Can Beeswax Be Organic?

Can beeswax be certified organic? The short answer: Yes.  So why is organic beeswax so hard to find?

Consider how beeswax is made: Worker bees consume sugar (often, honey), which is converted into esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols. The waxy substance is secreted in tiny flakes through eight glands on the underside of the worker bees' abdomens, chewed, and molded into comb for the hive.

Newly secreted wax is actually clear - it's through the chewing process that the wax is mixed with pollen and honey, causing it to take on it's characteristic golden color.

Beeswax is therefore a product of two things: sugars eaten by the bees, and pollen sourced from the area surrounding the hive. Bees typically fly up to 2 miles (3 km) from the hive in search of food and water, but have been observed foraging up to 6 miles from home. If there's any chance that the plants in that radius are not certified organic, the beeswax will not be organic. 

 

Clear wax being secreted from the glands on a worker bee's abdomen. Source

 

Certified organic standards for honey and beeswax include that hives are kept a certain distance from any possible sources of herbicides or pesticides, but this is almost impossible for most beekeepers to guarantee, particularly in urban settings. Furthermore, organic standards limit the use of hive maintenance tools such as antibiotics, pesticides, and fume boards (more on these later), which are important in maintaining a healthy hive with today's tough climate for bees.

Despite our fear of bees, hives are actually quite fragile! One common hive pest in New England are varroa mites, which attack larval, pupal, and adult honeybees.

 

Varroa mites, kind of look like little jellyfish! Source

Mites on a worker bee in the hive. The mites attach to the bee's body and suck their fat stores, simultaneously injecting viruses to weaken the bees. Source

 

Mites are extremely common in New England - so much so that they are present in varying degrees in almost 100% of colonies. The disappearance of wild honeybee colonies is largely attributed to them - without proper treatment and management, the colony will certainly die. Sadly, beekeepers in the US lost an estimated 44% of colonies to mites between 2015 and 2016, so this is a huge problem we're talking about here. Since organic practices don't always allow for the necessary management of these pests, it becomes a choice between organic practices and the death of the hive. 

In summary: Yes, beeswax (and honey) can be organic, but it is extremely difficult to achieve certification and maintain a healthy hive under these practices. Support organic practices, but don't discount apiaries that are not organic! 

Sam Putoš