Almost half of the honey imported into the EU is probably adulterated with sugars, the EU Commission announced on Thursday.
Honey naturally contains sugars and, according to EU legislation, must remain pure – meaning that it cannot have ingredients added to it. Adulteration occurs when ingredients such as water or inexpensive sugar syrups are artificially added to increase the volume of honey.
The EU Commission says that 46 percent of the 320 samples of honey tested show evidence of adulteration.
This rate was considerably higher than the one obtained in 2015-17 which was 14 percent.
Where honey adulterated with sugars mostly originates from?
The highest absolute number of suspicious consignments originated from China (74 percent), although honey originating from Turkey had the highest relative proportion of suspicious samples (93 percent).
Honey imported from the United Kingdom had an even higher suspicion rate (100 percent), likely the result of honey produced in other countries being further blended in the UK before its re-export to the EU.
More than half (57 percent) of operators had suspect exported honey consignments, and more than 60 percent of operators imported at least one suspicious consignment.
To date, 44 EU operators have been investigated and seven have been sanctioned. Forensic investigations undertaken by Member States and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) based on on-site inspection, sampling and close examination of computers and phone records, demonstrated complicity between exporters and importers and the following malpractices:
- Use of sugar syrups to adulterate honey and lower its price, both in non-EU countries and onto the EU territory
- Analysis in accredited laboratories to adapt honey/sugar blends to elude possible detection by clients and official authorities before import operations
- Use of additives and colorings to adulterate the true honey botanical source
- Masking of the true geographical origin of honey by forging traceability information and by removing pollens.
Based on the above, there is a strong likelihood that a large part of the honey imported from non-EU countries and suspected of being adulterated remains present and undetected on the EU market, the EU Commission says.
Honey adulterated with sugars defrauds consumers
While the risk for human health is considered low, such practices defraud consumers and put honest producers in jeopardy as they face unfair competition from operators who can slash prices thanks to illicit, cheap ingredients, OLAF says.
It notes for example that the EU average unit value for imported honey was 2.32 €/kg in 2021, whereas sugar syrups made from rice were at around 0.40 – 0.60 €/kg.
“The EU is an importer of honey as the internal demand is higher than our domestic production. It is important that we remain vigilant against any abuse,” Ville Itälä, Director-General of OLAF, said.
“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,” he added.
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