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Chris Spencer,
Red honey turns up at commercial hive "3 Bee Honey" in Orem. State investigators are looking into the honey that has shown up in multiple counties, as beekeepers claim losses from the ordeal.

SALT LAKE CITY — State agriculture officials are advising Utah beekeepers who have discovered red honey in their hives to seek relief through a honey exchange program.

The beekeeper community has been reporting economic losses in the thousands after bees that were fed a sugary substance derived from candy canes began producing the red honey.

Technically, the off-colored honey cannot be sold or marketed as honey because it does not meet the legal description.

Initial fears were the honey also may have contained lead in amounts dangerous for human consumption, but test results announced Tuesday showed no detectable levels of lead.

Beekeepers in Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Washington counties have been grappling with the red-honey problem at least since early September.

State officials say an undisclosed large beekeeping operation began “open-feeding” bees with a concoction of crushed, rehydrated candy canes and other candy materials. Other bees discovered the caches and then returned contaminated to surrounding hives.

The state said beekeepers with red honey can exchange their product for traditional honey by contacting the Wasatch Beekeepers Association. On the association's website, the beekeeper said the substance was being used to bolster packages arriving late out of California.

"Not until it was too late did we realize other neighboring hives were gathering from our bees' supplement," the notice explained. "We regret that other hives ended up with red honey instead of straight honey."

An exchange has been set up for Oct. 5 in Salt Lake City and in Orem.

State agriculture officials estimate Salt Lake area beehives have increased 70 percent over the past five years, with most of the activity coming from backyard beekeepers.

Larry Lewis, department spokesman, said most of those new to the hobby are unregistered with the state, which can serve as a resource for information on disease outbreaks and increasing production.

More information is available on the state's website at www.ag.utah.gov.

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