A group of Canadian beekeepers has launched a petition demanding that the owner of Canada’s biggest honey brands stop using imported honey in its products because it’s driving local producers out of business.

The beekeepers say McCormick Canada, the parent company of the Billy Bee and Natural Honey Farms honey brands, has “all but stopped buying Canadian honey” in favour of cheaper imported honey, and it’s putting many of them at risk of bankruptcy.

Their petition, launched on Change.org, reads that beekeepers across Canada are currently unable to sell their honey stock, or are selling below cost, because the cheaper imported honey is driving down prices.

“Hard working beekeepers deserve to have their honey bottled and available for Canadian consumers before any other honey is imported and sold inside of our own country,” it reads.

Allan Campbell, who runs Durston Honey Farms in Dauphin, Man., is the author of the petition, which has already gathered more than 63,000 signatures.

He says the big honey companies have been blending Canadian honey with cheaper imports for years. He says they claim they do so because there isn’t enough of a supply from Canada.

“That’s far from true,” Campbell told CTVNews.ca by phone.

“We produce about 75 million pounds a year and usually, we need to export nearly half of it. And meanwhile, this year we’re literally sitting on half of last year’s crop.”

Campbell says the cheap, imported honey is driving down honey prices for Canada’s large bee farms, most of which are in the Prairie provinces.

“When you call around to the buyers, (the) price last year was about $2.35 per pound on average. This year, when you call a buyer, the answer you’re getting is the price is about $1.40. But they’re not interested in buying right now,” he said.

He says his own farm has a budget shortfall of more than half a million dollars this year and he knows of lots of other producers who say they are going to go broke if they can’t sell their supply.

Many Canadian honey producers and others who have learned about the petition are taking out their anger on the Billy Bee honey Facebook page.

“Should be 100% Canadian period, for the environment, for our health, if there is a surplus of Canadian honey why are we buying elsewhere,” wondered one commenter.

“First Heinz, now this,” wrote another.

When asked for comment, Andrew Foust, the vice-president of marketing at McCormick Canada, told CTVNews.ca by email that his company is aware of the petition.

He clarified that products under the Billy Bee brand are made with Canadian honey blended with “a small portion of Argentinian honey.” McCormick’s other “value-priced” brand, Natural Honey Farms, contains “some honey sourced from China,” which he says is noted on the label.

He added that overall, 85 per cent or more of the honey his company uses is sourced from Canada.

Honey producers such as Campbell say many Canadians may not even be aware they aren’t buying 100 per cent Canadian honey when they choose Canadian brands. They may assume that when they see “Canada No.1 Grade” on the front of the label, it’s Canadian honey.

But he says “Canada No. 1” refers only to the grade of honey, not its origin. That’s listed on the back label, typically in small print.

Campbell would like to see the Canada No. 1 designation changed so that it reflects the country of origin. Alternately, the labelling rules need to be changed so that the country of origin is listed on the front label.

Kevin Nixon, chair of the Canadian Honey Council, agrees that the Canadian label standard for honey is “misleading,” and that the public must be able to read “those labels properly” in order to make an informed consumer decision.

Nixon acknowledged that the honey industry in Canada needs to encourage companies that may be importing honey to use more home-grown supplies.

Campbell believes many Canadians want to support Canadian beekeepers. He knows they also want a fair price. They can have both, he believes, even with products made with all-Canadian honey.

“There are lots of brands on the store shelf that are 100 per cent Canadian that are priced in there the same as Billy Bee,” he said.

“The savings that some of these companies are seeing by buying cheap foreign honey isn’t being passed on to the consumer in most cases.”