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It was Winnie the Pooh's dream.

Hundreds of honey pots holding dozens of mouth-watering varieties - clover, eucalyptus and chestnut, to name a few. There were honey wine, honey beer and honey champagne. Not to mention various beautifying honey potions.Not a single live bee was to be seen at the beekeeping world's biennial exhibition, although there were plenty of cuddly stuffed toy bees, bee badges and musical hives on sale.

But behind the commercial hype, the Apimondia congress, which ended Saturday, buzzed with serious business.

The congress, attended by an estimated 4,000 bee enthusiasts and experts from more than 65 countries, was packed with debates and exhibits on bee diseases, pollination, conservation and medicines.

"It's the reunion of the big apiculture family - the chance for amateurs and professionals to meet researchers and scientists . . . and the chance for the public to get to know the fascinating world of the bee," enthused Jean-Paul Cochard, the organizer of the five-day event.

For the uninitiated, display boards gave detailed explanations about this all-purpose insect with its strictly hierarchical social structure: the all-powerful queen; the drones, which die after mating with her; and the workers, which build the honeycombs and gather the pollen.

A worker has to visit up to 1,500 clover plants to gather enough nectar to fill its "honey stomach." It takes between 800,000 and 4 million such trips to produce 22 pounds of honey.

In Switzerland alone, there are 23,000 beekeepers, who raise an estimated 9,000 million bees - the equivalent of 1,300 bees per inhabitant.

Their presence is vital to agricultural production. Many varieties of fruit trees require cross-pollination by bees. In the United States, bee pollinating means an estimated $15 billion in additional yields.

There are also experiments underway in the United States with bees dusted with microorganisms that brush off on plants and kill harmful microorganisms.

In Slovenia, studies have shown that bees can be important pollution monitors. Honey from hives near coal-fired power stations reveals the levels of sulfur dioxide.

In Gambia, amulets containing dead bees are sold to protect against such evils as traffic accidents and "devils and dwarfs met in the bush at night," one display board explained.

There is also increasing research into the role of bee venom in combating ailments ranging from tumors to arthritis to hearing difficulties. Hundreds packed an auditorium to hear the latest on the medicinal value of the bee.

Others had simpler motives for visiting the congress.

"I'm here because I like honey," said 11-year-old Lisette, clutching a bagful of goodies.