Honey adulteration & fraud
Updated: Mar 28
I was fortunate enough to view an excellent webinar by Lynne Ingram about the issue of honey adulteration and wow, what an issue it is. Her excellent, well-structured presentation illustrated that the problem is more serious than most of us would believe. There are clickable links on the figures below that will take you to the facts.
LET’S START WITH SOME BASICS:-
· HONEY FRAUD – the overall term for actions intent on defrauding the consumer for economic gain. It is a crime carried out on a massive scale internationally.
· HONEY ADULTERATION – is the addition of another substance - to honey in our case.
· The distinction is worth noting.
· HONEY LAUNDERING – actions to avoid bans or high tariffs by disguising the honey’s origins.
· WHAT IS HONEY – copied from the Honey (England) Regulations 2015. In these Regulations "honey" means the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.
These are the benchmarks. If anything doesn’t meet the regulated criteria it isn’t honey. If there is something else besides honey in the jar it is adulteration. If it was done for profit, it’s a fraud.
SO, WHAT CAN THE PUBLIC GET FOR THEIR HONEY or WHAT MIGHT YOU GET FOR 85p?
· It could be harvested early, before it is capped, when it is still nectar, and dehumidified on an industrial scale.
· The bees could have been force-fed sugar syrup to increase the 'crop' even when the plants are producing nectar (the honey flow).
· Pollen may have been extracted and replaced with other pollen to manipulate its point of origin.
· It may have been diluted with various syrups.
· It may have been adulterated by the active ingredient for tanning lotions (DHA) - yuk.
It is bad enough that people are not getting the extraordinary taste experience of real honey, but for those that buy it for the health benefits, it must be very upsetting. We have had so many people visit our stall and turn their nose up at the honey. We generally manage to twist their arm to try it and wow, the expression on their faces as they experience pure honey for the first time is a joy to behold. It is no wonder they didn't think they liked honey if they had suffered some adulterated concoction in the past. Real honey varies through the year, from area to area and is simply gorgeous.
WHY IS IT DONE? – Money, of course.
Just enter ‘honey adulteration’ in your search engine and let your jaw drop. Here’s just a few:-
· One-third of the international honey trade is not produced by bees from flowers but by syrups from factories.
· At the Apimondia ‘World Beekeeping Awards 2019’, 45.2 % of entries were disqualified for failing adulteration tests. (it could have been worse if the tests were more sensitive).
· In 2018, 50% of Asian honey tested positive for adulteration.
· In the UK, a range of own-brand honey and honey from a well-known producer were tested by The Honey Authentication Project in 2018 and they all failed. In 2020 more were tested and all failed again. Even when caught out nothing seems to happen, they quickly return to the shelves!
· 1700 tonnes of New Zealand Manuka honey are produced and 10,000 tonnes are sold worldwide. What are the 8300 tonnes of this expensive, miracle cure honey composed of?
· Alibaba (a huge online marketplace) openly advertises fructose rice syrup that can be added to honey, or whatever. It is designed to pass all the current tests. It works out at around 36p per pound. Ideal for cutting honey to make greater profits.
How depressing is that? It puts an old punk like me in mind of the lyric in a Public Image Ltd song – ‘Do you like the taste of honey - isn't it best without the bees? (Don't Ask Me - great song).
TESTING – There are several tests available to track down adulterated honey. Not one of them can identify all adulteration cases. Each test has its particular strength, so a combination of them all generally yields better results. However, if you applied all tests, some adulterated honey will still slip through the net. This needs to improve and if enough of a fuss is made, maybe Trading Standards will drive this. One participant offered an interesting option of using DNA. It has been used to identify lamb that wasn’t from New Zealand, as claimed, so maybe this will become a testing option soon.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
· Expand public awareness of the issue. Do pass the message on. The more people that know about these practices the better; at least they can choose whether they want the risk of buying fructose rice syrup or corn syrup rather than honey. Fellow beekeepers with market stalls, online blogs, and social media sites can use them to let our followers know. If they pass it on to more people then maybe we can get the R number above 1 and have a pandemic of knowledge.
· Write to the BBKA magazine and make them aware that we care about this issue and would like them to use their national influence to highlight the problem and work with the government to catch the perpetrators and raise the standard and incidence of testing.
· We would urge people to get to know their local beekeeper and find out what goes into their jars. Some call it 'raw', which is a good sign. At ZeezBeez we mean it in the sense of 'unprocessed' - steel is sometimes referred to as raw before it is processed. Ask them if they leave enough honey for their bees to survive the winter so that you know they have not been fed sugar syrup which could end up in your jar; besides being kinder to the bees.
· Just be careful when shopping. If you are not sure it is what you want, don't buy it. It would be worth being suspicious of any blends of EU or non-EU honeys and anything that retails at 85p for 340g. Honey is wonderful just as it is and needs no blending or additives in our opinion.
This is just scratching the surface of the problem and I would urge you all to visit the ‘Honey Authenticity Project’ website for more things to make you go ‘Grrr’. The 3 poster sheets on their website have lots of information and can be shared.
So, please be careful out there when you are choosing your honey. We feel sorry for anyone who has bought adulterated honey as they have not experienced the taste sensation that it brought on by pure honey. It is also distressing if their purchase has failed to deliver the health benefits expected. We usually sell out very quickly, but there are many people like us out there and it is well worth searching them out.
Commercial Beekeeping in Western Canada (ontariobee.com) – fraud at Apimondia 2019
Authenticity and geographic origin of global honeys determined using carbon isotope ratios and trace elements | Scientific Reports (nature.com) – manuka and asian honey adulteration & more.
Honey Authenticity Project – www.honeyap.org – access to 3 useful posters and lots of info.