By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
With all the problems honey bees are facing, the last thing the busy bugs need is a bad diagnosis from a celebrity TV doctor. But that's exactly what Oprah's Mehmet Oz and colleague Mike Roizen issued in their newspaper column this week in mischaracterizing how honey is made.
"When doctors make claims so wildly false, so absolutely wrong in commonly understood aspects of biology, can there be trust in anything they say?" asks Kim Flottum, editor of the industry journal Bee Culture.
What has Flottum, the Agriculture Department-governed National Honey Board, and bee advocates throughout Washington and the nation buzzing is the docs' answer to a question about the benefits of honey. In their You Docs column carried nationally, the duo wrote: "Lighter honey is made from pollen, while darker honeys are made when bees make use of the sugary substances that other insects leave on trees and plants. That makes them richer in amino acids and compounds that protect your cells."
Bruce Boynton, chief executive officer of the National Honey Board, provided a matter-of-fact explanation to Whispers in response to what Dr. Oz's researchers at RealAge called an editing error. "Honey is the substance made when the nectar and sweet deposits from plants are gathered, modified, and stored in the honeycomb by honey bees. Pollen is not a raw material for honey. While pollen is brought back to the hive by the bees, it serves as a source of protein for young bees."
Flottum, who also pens a bee blog at the dailygreen.com, wasn't as sweet. "Lighter honey is made from pollen? Good grief. And dark honeys are made from honey dew, by your definition completely made from insect droppings, and nothing else?" he says. Dark honey, he adds, supplies antioxidants.
He also took issue with the two doctors' comparing sugar to honey. "Comparing a tablespoon of honey to a tablespoon of table sugar is like comparing a tablespoon of dynamite to a tablespoon of baking powder. They have the same volume, but they are so different that comparisons are comical." Flottum adds, "Doctors, if your explanation of something as simple as how honey is made is so wrong, can your explanation of honey and cancer be even considered?"
RealAge, which researches and fact-checks the column, said: "Due to an editing error, a recent Q&A column called "The truth about honey, fats, and white tea" inadvertently stated that honey is made from pollen. In fact, most honey comes from plant nectar (although bees make some dark honeys from a substance called 'honeydew,' a residue from insects that feed on sweet tree sap). We regret the mistake and any confusion it caused."
On their site, they didn't mention the correction but changed the key phrase to this: "Honey is rich in compounds that can help fight aging and disease, especially if you choose the darker variety known as honeydew honey, which is derived from tree sap, not plant nectar, and richer in amino acids and compounds that protect your cells."
There's that honeydew issue again. One prob: Honeydew honey isn't generally made by American bees or in the United States.
Want your Whispers first? Check out U.S. News Weekly.