Think twice before buying your honey!
According to the National Honey Board, per person consumption of the regurgitated nectar has doubled in America since the 1990s. As demand has increased, prices have followed. Domestic production has not. In 2016 American bees produced 35% less than they did 20 years ago. This has given honey-sellers an incentive to dilute it with cheaper things like corn, rice and beet syrup.
The mismatch between domestic production and demand means America imports a lot of honey (203,000 tonnes of it in 2017). Most once came from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Uruguay, but now nearly half comes from Asia. High tariffs are imposed on Chinese honey,
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is alert to the scourge of honey fraud, and has published guidelines which require any additives to honey to be listed as ingredients. But they are not legally enforceable.
Grab any random bottle of honey from your kitchen, coffee shop, or restaurant: According to a number of honey experts who spoke with VICE, the odds are high that your honey isn't what it claims to be. Honey imported from overseas is often adulterated—either by having sugars added to it or by being cleaned, heated, or filtered—and then is blended with small amounts of true honey until the sticky substance is uniform.
This isn't necessarily an issue of food safety; adulterated honey isn't typically dangerous to eat. But it does mean that customers are paying top dollar for "raw" or "local" honey with purported health benefits that could in fact be nothing more than a mix of different sugars.
Adulteration is driving global honey prices down, leaving beekeepers barely able to sell their honey for a profit.
Farming bees is, however, labour intensive, so honey is expensive – and that makes it a tempting target for adulteration with cheap substitutes. The most common fraud is the dilution of genuine honey with sugar syrup, typically manufactured from rice, corn or sugar beet.
China is the world’s biggest producer of honey, accounting for about a quarter of global output, but its rise to dominance and its low prices have long been viewed with suspicion. In the eastern province of Zhejiang, where much of the country’s beekeeping industry is concentrated, industrial plants manufacture cheap rice and corn syrup to be blended with honey. Alibaba, the Chinese online marketplaces, even advertises industrial “fructose syrup for honey” for as little as 76p per kilogram.
Honey is the third-most-faked food in the world, behind milk and olive oil, according to compliance management company Decernis.
Fake honey is bad for beekeepers, and also means that bees spend more time pollinating, which wears them out.
“Honey launderers” fool authenticity tests by making chemical modifications, making it hard to trace where the honey came from.
But the industry still doesn’t always use sophisticated tests that can see through chemical modifications, and consumers have to rely on toothless government regulators.
The position of the American Beekeeping Federation is that real honey must have pollen, but lots of other domestic honey producers disagree and ultrafilter theirs to remove the pollen, which helps keeps the product from crystallizing. Pollen is a fingerprint for honey that can be tested to show where the plants the bees visited lived and prove country of origin. Without it, everything can be hidden from you.
Unlike the FDA, the USDA has chosen to get more precise about what honey is—sort of. They created a voluntary grading system that lets producers slap Grade A, Grade B, or Grade C on their labels, with zero enforcement. Sound familiar? The USDA did the same thing with olive oil grades, leading pretty much every producer to choose the highest extra-virgin grade designation, regardless of what was in the bottle.