Almost half of all EU honey imports are adulterated4 Apr 2023
Honey fraud is rife in the EU, with almost half of all imports likely to be adulterated with added syrups and cheaper sugar, according to new EU analysis.
European Commission-led analysis revealed that out of the 320 samples of imported honey randomly examined between November 2021 and February 2022, 147 (46%) were likely to have been tampered with.
The figure represents an increase from the 14% of honey samples analysed between 2015 and 2017 that did not comply with benchmarks to determine honey authenticity.
However, the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), which carried out both investigations, said different methods with improved detection capability were used in the present study, which may explain this difference.
“There is a strong suspicion that a large part of the honey imported from non-EU countries and found suspicious by the JRC of being adulterated remains present and undetected on the EU market,” said the European Commission (EC).
Ville Itälä, director-general of the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF) added “The most frequent type of fraud with honey happens via adulteration, meaning by adding cheap ingredients instead of keeping the honey pure.
“But we also found instances of origin fraud, with labels claiming false origins of the product. This action served to raise attention, call for order, and deter any fraudulent practices.’’
High levels of ‘suspicious consignments’ from China and Turkey
The investigation found the highest absolute number of suspicious consignments came from China (66 out of 89, 74%), although honey from Turkey (14 out of 15, 93%) had the highest relative proportion of suspicious samples.
Honey imported from the UK had an even higher suspicion rate (10 out of 10, 100%), although the study acknowledged available traceability information pointed towards honey produced in other countries and further blended in the UK before re-exporting the product to the EU.
In 2022, the UK imported over 38,000 tonnes of honey from its biggest supplier, China, where there are known issues of adulteration with sugar syrup.
In the UK, country of origin labelling is not required for a blended product from more than one country, so consumers are unaware that a cheap pot of honey likely comes from China.
Honey blended with cheaper sugar
Current EU legislation requires honey to remain pure with no ingredients added to it. Adulteration occurs when it is artificially blended with water or cheap sugar syrups to increase the honey volume.
While risks to human health remain low, such practices defraud consumers and undercut honest producers, who face unfair practices from producers who use illicit ingredients to produce cheaper honey.
The EU average unit value for imported honey was €2.32 per kilo in 2021, whereas sugar syrups made from rice were at around €0.40 – 0.60 per kilo.
Europe imports 175,000 tonnes of honey per year, making it the world's second-largest importer of honey after the United States, to cover 40% of its consumption.
Onus is on food business operators and member state authorities
Responding to a question about consumer assurances over adulterated honey, the EC said, “Consumers are not in a position to get those assurances by themselves without specialised instruments and knowledge.
“This is why the fight against fraud in the honey sector cannot be left to consumers, but instead must be taken up by the food business operators and Member State authorities.
“It is an obligation of food business operators operating in the honey sector at all stages of production, processing and distribution to provide such assurances by correctly identifying the nature, composition, country of origin or place of provenance of the honey they are placing on the EU market.”
The Commission added that this was vital from the perspective of protecting consumers and their interests but also to enhance the reputation of the honey trade.
Consumers are unaware about honey origins
Consumer group Foodwatch called for better protection for shoppers, urging authorities to dedicate resources in line with the challenge and making it a priority to inform consumers of the fraud.
“Although these illegal pots of honey are sold in supermarkets, no information is given to citizens on the products concerned,” they said.
“This lack of transparency on fraudulent food must be urgently corrected. Fraud is a crime, and it must be talked about openly to ensure citizens know what is happening with their food.”
Cope-Cogeca: Fake honey is an ‘agricultural disaster’ for EU
Meanwhile, Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers’ association, urged the EU to act on the findings adding that, “The survey clearly shows where problems come from.”
“If almost every second honey product imported into the European Union is adulterated, this means that 20% of all “honey” consumed in the EU is adulterated,” added Stanislav Jaš, chairman of the Copa and Cogeca honey working party.
“If we throw into the mix the fact that ‘fake honeys’ are entering the EU at a cost as low as €1.5 per kilo from a relatively small number of countries, one can understand why we are going through a real agricultural disaster in the EU."
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