Ballots were sent out late in January to members of the industry for the voting period from Feb. 4 through March 1. Completed and signed ballots must be received by USDA no later than March 1.

Established in 1987 by the Honey Research and Consumer Information Act, the board is funded by an assessment of one cent per pound of honey, paid by honey producers and importers. The board was continued after favorable vote of the industry in 1991 and 1996.

The NHB is headquartered in Longmont, Colo., and has a budget of $3.5 million. The industry has some 3,000 beekeepers with 2.6 million colonies.

Gene Brandi, a Los Banos, Calif., beekeeper, is chairman of the NHB. He points to promotion of honey as a key function of the board.

"The U.S. has a market for about 400 million pounds of honey, and for the last couple of years nearly half of that has come from foreign sources, mainly Argentina and China."

From 1990 to 2000, consumption increased more than 100 million pounds to reach a per capita level of 1.4 pounds.

U.S. honey production has ranged in recent seasons from 180 million to 230 million pounds. In 2000, California’s output was 31 million pounds from 440,000 colonies, while the 40,000 Arizona colonies yielded 2.36 million pounds.

Anti-dumping suit

The U.S. industry, in response to the massive imports from China and Argentina and depressed prices, filed an anti-dumping suit against those two nations with the International Trade Commission, which ruled in favor of the U.S.

Resultant duties revived the price for premium, lighter colored honey roughly from the mid-50-cent range of a year ago to about 72 cents.

"The strong demand -- more than half of it in industrial and food service use -- and the anti-dumping duties have increased the price," Brandi says.

The NHB, he adds, is working to expand existing markets and find new markets. "We have been testing honey during the last year or more for antioxidant and microbial properties. Honeys from some plants have some medicinal uses."

Other research projects funded by the board focus on pesticides, mite pests, and pollination.

Research and promotion for the California industry were done by the California Honey Advisory Board from the early 1950s until the board was discontinued in 1989, partly because of the advent of the NHB’s broader scope and budget resources.

The NHB is composed of seven producers, on a regional basis, two importers, two handlers, and one cooperative. A public-member seat is currently included but will be eliminated in June.

The current referendum will decide, "up or down," whether the board will be continued in its present form. If it is approved, Brandi said, industry concerns about the board’s composition and function will be discussed.