As of September 2015, honey cannot be certified organic by the USDA. Any certified honey sold in the United States is imported from other countries and certified organic by that country. A US beekeeper can have non-certified organic honey that is raised organically, but it is nearly impossible to produce. Read on to know why.
It's tough making sense of all the honey available, there's a lot of gray area for the casual honey shopper. I think egg shopping is more straight forward the buying honey off the shelf and we all know how confusing egg packaging can be.
The Legal Dilema
The USDA, who certifies organic foods never adopted (as of 2015) standards to certify honey as organic. Organic isn't an adjective or a sign for natural food, it is a certification given by the government, the USDA. A certification with some really strict guidlines by the way. Because the USDA has no standard for organic honey, not a single beekeeper can legally label or tell consumers their honey is organic. It's unfortunate, but it's the nature of the beast. The closest thing we have in the US to certified organic honey is Certified Naturally Grown. A reasonable and respectable goal for any beekeeper.
The Moral Dilema
Bees forage three miles in all directions around the hive and possibly up to five miles around the hive for pollen and nectar. An area just over 78 square miles of potential forage for one hive. Even if the bees foraged for three miles, it's 28 square miles. In the 28-78 square miles, the plants must be free of fungicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and not be genetically modified. These four requirements alone make organically produced honey practically impossible for any US based beekeeper. Any US beekeeper labeling their honey as organic would be significantly bending the truth to increase profit and sales.
But what about the USDA certified organic honey at the healthy food stores?
The USDA recognizes the organic certifications from other countries and all of organic honey is from other countries. Brazil, Mexico and Canada produce most of the organic honey sold in the US.
But what about the beekeeper down at the farmer's market?
The USDA has an organic exception for food producers that sell less than $5,000 a year. The exemption allows the seller to use the USDA organic label or the word "organic", without having to get officially certified. But, the seller is required to be truthful in advertising and follow all organic requirements. Any beekeeper can say their honey is organic, but they have to be confident all 28-78 square miles around their hives qualify as organic.