Honey fraud and unscrupulous packers.

With the rise in interest in honey for its health benefits and as a natural sugar alternative there have been recent reports of an influx of cheaper sometimes ‘fake’ honey entering the market.

Definition of provenance:
1: ORIGIN, SOURCE
2: the history of ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature

There have been a few articles circulating recently that has prompted me to write this for the sake of fairness and supplying information for our customers, beekeeping colleagues and stockists.

Our honey is all from our own bees, so we are 100% sure of its provenance and quality. We do not buy in and pack honey produced by anyone else, this will mean we have and will run out sometimes.  Our model is not growth for growths sake. There are many quality honey producers who operate in a similar way or if they do buy in only do so from trusted sources and label accordingly.

However, there is a growing issue that is concerning to many in our industry.

With the rise of interest in honey for its health benefits and as a natural sugar alternative there have been increasingly worrying reports of an influx of cheaper sometimes ‘fake’ honey entering the market. Some honey has been found to be adulterated with such contaminants as fructose from corn syrup or rice syrup, the attached article by Ungoed-Thomas & Leake mentions ‘Alibaba (the major Chinese online marketplace for exports)  shockingly advertises industrial “fructose syrup for honey” for as little as 76p/Kg!’

Honey production is labour intensive, there are many costs involved such as skilled labour, time, maintenance, bee health, equipment, these costs coupled with the fickle nature of yields due to the dependency on weather conditions makes honey expensive to produce. This makes honey a tempting product to adulterate or fake (Ungoed-Thomas and Leake) they quote
“Arturo Carrillo, an environmental activist who is based in Mexico and is coordinator of the Honey Authenticity Project says that the UK market is full of fake honey “There has been a failure in the UK to combat this fraud. They use obsolete tests for the products and of course they are passing”. Perhaps unsurprisingly the technical advisor to The British honey packers association Mr Hoyland, is quoted in the article saying that there isn’t a significant honey fraud situation in Britain.

Honey production is environmentally beneficial due to the pollination of plants by honeybees. 3 out of 4 food crop yields are dependent on bees and other insects not to mention the millions of wild flowers which are reliant on these pollinators, but as a result of beekeepers being offered low prices for their honey this can make it unprofitable, therefore pushing beekeepers to give up their small businesses and has been found to be a particularly damaging problem for Mexican beekeepers from the Yucatan Peninsula (Rodriguez, 2019), delays in getting a honey testing system up and running is leading to an acceleration in deforestation.

Honey packing is now big business and possibly a tempting prospect for many honey producers who may find that the market will take far more honey than they can produce. However it is frustrating that it seems that many honey packers here in the UK are avoiding procuring Welsh/British honey from beekeepers who ask fair prices for their product and opt for cheaper alternatives, but then market it at very low prices. This practice lowers the value of genuine British honey effecting small businesses detrimentally both abroad where low prices are paid and here where local beekeepers are priced out.

 

There are some ways to help small honey producers look after our important pollinators and keep producing quality honey.

Look out for

1. Labels

By law the label always has to show the origin of the honey, this can end up in small print at the back of the jar but it will be there.

Unfortunately some front labels can be very misleading, suggesting the honey is home produced  but when looking for to origin often shows as  ‘a blend of honey from EU sources and non-EU countries’

2. Price

Very low prices can be achieved by these packers, some as low as £2 a 340g jar and lower, as they buy in bulk from multiple sources. Honey is traded in container loads and often genuine beekeepers will get ridiculously low prices for their hard-earned crop which is then blended, heat treated and possibly adulterated to make up the batch.

3. Squeezy Bottles

Honey presented in plastic squeezy bottles in supermarkets are likely to contain heat treated honey. Heat treating keeps a honey liquid and runny and therefore squeezable for far longer increasing the shelf life, alternatively, unpasteurised honey hasn’t been heated will naturally crystallise and set, this would not work in a squeeze bottle.

4. Buy Local or Fair Trade

Buy direct from your local beekeepers, from local shops or farmers markets.  You should get a better price too than buying online. By buying fair trade honey from other countries you can be confident that the producers will have had a fair price for their honey

5. Share Articles and petitions the highlight these issues.

We at Cardigan bay honey feel it is important to draw attention to this issue to show solidarity to our beekeeping brothers and sisters both here and abroad. We ‘d like the major retailers, importers and packers in the UK and worldwide work towards a more equitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

Reference links

Ungoed -Thomas and Leake (2021) ‘The honey detectives are closing in on Chinas shady syrup swindlers’ https://www.wired.co.uk/article/honey-fraud-detection?fbclid=IwAR2Eu6ohi-Gp_xIJepQxZSz9v9tP4IbSr5sbQ-SgeKz9VSmrqXriw-_urZs

Rodriguez (2019) ‘Mexico’s beekeeping industry is at breaking point’ https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/mexicos-beekeeping-industry-breaking-point