Most everyone loves honey—but is that sticky, sweet substance that you lather onto your toast the real deal? Fake honey is springing up all over the planet, and is putting the health of consumers at risk.
By harvesting unripe honey, which has high water content, fraudsters then dry it artificially, take out any resin residues, and add cheap syrups.
“Unripe honey production implies faster and higher levels of production of a product that does not meet the definition of honey (fraud),” says Norberto Garcia, president of the International Organization of Honey Exporters (IHEO).
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar cane have been added to Chinese honey as inexpensive filler. In fact, to lose weight and avoid heart disease and diabetes, HFCS is something you should avoid like the plague. Part of what makes HFCS such an unhealthy product is that it is metabolized to fat in your body far more rapidly than any other sugar.
Whilst China is the world’s largest honey producer, an odd phenomenon has made itself apparent.
Despite an increase of only 21 percent in beehives, China’s bee population is rapidly decreasing due to widespread use of highly toxic pesticides, as well as pollution caused by Chinese State-run factories—bees are on the verge of extinction in areas of China, and blossoms must be hand-pollinated by humans. The pollution to the environment has gotten that bad, and politicians in the communist Party turn a blind eye.
Strangely, although China’s bee population is dying out, the country’s honey output is only increasing. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, China produced 461,431 tonnes of honey in 2013, 474,786 tonnes in 2014, 488,726 tonnes in 2015, and 502,614 tonnes in 2016.
How can China be producing so much more honey than their bee population could possibly be making?
The answer lies in honey fraud
Syrup produced from rice is harder to detect, and by adding it to honey, Chinese fake honey producers can produce a massive surplus, and it’s not limited to just that.
“There is no single method for authenticity testing for honey—because there are so many ways of adulteration,” says Dr. Stephan Schwarzinger, a professor of structural biology at the University of Bayreuth, according to Euractiv.
“More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce,” so says two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Andrew Schneider in his Nov. 7, 2011, Food Safety News (FSN) article, Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey.
In order to escape the heavy tariffs imposed by countries such as the United States on their honey, Chinese fraudsters have found a way of re-routing their product through third-world and Asian countries, where it undergoes ultrafiltration to remove traces of pollen that might reveal its country of origin. It is then diluted or cut with cheap sweeteners, relabeled, and exported worldwide, most likely to your local supermarket.
Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, said, “Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey.” He added, “In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country illegally and in violation of federal law.”
A sticky situation in Australia
Honey woes aren’t just felt in the United States. Australian apiarist Simon Mulvany, from Victoria, has waged a campaign on social media against Capilano, Australia’s largest honey producer. The bee crusader gained the ire of Capilano when he accused the giant of selling “toxic” imported honey, with misleading labeling.
“Most disturbingly, Capilano is exporting Capilano honey that’s been adulterated and mixed with Chinese honey and selling it to countries in the Middle East,” Mulvany said. “Capilano Honey is suing me to try and remove what I have said publicly and not allow me to say anything like this again.”
And Mulvany is countersuing Capilano
Capilano CEO Ben McKee told the ABC News, “While all Capilano brand Honey is made from 100 percent pure, Australian honey, the company does import some honey from accredited international suppliers for use in supplementary brands such as Allowrie.”
Many beekeepers, however, have expressed their support for Mulvany.
“They’re saying that this really all had to come out and it’s going to improve the industry,” Mulvany said. “Many beekeepers blame the outbreak of the devastating diseases like American foulbrood on imported honey. Imported honey can harbor live bacteria that can be infectious and cause disease in Australian honeybees.”
“Australia’s reputation has really been affected,” Mulvany told The Australian Financial Review. “We need a country of origin on the honey label so whether it’s a blend or not we just need to know what countries are on the label.”
Mulvany argues that whilst Chinese “honey” is fake, more seriously, the imported substance from China that’s labeled as “honey” has been proven detrimental to health.
“Capilano Honey are sneaky and sell under brands Allowrie, Smiths, Barnes and Wescobee. Capilano is importing Argentinian honey from the heliotrope plant that can have disastrous consequences as it contains alkaloids,” Mulvany wrote on Facebook.
“Your cheap supermarket honey has the potential to cause liver issues and simultaneously ruin an industry. The heat is on Australian honey literally in Capilano’s blending facilities but also from the world after Fairfax media reported samples of blended Australian honey contained high rates of dangerous alkaloids.”
Meanwhile, Coles, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain, has made the decision to remove Capilano’s imported honey brand, Allowrie, from its shelves. Allowrie is said to contain up to 70 percent of imported honey, primarily from China and Argentina.
New South Wales beekeeper Kieren Sunderland said it is hard to compete against imported honey, and welcomes the move by Coles.
The other Australian supermarket giant, Woolworths, will not follow suit, and will keep Allowrie-branded products on their shelves as a cheaper “honey” option.
Mulvany went up against Capilano at the Victorian Supreme Court on July 20—“A David and Goliath situation!” wrote Margaret Hurley on Mulvany’s GoFundMe page. No updates have been provided on the case as of yet.
It’s unfortunate that Winnie-the-Pooh’s favorite delicacy has become one of the world’s most faked foods. Hopefully, the industry can be rectified, for the future of beekeeping is at stake.