theft in honey industry

Beekeeper Falls Victim, Hives Stolen

A Taranaki, New Zealand beekeeper has lost thousands of dollars over the last few weeks in stolen honey and honey bee hives. Stephen Black, the owner and operator of Bees-R-Us, began the bee season with 20 hives, each measuring 2 meters tall that were harvest ready, being stolen from a paddock on March 19. Black and others in the honey industry attribute this and a number of other thefts to the increasingly cutthroat nature of beekeeping as well as the increasing value of manuka honey.

Manuka honey is a much sought after product, commanding prices that are 10 to 20 times higher than other types of honey that are collected. This is due in part to its antibacterial properties and, in New Zealand alone, manuka honey has the potential to bring in over $200 million a year. With profits ripe for the taking, the National Bee Keepers Association president, Ricki Leahy, has confirmed that New Zealand beekeepers are on high alert and quickly becoming a major target for honey bee hive thieves.

Black, who began his business with just two hives and his wife Fiona, now cares for and manages close to 1,000 hives across the region. While it is likely the thieves believed they hives they stole from his business were manuka honey, Black confirms that the individuals were out of luck – the hives they took were a different kind of honey he harvests as part of his business. He attributes acts such as this to the increased corruption being found in the beekeeping industry, “…they think it’s a gold rush.”

Fiona Black is also seeing the changes taking place in the beekeeping industry – she expresses how the community went from being relaxed and tight-knit to everyone having to watch their backs. “You are careful what you tell each other now,” she said, “whereas you used to share a lot.” With the prices that manuka honey is going for on the market, it is no surprise that more and more individuals are trying to get their hands in the game, and some are resorting to drastic measures to do so.

The Black Family and Bees-R-US is not alone – many beekeepers around the region are experiencing thefts as well and are fearful of what the future may hold for their way of life. Hives are often the target of vandalism and theft in the region, and other beekeepers are seldom to blame. “It’s becoming an increasingly bigger problem,” said Black and thieves do not realize that in order for honey to have any value, it needs to be processed by a certified premises – if it is not, it is pretty much worthless.


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