken in a referendum conducted by the USDA AMS Sept. 5 – 29, 2000.

Statistics handed out by AMS were sketchy, but Bee Culture has determined (as nearly as possible at press time) that a total of 1596 people voted in the referendum. Of these, 484 (30.33%) voted yes, while 1112 (69.7%) voted no. Those yes votes amounted to 51.26% of the total honey voted however. The amendments needed the approval of a majority of the votes cast and those votes must have represented 50 percent or more of the pounds of honey of those who voted.

By category: 1295 honey producers voted, with 400 voting in favor of the amendments, (30.9%), while 895 voted no (69.1%), opposing the changes. Total amount of honey voting yes was 52,660,342 pounds, or only 23.8% of the honey voted.

For handlers, 193 voted, and of those only 54, or 28.0% voted yes. This amounted to 115,398,445 pounds of honey voted, which is 34.7%.

One hundred seven importers voted in the referendum, and only 30 voted in favor of this action, with 77 voting against it. Those in favor control 378,217,746 pounds of honey, which represents fully 72.4% of the honey imported, a sizable portion. This group was, by the way, the only category that approved the amendments.

Voting by Producer Regions proved interesting, but similar to the aggregate result. Region 1, (WA, OR, ID, CA, NV, UT, AK, and HI) had a total of 228 votes. 79, or 34.7% voted yes, representing 12,563,764 pounds of honey. Gene Brandi, from California is the Director from that region.

Region 2, (MT, WY, NE, KS, CO, AZ, and NM), had 125 voters, with 35 voting in favor of the referendum. These represented 7,049,655 pounds of honey, only 22.9% of the honey voted. Don Smoot, from Montana is the Director.

Region 3, (ND, SD) had 120 voters, 83 of which voted no to the referendum. They amounted to 54,768,612 pounds of honey, which was 74.2% voted. Judy Gulleson, from South Dakota is the Director.

Region 4, (MN, IA, WI, and MI) had 260 voters, and only 87 (33.5%) voted in favor of the referendum. They amounted to 6,542,434 pounds of honey, which amounts to only 20.9% of the total voted. Dale Bauer, from Minnesota is the Director.

Region 5, (AL,AR, LA, MS, MO, OK, TN, and TX) had 145 voters. Only 22.1%, or 32 voted in favor of the action, amounting to 1,987,126 pounds of honey, which is only 7.9%. Sharon Gibbons, from Missouri is the Director.

Region 6, (FL, GA, PR) had 186 voters. 131 (70%) voted against the amendments, representing 70% (16,662,742 pounds) of the honey produced in that region. Fred Rossman is the Director.

Region 7 (CT, DE, DC, IL, ID, KY, ME, MA, MD, NH, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, RI, SC, VT, VA, and WV) had 230 voters. The 75 that voted in favor of the referendum represented only 27.6% (3,481,568 pounds) of the honey voted in that region. David Hackenberg, from Pennsylvania is the Director.

Failure of this referendum to pass means that producer and importer assessments will remain at the current one cent per pound, that a handler assessment will not be implemented, that mandatory purity standards and an inspection and monitoring system will not be authorized, and that the National Honey Board will not be required to spend eight percent of its funds on beekeeping and production research.

Several other amendments, not subject to the outcome of the vote, will be implemented by AMS in the near future, as soon as they can make a final rule. These amendments were put in place some time ago, but were to be put into action at the completion of this vote, no matter the outcome. They include changes in the size and composition of the Board, authorization of the board to develop a voluntary quality assurance program, and the elimination of the requirement for small companies to file for an exemption in order to avoid paying assessments.

Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, the failure to pass these changes puts back in place the once-every-five-year continuing referendum vote for the Board in its entirety. This vote is scheduled to take place next year. The overwhelming response to this current vote sends the message that these changes were not wanted by the majority of producers and handlers. Importers, though favoring the changes by the amount of honey they voted (72.4%), did not favor it in terms of actual votes since 77 of 107 voted no.

Currently, other commodity boards are undergoing similar, or even more drastic changes and referendum votes. Moreover, there have been, and will probably continue to be challenges to commodity boards in general relative to members, rights under the First Amendment. The Almond Board was under such a challenge but the case went only as far as the California State Supreme Court. At least one other is heading for the U.S. Supreme Court and predicting the outcome, given the current court would seem to point to a ruling in favor of producers. The future of The National Honey Board, and commodity boards in general is uncertain. A new administration will certainly offer a different slant, and perhaps an entire new farm program. But even now, some producers are moving to have yet another referendum as soon as possible to make changes to the Board that would remove packers and importers from the Board, promote only U.S. honey, reduce the size of the Board’s staff and other changes. According to sources at AMS this vote, if enough producer names are gathered in time, could occur as early as January or early February.

In another development, The International Trade Commission on Monday unanimously found the imports from Argentina and China were injuring U.S. Honey Producers. The investigation now moves to the Department of Commerce, which should be done with their inquiries by the end of December.