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The draft guidance does not address whether honey subjected to ultrafiltration or pollen removal still qualifies as “honey.”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.