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Counterfeit Food. Counterfeit Honey Archive

FDA Clarifies Honey Labeling Requirements

May 1, 2014

by Gabriella Agostinelli

Americans consume more than 400 million pounds of honey each year, but only about 37% (149 million pounds) of this honey is actually produced in America.  Honey prices also hit a record high last year, costing us around $2.12 per pound. As honey prices are spiking and we increasingly rely on honey imports, American beekeepers and the FDA fear foreign producers are adulterating the product with cheap corn syrup and sugar.

honey-156826_640In response to pressure from the American Beekeeping Federation and several other related trade groups, the FDA has proposed new guidelines for clarifying the meaning of “honey” in food labeling. Under the new guidelines, food companies and other producers adding sweeteners to honey must notify consumers that a product is a “blend.” For example, a product containing mostly honey with added high fructose corn syrup should be labeled “blend of honey and high fructose corn syrup.”

The draft guidance does not address whether honey subjected to ultrafiltration or pollen removal still qualifies as “honey.” For now, the guidelines’ main focus is to prevent adulteration, contamination, or misbranding of the natural sweetener and to promote fairer trade.

While a step forward, the new guidelines may not satisfy honey purists. FDA declined to adopt a formal standard of identity for honey in regulations. And its guidelines are merely non-binding recommendations. They do, however, reflect the agency’s interpretation of the law and positions it is likely to take in enforcement actions. Honey producers already are required by law to identify all extra sweeteners in their products’ ingredient statements. If they identify the product only as “honey” and fail to list all of the ingredients, FDA can take enforcement action against the manufacturer for adulteration and misbranding.

FDA is accepting comments on the proposed guidelines until June 9, 2014.

Food Fraud: Honey Laundering

August 24, 2011

Fake Chinese honey is in the news again. Because the tainted stuff is purchased in bulk commodity sizes, I gather that illegal honey is more of a problem for the Suebee/Golden Blossom consumer. If you buy from the farmer’s market, you are probably immune from this kind of fraud. A social distance of zero will protect you from leaded honey.

Regional honey brands should see the advent of tainted imports as a mortal threat. They sell a lot of volume on supermarket shelves right alongside Big Honey, yet most have the same puritanical scruples as your local farmer’s market honey producer. The regionals are one lead-poisoning incident away from financial ruin unless they act to distinguish themselves.

Food law could help the large but scrupulous brands maintain and possibly expand their market share. Honey producers could benefit from a collective certification process designed to distinguish the regionals from the nationals. A  trade association can establish a single production, quality, and country of origin standard, then pursue a certification trademark with the USPTO to represent the uniform standard. The trade organization can then license the use of the mark to producers who conform to the standard. Revenue generated from trademark licensing can fuel a national marketing campaign aimed at explaining to the public how its members’ honey is different, superior even, to the bulk stuff of unknown provenance. (The California olive oil industry is doing something similar, but for the purpose of distinguishing members’ products from low quality imports that are intentionally mislabeled “extra virgin”.) In the event of a melamine-type scare in the honey biz, this kind of process could insulate participants from the consequences.